My son and I were out playing catch the other day and he asked me, “what is a baseball made of?” This got me thinking; while I had a pretty good idea, I wasn’t completely sure. I decided to do a little investigating and find out.
Over the years, baseballs have been made from many different materials. Most baseballs made today consist of a cork or rubber center. The center is then wrapped tightly with yarn and covered with two identical pieces of horsehide or cowhide.
An official Major League baseball is made with this same concept. The inner core is encased in two separate layers of rubber, one red and one black. The ball is then wrapped with four different layers of cotton and wool around the rubber/cork center. The wool is then covered with two pieces of #1 grade, full grained cowhide. All official baseball covers must be white and hand stitched with 88″ of red thread. The cowhide goes through a process called Alum tanning. Done by the Tennessee Tanning Company, this process gives the cowhide its bright white color.
Many attempts have been made in the past to automate the threading/stitching process, without success. Machines are unable to start and stop without manual assistance. They are also unable to reproduce the varying tensions required to properly attach and sew the cover to to the ball.
Rawlings has been the official supplier of baseballs to the Major League since 1977. Materials used to make the balls are imported to Costa Rica from the United States, made into baseballs, and then shipped back. Each ball goes through an extensive testing process. The measurements and weights must fall within certain guidelines before being accepted.
A Little History
In the early days of baseball, many baseballs were homemade. Shoemakers, blacksmiths, leather workers, you name it. If you knew how to stitch a piece of anything over whatever, you could make a baseball.
Until 1854, there was no specific weight or size for a baseball. During a meeting between three New York baseball teams, they all agreed that the baseball would measure between 2 3/4″ – 3 1/2″ in diameter and 5 1/2 – 6 ounces in weight. While these standards were not “official” for the whole country, they were at least some of the first agreed upon standards of major organized teams.
These specifications would change several times over the next 18 years.
In 1872, The National Association of Baseball Players adopted the new specs that are still used today. They are 5 – 5 1/4 ounces in weight and 9″ – 9 1/4″ in circumference. Before Rawlings became the official baseball supplier in 1977, sports equipment manufacturer Spalding was the official supplier for a century.
In the beginning years of the game, one baseball was typically used for the entire game. Where as balls hit into the stands today usually become souvenirs, back then a team employee or player would retrieve the ball from the crowd. It wasn’t until the 1920 death of batter Ray Chapman, who was hit in the head by a pitch, perhaps because the ball was too hard to see, did baseball start making an effort to replace worn/dirty baseballs during the game. In today’s game they will typically go through several dozen baseballs.
Some Other Materials Used to Make Baseballs
As I said earlier, in the beginning days of baseball, people would use almost any material they could stitch a piece of leather around and call it a baseball. I read somewhere that people would actually use dirt, rocks, wood shavings or anything else they could get their hands on. I even remember seeing a baseball maker who would start out with bullets in the center! Standards were definitely lacking.
In 1909, former player Alfred J. Reach patented the ivory centered baseball. The ivory centered baseball never caught on, and in 1910 both leagues adopted the cork centered ball patented by Benjamin F. Shibe.
In the late 19th century, Spalding patented the cushioned wood core.
Due to restrictions on domestic material use during World War II, rubber centers from golf balls were used.
Up until 1973, horsehide was traditionally used for the cover of a baseball. In 1974, due to limited supplies, cowhide was introduced and has been primarily used since.
In more recent years, all kinds of synthetic materials have been used to make baseballs. These baseballs are considered to be of a lower quality and are never used in Major League Baseball.
A Few Famous Baseballs
The Steve Bartman ball: Most baseball fans remember Steve Bartman, the Chicago Cubs fan who reached for a fly ball that may or may not have been out of reach for outfielder Moises Alou. But if you ask any Cubs fan, they will tell you that he definitely could of caught the ball. The incident would go down as the worst fan interference incident in the history of baseball. It was the 2003 NLCS. The Cubs had a 3-0 lead in the game and a 3-2 series lead. After Bartmans’ miscue, the Florida Marlins went on to score 8 runs in the inning and win the game 8-3. And of course the very next day the Cubs lost game 7!
The ball was purchased by the president of Harry Caray’s Restaurant group, and detonated outside one of their establishments on February 26th, 2004. Had the Cubs won the series, it would have been their 1st appearance in the World Series since 1945, and had they won, it would have been their first World Series title since 1908.
Babe Ruth autographed baseball: As any baseball fan knows, if The Great Bambino touched it, it probably turned to gold. In an auction in 2005, a baseball signed by Babe Ruth sold for $150,000. You can check out an article I wrote about Babe Ruth by clicking Here. Babe Ruth memorabilia can be quite expensive, but if you would like to check out one of his signed baseballs, you can click this link.
Mark McGuire’s 70th single season home run ball: The home run ball that broke the then single season home run record was sold at auction by a fan for $3.2 MILLION! To add a little perspective to this, Roger Maris’s 61st single season home run ball, a record that stood for decades, sold for $5,000.
If you are interested in collecting memorabilia, check out this article on Autographed Memorabilia for some tips.
A thank you to Wikipedia for helping me to fill in a couple of memory gaps.
I hope you found the article informative and interesting. If you have any questions, or anything you would like to add, please leave a comment below and I will get back with you soon. Thanks for stopping by. ~Jeremy