But baseball men insisted there was no change in the ball in 1961—and they were wrong. SPORTS ILLUSTRATED tested the ball then and found that it was livelier than in previous years. Last week, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED again had the ball tested, by Dr. F. A. Wallace, consulting, engineer of West Caldwell, N.J., and the Haller Testing Laboratories of Plain-field, N.J. The results indicate the ball is different than the one batters were hitting for so many home runs in 1961.
"The tests," wrote Dr. Wallace in his report, "made on a dozen American League and a dozen National League baseballs, all received in sealed cartons, were made in accordance with procedures outlined in the previous report." In those tests the ball was weighed and tested for compression and dropped from a specially constructed tower to determine rebound.
This year the tested balls proved lighter than in 1961. "A lighter ball," said Dr. Wallace, "is a deader ball." In the compression test, under a static load of 100 pounds, the 1963 balls were 3% softer. That, too, means a deader ball. But the most dramatic and most revealing test was for rebound. After 72 drops from a height of 26 feet 8 inches onto a steel-and-concrete platform (top, left), Dr. Wallace concluded that 5% of the old bounce is definitely not there. This means that a ball Roger Maris hit into the seats 400 feet away in 1961 would fall 20 feet short of the seats today.
Besides swinging at a deader ball, the hitters are having their troubles protecting a strike zone that the rules committee made bigger last winter. How much bigger? Not very much, really. Officially, the top of the strike zone was raised from the letters on the uniform to the top of the shoulder. Actually, the umpires are calling the high pitch somewhere in between. Still, the top has been raised enough to start the batters thinking, a thing most hitters should never attempt. "I'm afraid now to take a high pitch," says Philadelphia Catcher Clay Dalrymple. "I start saying to myself, 'What's a strike and what isn't?' By the time you get through mulling it over, the ball is by you."
"Just one call on a high strike can affect a hitter for days," says Houston's All-Star Relief Pitcher Hal Woodeshick. "I've seen a lot of them swinging at bad balls this year. It must be what you call a psycho effect. The batters get behind on the count and you've got em."
"The new strike zone is helping the pitchers, all right," said Phillies Manager Gene Mauch. "The batters are panicking on that high pitch. They don't know whether to swing or not."
Most players agree, too, that the strike zone is bigger, not only up and down but also crosswise. "They're cornering us to death," says Kansas City's Gino Cimoli, in bitter recollection of the many times umpires have called strikes this year on pitches close to the edge of the plate. Cimoli's manager, ex-Pitcher Ed Lopat, agrees. "The umpires seem to be giving the pitchers the edge on inside and outside pitches as well as high and low."
The same thing is happening in the National League. Johnny Edwards, Cincinnati's fine young catcher says: "The umpires have widened the plate a little—more than ever before." Though much of this may sound like the perennial grumping of low-average hitters and low-standing managers, the fact is that there have been 1,000 fewer bases on balls this season.
While the rulemakers and baseball manufacturers have added three inches and 5% to the pitcher's happy life, the burden is still on the pitchers to throw the deader ball through the bigger strike zone. As of last week, they were doing it uncommonly well, and in the case of a flock of strapping youngsters they were doing it superbly. "Look 'em over," urges Dodger Lee Walls with the gusto of a used-car salesman. "The new young pitchers are all tall, strong and big. The man who hits .280 against these people will get a raise." No doubt he will. Chicago Outfielder Floyd Robinson, the last man in the elite top 10 batters in the American League, currently has an average of .286.
Walls is also right when he says pitchers today are younger and bigger. Prime example is 6-foot-6, 240-pound reliever Dick Radatz of the Boston Red Sox, who is known fondly as Monster by fans, Moby Dick by teammates. Last year, age 24, Radatz won nine games, lost six and had a 2.23 earned run average—handsome figures, to be sure, but nothing like this year. Thoroughly cured of an intermittently sore arm and with a better idea where his awesome fast ball is going, Radatz has already won 12 games, saved six more and appears larger and more unattractive to batters as the season goes on. In Cincinnati 6-foot-2, 200-pound Jim Maloney won 17 games and lost only three. The Cubs' Dick Ellsworth, 23 years old and 6 feet 4 inches tall, has a current ERA of 2.07, and he seems sure to win 20. At the beginning of the season the Yankees were wistfully hoping that Jim Bouton, 24 years old and with only one year on the varsity, might partially solve some of their bullpen problems. Injuries forced the Yankees to make a starter of Bouton and he has won 14 games in this capacity. It is also fair to include Sandy Koufax, 6 feet 2, 200 pounds and, at 27, as good as a human being can become at winning baseball games. Imposing as they are, these are only a few of the three or four dozen young brutes who are persecuting major league batsmen. "Pitching is too tough anymore," says Cardinal Shortstop Dick Groat, though he himself has stood up handsomely (.336) to the monsters. "Used to be you could count on one or two good pitchers each series, and get at least one lamb to help the batting average. Not anymore."