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Earlier this month Spalding's Parker was concerned enough about the lively ball controversy to put out a 1,500-word statement to settle the issue once and for all. Except for the war years, he said, the major league ball is "the exact same baseball it has been for over 35 years." Although the major leagues themselves set the specifications, Parker pointed out, "these specs have not been changed and the built-in performance characteristics of the ball have not been changed in many, many years."
Missiles, airports and baseballs
But the report from Joseph S. Ward and Associates makes it plain that these gentlemen are wrong. The Ward firm is a highly reputable consulting engineering company in Caldwell, N.J. that specializes in testing soils for engineering purposes and evaluating foundation requirements for structures. In this capacity, the firm, which has branch offices in Philadelphia and Tokyo, has done work in connection with SAGE air-warning and interceptor network, New York's Penn Station South and several major terminals and hangars at Idlewild International Airport. The firm is headed by two partners. They are Joseph S. Ward, 36, a Bachelor of Civil Engineering, Master of Science and licensed professional engineer; and Joseph M. DeSalvo, 30, also a holder of B.S. and M.S. degrees. These two were uniquely able to conduct tests on 1961 baseballs because they had run exactly the same tests in 1953.
Before starting full-time practice as a consultant, Ward was head of the Materials Testing Laboratory at Cooper Union, an engineering and arts college in Manhattan. In 1953 Cooper Union was approached by Max Kase, Sports Editor of the New York Journal-American, with a request to test 1952 and 1953 American League baseballs. The school turned the project over to Ward. With DeSalvo, then also on the Cooper Union faculty, Ward tested six unused 1952 baseballs and six new 1953 balls.
Ward and DeSalvo first weighed the balls. The 1952 balls averaged 5.17 ounces, the 1953 balls 5.06 ounces. Both met the major league specification which says balls must weigh between 5 and 5.25 ounces. Next Ward and DeSalvo tested the balls for resiliency by dropping them from a platform 26 feet 8 inches high onto a steel plate embedded in concrete. Says Ward: "A free fall was chosen since the rebound thus would not be affected by any mechanical force—such as a machine striking the ball—which could become a variable."
The balls rebounded alongside a metal tape, where the height of the bounce was measured. This test showed that the 1952 ball averaged an 8-foot rebound and the 1953 ball 8 feet 7� inches. Thus the 1953 ball had 8% more resiliency than the 1952 ball. Although the 1952 ball was a year old, Ward estimated a loss of at most 1% of bounce because of deterioration in that short time. Also most important was the fact that Ward now had a rebound average for fresh 1953 balls.
Ward and DeSalvo also tested the balls for compression, measuring the results in inches to the nearest one-thousandth of an inch. The average compression for the 1952 ball was 0.190 inches. It was 0.176 inches, or 7% less, for the 1953 ball.
"The compression test on baseballs," says Ward, "is also an indication of the 'liveliness' of the balls. Smaller compressions under the same static loading will yield a baseball that will have more resilience and therefore a potential to travel a greater distance."
When the tests were completed, Cooper Union issued a press release and Ward was asked to write a paper for The Transit of Chi Epsilon, official publication of the national civil engineering honorary fraternity. In the paper, Ward said: "Tentative engineering conclusion—the '53 ball is a jack rabbit." It is noteworthy that 1953 also was a banner home run year. Joe Adcock hit the first ball ever to reach the center-field bleachers at the Polo Grounds, and Mantle hit his celebrated 565-foot tape-measure homer in Washington. All told, major league players hit a total of 2,076 homers, a record high at the time.
On January 20, 1954, Fresco Thompson, a vice-president of the Brooklyn Dodgers and a member of the Rules Committee which formulates the rules of professional baseball, moved to find out more about baseballs. Asking Ward for comparative tests on a few major and minor league balls, he noted, "We have had considerable doubletalk from the manufacturers as to the composition of the baseball and its resiliency."