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Teams Hassle Over Choice of Game Ball -- The Redstockings Liked the Less-elastic Variety

Salience Noteworthy
Tags Equipment, The Ball
Location Philadelphia, PA
City/State/Country: Philadelphia, PA, United States
Game Base Ball
Immediacy of Report Contemporary
Age of Players Adult


"Over a quarter of an hour’s time was wasted in a dispute as to what ball should be played with, the Athletics insisting that a lively elastic Ross ball should be used, whilst the Cincinnatis claimed that as they were the challenging party, they had the right o furnish the ball, and therefore proposed to use a ball made expressly for them, of a non-elastic nature, by which they hoped to equalize any advantage that the Athletics might possess over them in batting. The dispute was finally decided by the Cincinnatis agreeing to play with the ball furnished by the Athletics, as it always has been the custom for the club on whose ground a match is played to furnish the ball."

The game was Cincinnati vs. Athletic 6/21/1869.



Philadelphia Sunday Mercury, June 27, 1869


Richard Hershberger explains (email to Protoball, 12/17/2021):  "The elasticity of balls varied wildly in this era.  Typically clubs that were better hitters than fielders preferred more elastic, i.e. lively, balls, while clubs that were better fielders preferred less elastic, i.e. dead, balls.  This was a frequent source of dispute before games.  The problem was eventually solved when the National League adopted an official league ball for all championship games."


Colleague and ballmaker Corky Gaskell adds, (email of 12/20/2021): "George Ellard made the base balls for the Cincinnati club.  I am not 100% sure when he started doing that, but if my memory serves me right, he was making them during the 1869 season, and it wasn't uncommon for them to want that less lively ball to help their defense do its thing."


On 12/21/21, ballmaker Gaskell replied to a prior Protoball query for #1869.15: "Was the official NABBP ball relatively elastic or relatively inelastic, compared to the range in available base balls?  Were cricket balls, which had very similar dimensions and weights,  more or less elastic than base balls in the years prior to the pro leagues?   Prior to the NL, was the convention that the home club furnished the ball?"

Corky's Answer:  "'Official' base balls came later. . .  not so much in the late 60s or early 70s.

From 1869 through 1872, the ball got slightly smaller, ranging 9 1/4" circ to 9 1/2" in 1869, to 9" to 9 1/4+ circ in 1872.  The ball didn't get any lighter in weight, ranging 5 to 5 1/4 oz in all 4 years.  The ball has not changed size or weight since 1872.  A modern ball today has same dimensions. It  just got harder with use of machines.  In all 4 of those years, the materials specified are India rubber, yarn and a leather cover.
In 1869 it was specified that the "challenging club" would provide the ball.  In 1870 through 1872, it was added that the "challenged club" would provide the ball in game 2, and if it were just a single game being played (vs match play) the ball would be provided by the "challenging club".
In 1871 they stipulated the rubber core would weigh 1 ounce.  In 1872 they added not only the 1 ounce, but it would be vulcanized into a mould form. Other than that, there were no stipulations on elasticity.  Ball makers were known for their type of ball and as long as it met the weight and size and materials guidance, it was a ball.
They did eventually require all match play base balls be stamped with the size, weight and manufacturer.
Cricket balls were 5 1/4 ounce and 9 inches..  very similar to where the base ball finally ended up in 1872.  It was written that the larger base ball (from 1858 thru 1868) was probably cause for more injuries to the hands.  Cricket was not known as much for hand injuries and they felt the size of that ball (smaller) was a safer ball.  I don't think it is a coincidence that the 1872 ball ended up where it did in size and weight.  I have not heard of the start of cricket games being delayed over ball elasticity, so would assume they were more consistent in their ball making."


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Submitted by Richard Hershberger
Submission Note Hershberger Clippings Collection


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