IS THE BALL DEADER? HITTERS ARE DYING
On a recent Saturday the major league standings showed a record of remarkable futility on the part of half the batters in the National League. The scores for the day read:
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
Eleven hours and 21 minutes of baseball—and the hitters on the losing teams managed to produce exactly one run. In a baseball era when runs are cheap, it seemed, on the surface, a most unusual Saturday. But it was not. Things have been going pretty much that way all season. Batters are finding first base a tough place to reach and a lot of shrewd baseball men have been groping, not too successfully, for the reasons. "Either the pitchers are better than the salaries we're paying," said Dodger President Walter O'Malley, "or else the hitters aren't earning the contracts they hold."
This was a far call from two years ago when every time a pitcher threw a baseball he was likely to get it back at 120 mph, and tough old Early Wynn was heard to say of the rocketing ball: "I'm afraid to hold that thing in my hand too long. It might explode on me." At the end of that fearsome 1961 season, baseball's most honored record—Babe Ruth's 60 home runs—was surpassed by Roger Maris, and a score of other sluggers had a high old time hitting a baseball as it had never been hit before.
This year, however, it almost seems that they may never hit the ball that way again. The composite batting average for the National League is. 244, for the American League .247, only five and eight points higher than in 1909 and 1908, the worst years ever for batters. And that was a time when baseballs were loosely packed and freely spat-upon. Already this season there have been more shutouts (see box) in the National League than there were all last year. Shutouts for the American League are way up, too. Earned run averages are lower. Home runs are bearish. There are fewer walks this year, and games are shorter. Just last week Yankee Pitcher Ralph Terry threw 75 pitches in beating the Kansas City Athletics. "I don't know why the hitters aren't hitting," said the Giants' Don Larsen, "but I'll tell you this—I like it."
One reason the hitters are suffering is that the pitchers are bigger, younger, stronger and smarter than ever. But the two things that made the year of the pitcher come with such dramatic suddenness are: 1) a ball that seems less lively; 2) a bigger strike zone.
At the beginning of the season nobody was buying the notion that the 1963 ball was different. And even through July, as home run balls nestled into outfielders' gloves and people like Willie Mays hit .270, hardly anyone suggested that the Spalding factory was doing anything to make it less explosive. "That's a lot of bunk," said Rocky Colavito of the Tigers. "The ball's as lively as ever."
"I don't know anything about the construction of a baseball," said the Dodgers' Tommy Davis. "All I know is that when you hit it good it will go."
Edwin L. Parker, president of Spalding, does know about the construction of a baseball and he insists that the idea of a deader ball is ridiculous. "I don't contend that all baseballs are the same from year to year," Parker said. "The materials that go into a baseball—rubber, fiber, leather—are impossible to blend consistently. But I can tell you this. There has been absolutely no change in the manufacturing process at the Spalding factory—not in 1961, not now, not ever."