national pastime, the game we know as baseball, has always had one constant.
A pitcher attempts to take a baseball, and by hook or by crook, throw
it by an opposing batter. On the average between 200 and 250 pitches are
thrown during each game. Now that comes out to over a quarter of a million
pitches thrown over the course of a season!! And if you want to be a real
stat head, probably over 50 million balls have been pitched since the
founding of the National League in 1876. If you count the National Association
from 1871-1875....well...that's a lot of horsehide!!
The era before 1920 was known as The Dead Ball Era. It was definitely a time that favored the pitcher. Most games started and finished with the same ball, unless the ball was hit out of the park for a home run. Even foul balls were returned and used! A ball had to be literally in tatters for an ump to heave it out. By the middle innings of a game the ball took on a black look. Covered in tobacco juice and dirt! The ball became soft and out of round. Also it was much easier to "take a pitch" in the ribs when the ball was in that condition. Beanings were not uncommon though, and the tactic of giving a player "a close shave" was as much a part of baseball back in that time as it is today. To make things even tougher for batters, baseballs of that time were wound very loosely by the manufacturers. It was a time of great pitchers, Young, Mathewson, Johnson, Plank, Alexander, Brown, Waddell. The batters were also at a major disadvantage because of the many "illegal" pitches that hurlers were serving up like the spit ball, the emory ball, and the shine ball.
In an interview Frank "Home Run" Baker said: "I believe I hit nine one year, eight another and eleven another year. And they called me Home Run...... Well you know we had a dead ball to hit. We didn't have that live ball like you have today. And we didn't have the white ball to hit either, we had a black ball. First of all, it's a whole lot different hitting that black ball on a dark evening than hitting a white ball. And we had a spit ball to go up against. And the emory ball such as Russell Ford used to use. And another number of pitches that you don't have today."
In April 1917, the U.S. entered World War I. As with all wars, there is always a shortage of materials. When it came to baseball, this was no exception. Since the standard yarn that was used for baseball winding was now being put to use to help the "doughboys keep the world safe for democracy" baseball manufacturers had no choice but to use an inferior, cheaper yarn for the standard National and American League spheres. It was found that the inferior yarn made the baseballs even more loosely wound than before.
make up the difference, the machines that wound the baseballs were set
so that the yarn would be wound tighter. Here's where it starts to get
interesting. The Great War ended on November 11th, 1918, but the flow
of high quality raw materials back into the private sector was a slow
process. High quality yarn was not made available for the 1919 season.
When the baseballs made with the old, high quality yarn were finally manufactured
again, there was a noticeable difference in the feel of the ball. The
baseball winding machines continued to wind the yarn with the new, tighter
settings. Why no one ever decided to go back to the old settings remains
a mystery! But when the new "lively ball" first was shown at
the end of the '19 season many pitchers became very nervous at the thought
of serving up the new product!