In 1910, an inventor named Ben Shide made a livelier “jackrabbit” ball for the 1911 major league season. Baseball historians call the era from 1905 to 1910 the dark ages of the “dead ball era,” because offense slowed during these years. Shides ball was used in the 1910 World Series. The ball caused enough excitement that the league instituted it for the 1911 season.
Thanks to the vigorous properties of the ball, batting averages jumped thirty points from 1910 to 1911. The hated Tyrus Cobb won the batting title with an astonishing .420 average, greatly surpassing the previous year’s highest of .384.
The game picked up some more in 1920, when the league abolished the doctoring of baseballs. A pitcher could no longer add a substance to the ball’s surface, or scrape some away. This enforced lack of eccentricities meant a more uniform approach, and offensive statistics soared.
Babe Ruth batted .376 and blasted 54 four-baggers, carried a slugging average of 1,847, drove in 137 runs, and scored 158 runs, while George Sisler won the batting title with a .407 average, while he banged 257 hits.
The institution of a clean ball improved offensive statistics all around in 1921. The livelier ball resulted in the Tigers franchise batting .316, while the Babe smashed 59 taters and generating 171 runs.
In 1931, the balls were made less lively, but Lou Gehrig wouldn’t been denied, for he drove in 184 RBI, 211 hits, 410 total bases, 163 runs, and 46 moonshots.
But war caused the game to slow 1943. The war in the Pacific cut America off from it’s Southeast Asia rubber supply , forcing baseball to introduced a rubber less core to the ball. While the intention wasn’t to drive down runs, no dingers were hit in the season’s first 11 games, and the entire league failed to generate 1,000 runs. Tellingly, no slugger managed to belt as many as 30 round-trippers that year. Thankfully, that ball has never been used again.
So what actually causes a ball to be more or less active? No official answer exists, but many believe that manufacturers were inserting more rubber into the core of balls in the 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s.
Perhaps so. The ball doesn’t seem to have changed much in the following eras. We aren’t sure what cause the 1961 homeruns explosion, except a short right field wall and two crazy sluggers in Yankee Stadium. We aren’t sure why Bob Gibson and others made pitching the dominant side in 1968. We do know the mound shrank in 1969, to offset the pitching, and we know that the game changed the ball cover from horsehide to leather in 1974.
We now also know players were juicing themselves in the nineties, after the 1994-95 broke baseball fan attendance. But every no and then, sportscasters and barmen will spin a conspiracy about a “juiced ball.”
Insiders aren’t telling, but what has happened before is bound to happen again, should some on the inside determine a livelier ball will increase the bottom line. We’ll see, but for now, this is the history of the baseball.
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