by Derek Worlow
There’s been a record-smashing surge in home runs since the middle of 2015, which has spurred much conversation around how the sport has evolved since its creation. America’s pastime has changed a lot over the years, but there's one small detail of the game that's made a big difference as it's developed over time: the baseball itself. Here’s a timeline of how baseballs have evolved over the last 180 years.
In the early days of the sport, there was no standard or rule associated with the actual creation of the baseball. Players would make their own baseballs. It wasn’t until 1876 that baseballs took the shape, size and weight that we see being used in the MLB today.
Homemade baseballs were formed using a core that was surrounded by a solid substance such as yarn, string or feathers. The cover of the baseball was usually one piece of leather that was sewn together with the stitching in an X pattern. Early baseballs were smaller, lighter and softer than current versions.
In 1876, the National League of Professional Baseball Clubs moved to create a standard for the baseball. A Boston Red Sox pitcher named A.G. Spalding retired around that time after winning 241 of the 301 games he pitched in a four-year career. Spalding won those games using baseballs that he had created himself.
Lobbying the National League, Spalding was successful in getting the League to adopt his style of baseball which is the two-piece, figure eight baseballs that are common today. Spalding’s company, which continues to be one of the most prominent sporting goods company in the world, would create MLB baseballs for the next 91 years until Rawlings took over the job in 1967. Although Rawlings created the balls, Spalding’s stamp would stay on National League baseballs until 1977.
The National League then adopted the following rule for baseballs used in competition, creating a standard that was universally adopted:
"The ball shall be a sphere formed by yarn wound around a small core of cork, rubber or similar material, covered with two strips of white horsehide or cowhide, tightly stitched together. It shall weigh not less than five nor more than 5.25 ounces avoirdupois and measure not less than nine nor more than 9.25 inches in circumference."
In 1910, the cork was introduced as the core of all Major League baseballs. The reason for the change was due to durability but also because the cork-center baseballs went farther. Batting averages in both leagues rose immediately, and interest in the game surged.
In 1925, the baseball made another technological leap as Milton B. Reach patented the cushion cork center. Reach created a version of the baseball that has stood the test of time: he took a cork and surrounded it first with a layer of black rubber, followed by a layer of red rubber.
Once the cork was finished, it was placed on a revolving machine where it was surrounded by 121 yards of gray wool, 45 yards of white wool, 53 yards of finer gray wool and finished with 150 yards of fine white cotton. After winding over 360 yards -- yes, you read that correctly -- of yarn over the core, two pieces of horse leather shaped in figure-8's are laid over the yarn and stitched together with red string.
Since 1925, the process for creating baseballs has changed very little; however, there have been a few technological advancements in production. For example, materials are now stored in climate-controlled facilities, and the balls are woven under constant tension to assure quality and shape.