Never before in the history of baseball have so many players hit so many home runs. Not only are Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle threatening to break Babe Ruth's 34-year-old record but hosts of far less proficient batters are hitting balls over fences and into bleachers at a rate that surprises even them. What is responsible for this home run splurge? There is general agreement that the lighter, thin-handled bat and the dilution of pitching talent in the expanded American League have helped the hitters. But the big question, and the subject of the most persistent controversy in the game, is whether or not the ball has been changed.
Now SPORTS ILLUSTRATED is able to present proof that today's baseball is different. It is significantly livelier than baseballs made as recently as 1953.
Scientific tests show that the average 1961 baseball tested:
?Weighs more; incredibly enough, it even weighs more than the rules of baseball allow.
Unlike many comparative tests of baseballs which are inconclusive because quite old balls were tested against new ones, these findings were reached by comparing the results of tests made in 1953 with the results of identical tests on new balls today.
The testing firm, Joseph S. Ward and Associates, reported to this magazine last week:
"Based on the data obtained from tests on the 1952, 1953 and 1961 baseballs, it can be concluded that these balls are becoming progressively 'livelier' as evidenced by both the rebound and compression tests. As an example, a 300-foot drive in 1952, under the same impact force, would result in a distance of 324 feet in 1953 and 330 feet in 1961, all based on average test data. Considering maximum rebound observed for the 1961 baseballs, the 300-foot drive in 1952 [and the 324-foot one in 1953] would become a 340-foot hit in 1961, under the same driving energy.
"Our tests therefore conclude that the 1961 baseball has more potential to be hit farther distances than its counterparts in either 1952 or 1953."
These test results contradict the findings and feelings of such figures as Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick, American League President Joe Cronin and President Edwin L. Parker of A. G. Spalding & Bros., Inc., manufacturer of the ball. (All major league baseballs are made by Spalding. Balls coming off the company's assembly line in Chicopee, Mass. are simply stamped either "Spalding" for the National League or "Reach" for the American.)
Just last week Frick, when asked about the liveliness of the 1961 ball, said, "I haven't the slightest doubt that the ball has been the same year after year after year." Cronin dismissed the idea of a hopped-up ball. "The Spalding people would not make a change in the ball without an order from me," he said. "I have issued no such directive."