Baseballs may seem simple, but a lot of care and craftsmanship goes into making the balls used by Major League players. From the beginnings of baseball history to the automated production methods used today, baseball construction has an intriguing evolution. Read on to learn about the various materials, manufacturing processes, regulations, and components of baseball making that will guide you in choosing the best baseball.
History of Baseball Production
Baseballs have developed considerably since the early days of baseball in the 1800s. During this time, local craftsmen made balls by hand for individual teams. Early baseballs had a rubber core wrapped in yarn and leather. The seam joining the leather pieces was stitched by hand. This production method continued into the early 1900s.
In the 1920s, machinery was introduced to automate some parts of baseball construction like winding the yarn. However, hand-stitching the seams remained the norm until the 1960s. Machine winding improved the bounce and durability of baseballs. The introduction of Australian wool yarn in the 1930s also enhanced the flight of the ball.
In the 1960s, Rawlings Sporting Goods Company introduced machine winding and stitching of baseballs, greatly increasing production while maintaining consistency. The production of baseballs today continues to be highly automated using precision machinery. However, the basic materials and construction methods remain similar to earlier times.
Regulations on Baseball Size and Composition
To maintain fairness and consistency, Major League Baseball regulates the size, weight, materials, and performance of game balls. Official major league baseballs must adhere to these rules:
- Weight: 5 to 5.25 ounces
- Circumference: 9 to 9.25 inches
- Coefficient of Restitution (COR): 0.514 to 0.578
- Wool windings covered with two pieces of white cowhide leather
- 108 hand-stitched red cotton stitches joining the leather pieces
The coefficient of restitution regulates liveliness and bounce. Regulations also govern the performance, e.g. mean rebound height when dropped from a standard height. Ensuring uniformity in baseball construction enables a consistent playing experience across the league.
Baseball Core and Windings
At the center of a baseball is a spherical cork and rubber core measuring 7/8 of an inch. Surrounding this is a layer of 121 yards of wool yarn. The yarn is precisely machine-wound around the core under tension. This layer of yarn comprises 10% of the total weight of a baseball. Cork and rubber give the ball some rebound, while wool provides resilience.
The winding technique aligns the fibers to reinforce the ball’s structure. Some baseballs have a second layer of cotton or polyester windings around the wool for added durability and shape retention. The winding process needs careful control to create the optimal ball firmness and bounce. Too loose or too tight winding will impact the ball’s performance and aerodynamics.
The outside of a baseball consists of two figure-eight shaped pieces of leather in bright white cowhide. The leather hides are inspected and cut using steel dies to produce precise shapes with smooth, beveled edges ideal for stitching. Defect-free hides are essential for Major League baseballs.
The two leather figure-eight sections are hand-stitched using 108 inches of waxed red cotton/polyester thread. Stitches go through the winding underneath four times per inch. The double row of stitching creates the raised red seams characteristic of a baseball. The stitching pattern locks the windings and leather together into a durable sphere.
The hides join at the center of the ball covering one hemisphere each. Where the two pieces of leather meet, the baseball has a raised primary seam around its middle. Stitching creates a balanced ball with a tactile surface, good grip, and predictable aerodynamics. Once stitched, the balls get rubbed with special mud to smoothen seams, remove gloss, and prepare the leather surface.
What are Parts of a Baseball
Baseballs consist of just a few main parts:
- Cork and rubber center
- Wool or polyester windings
- Two leather cover pieces
- 108 stitches in waxed red thread
Despite the simple construction, optimizing these components requires extensive manufacturing expertise. Only five companies have produced Major League balls under contract.
Baseball Sizes and Weights
In addition to standard Major League specifications, baseballs come in various sizes and weights for different ages and skill levels. The general size progression is:
- Tee Ball: Ages 3-7; 5 oz; 8.75″ circumference
- Coach Pitch: Ages 7-10; 5 oz; 8.75″ circumference
- Little League: Ages 9-12; 5 oz; 9″ circumference
- Youth: Ages 13-15; 5 oz; 9″ circumference
- High School: Ages 15-18; 5.125 oz; 9″ circumference
- Adult: Ages 15+; 5.125 oz; 9″ circumference
Heavier and larger balls help younger kids get used to hitting and throwing. Youth and high school players use slightly smaller balls than regulation MLB balls but still help prepare for adult play.
How to craft baseball today
Rawlings is now the official baseball supplier for Major League Baseball. The production combines hand craftsmanship with automation. Rawlings coats the inside of baseball covers in rubber cement before stitching to hold everything together. Machines wind, cut, and stamp the cowhide covers. Compression molding forms the cork centers.
While much is automated, skilled workers still hand stitch the 108 red cotton threads. On average, a factory worker takes 20 minutes to hand-stitch a single baseball. Throughout the process, rigid quality control and testing maintain consistency. Balls get inspected for proper weight, size, COR, and hardness. Advanced imaging checks the roundness and exact placement of the 108 stitches.
Baseballs are an integral part of America’s favorite pastime. What may seem like a straightforward ball requires substantial engineering, design, and craftsmanship. While manufacturing processes have been modernized and automated over the past century, the basic construction of a baseball retains the same effective and pleasing design developed by game pioneers. The perfect baseball balances performance with tradition.