How To Make a Real Baseball

our tattered friend

Have you ever wondered how they make major league baseballs?

Bob Dorrill and Pat Callahan, a couple of friends who don’t know each other (I don’t think) both sent me links recently to this fascinating clip prepared by the Discovery Channel on how it’s done. The process is both fascinating and mind-boggling. How they ever get that much uniformity in product output without a mass hospitalization of workers for either blindness or acute psychiatric psychosis is beyond me,

Everything from the preparation of the inner cork, the serial winding of differentially thick threads around each cork center, the adjustment of the wind on each thread to just the right tension level and circumferential size, the precise cutting of the cowhide leather into two perfectly matching covers, the selection of the stitching material, and the hand-stitching of each ball by skilled experts is absolutely astonishing.

I would still be working on the first ball I tried to stitch together last April!

They probably don’t tell these perfection-proud ball cover-stitchers what is probably going to happen to most of these balls, that they are either going to be lost as foul balls on their first pitch in play, or else, thrown out of the game as soon as they hit the ground and pick up a little smudge mark. I would hate to think how that information might reach out and immediately impair the care that is now taken by workers on making sure that each ball is just the right size and weight.

Here’s the link to a brief tape on the process. Watch it and never feel quite so indifferent again  about the sight, weight, and shape of a brand new baseball.

How baseballs are manufactured

As kids on the sandlot, we knew the difference between real baseballs and cheap imitations. The cheap jobs turned flat on one side from their first contact with a bat. By game’s end, the cheapo baseballs  had more tiny flat sides than a fly has eye lenses – and they many-side bounced, rather than rolled, along the ground. Rarely did those balls get a second shot on the sandlot, if we had any other choice at hand.

A lot of times, that other choice for a sandlot game ball was a really good Texas League ball whose cover pretty much resembled the one in today’s picture. Tattered and frayed red seams often were held together as much as possible with black electrical tape because we valued these balls, literally to their cork cores. They stayed round, they rode far off the crack of the bat, and they rolled true – like a real baseball should.

Speaking of baseballs, the season could end tonight, couldn’t it? With the surprising Giants now up by three games to one over the mostly stupefied Rangers, it’s pretty much over now, as is. Texas will have to win three games in a row now to take the World Series and the last two of those improbable victories will have to come in San Francisco for that to happen. And with Lincecum and Cain pitching the next two games for the Giants, what are the odds of a stillborn Ranger miracle now, even with Cliff Lee taking the mound for the Rangers in Game Five at Arlington tonight?

Here’s another way to express my pessimism about the Rangers: The odds of the Texas Rangers now winning the 2010 World Series are now longer than the odds of me ever making a real major league baseball and having it come out round at the right weight and size.

Of course, if you don’t mind a little electrical tape, I can put together a baseball that will get us through today’s game.



2 Responses to “How To Make a Real Baseball”

  1. Mike McCroskey Says:

    I found that very interesting, as I had no idea it was that complicated. Makes me wonder how they were able to vary the process in 1995 and 1996 (the pre-crazy-steroid era) when the stiching was noticably tighter at the beginning of each season, the balls bounced higher, and homerun totals were up in each league as attendance slowly rebounded from the lows created by the strike. Different wool? More latex?

    I remember comparing balls from the year before, and the last couple months of the season to some from the first, you could tell the difference.

  2. Mark Wernick Says:

    That machine that tucks in the stitches could have been set not to do such tight tucking.

    Someone had sent me this link also. I have a feeling a few players were juicing in 1995 and 1996 also, especially Mr. McGwire.


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