We began playing baseball long before we could play in Little League. My brother and I played in the cow pasture (literally) - he was the Milwaukee Braves, I was the Yankees - and one year we gave our mother a catcher's mitt for Mother's Day because I needed one to catch my brother, the pitcher. We moved up in the age ranks and had some success in high school. We knew the game and we knew that the ball had 104 red stitches and that it was not made in America. We suspected that one of our rival high schools put their balls in the freezer before we played them because our team had some really big hitters. It was still the era of wooden bats, the NBC Game of the Week, and World Series games played in the daytime.
We lived baseball; we knew the game. But after reading this marvelous book, my knowledge of the ball, its construction, and the controversies surrounding it have expanded exponentially. For example, Rawlings uses one million square feet of cowhide, about 20,000 cows, to make a year's worth of baseballs. The leather covers nearly 1,000 feet of yarn and thread. Every cover is hand-stitched in a carefully monitored process that takes about 14 minutes.
Even the casual fan knows that the biggest controversy related to the ball is determining whether or not it is "juiced," that is, if it is made differently so that it flies farther in order to create more homeruns and put more fans in the seats. This controversy began long before the modern spate of homeruns, even before Mantle and Maris, and even before Babe Ruth who hit more homeruns in one season than all the other teams combined. The first instance probably dates to 1867 when the Nationals of Washington used their own hopped-up ball to defeat teams by as much as 100 runs. The Nationals, incidentally, were experienced government employees. And, how does one combat a "juiced-up" ball? Why, one puts it into a freezer for short time to literally cool it down.
That is not the case today. Today, the typical lifespan of a major league baseball is fewer than six pitches. On average, each team needs at least 9,000 balls per season. Multiply by 30 teams and 270,000 balls are needed every year in the majors. Each ball has to be rubbed with Lena Blackburne's Mud (The source of which is a very closely guarded secret) before each game. Each team uses only 64 ounces of mud for their 9,000 balls, which amounts to about 7/1000 of an ounce of mud per ball. And even this minute amount can cause controversy since some balls are darker than others after being rubbed. Pitchers prefer darker while hitters prefer lighter.
This is a not-to-be-missed book about one of the tools of the game of baseball, the ball itself. Sub-titled "Stunts, Scandals and Secrets Beneath the Stitches," it provides the serious baseball fan with all the fun-filled and fact-filled information one could possibly wish about the ball in what reads like a lively and entertaining conversation. It is the perfect book for all the hot-stove leagues around the country.