By now almost everybody must know where to go to test the potential of a racing yacht—to the testing tanks at Stevens Institute in Hoboken, N.J. But where do you go to test a baseball?
There is no great institution dedicated to the measurement of the bounce-ability of balls, but over the years, in their efforts to keep tabs on such things, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S scientific snoopers have enlisted the aid of an organization called The Haller Testing Laboratories, Inc. in Plainfield, N.J., which is not too far from Hoboken.
Haller's proper business is the testing of such things as soils and structural materials and they have on hand all the necessary equipment. But the tests we required to document the latest installment in our continuing story of the Lively Ball demanded somewhat specialized equipment and tools.
To start the ball bouncing, Baseball Writer Herm Weiskopf sat in on a planning session with Haller's Charles Shimel and two of his aides, Lab Manager Ed Tierce and Chief Materials Engineer Dave Antes. In measured, scientific terms they discussed, first, what kind of tests should be made and, second, how to make them.
After all the formulas were jotted down and the diagrams sketched out for a testing program, the committee of experts had to consider what tools were needed to accomplish it. One piece of equipment the laboratories lacked was an X-ray machine for peering under the covers of the balls. Another was a saw capable of slicing neatly through a layer of horsehide.
The first problem was solved by a friend of Tierce's, a local radiologist named Dr. M. R. Agran, who agreed to X-ray the balls with his medical equipment. The second problem was solved by another friend, the local butcher, Dom Pasquarella. As eager to further the cause of science as his medical colleague, Pasquarella went happily to work slicing up the balls on the band saw he uses for pork chops.
A third item of necessary equipment was not so easily come by: a perfectly level, smooth and immobile surface on which to bounce the balls. The laboratory provided such a surface seven years ago for our last set of tests by imbedding a heavy piece of steel in a big slab of concrete. They kept this clumsy chunk of equipment for years, on the chance it might be needed again. Then, only weeks before we decided on a new round of tests, they threw it away. So a whole new 370-pound piece of metal and concrete had to be put together and hauled over to the basketball court at the Plainfield Armory, where the bounce tests were to be made.
A surveyor's rod was set up on one side of the bouncing surface and a long extension ladder on the other so that the balls could be dropped from a height of exactly 26 feet 8 inches—the height used in all our previous bounce tests. That accomplished, all that remained was the necessity of finding someone with sufficient stamina and nerve to mount the ladder and drop the balls ever so delicately from the precisely measured height.
The job fell to 24-year-old Roger Haller, son of the owner of the laboratory, former University of New Hampshire middle-distance runner and an expert equestrian and show rider who could be expected to have a deft touch with horsehide.
For two days Roger dropped ball after ball while Antes measured each bounce and Lab Technician Joe Washington recorded the results. Almost immediately a startling fact became apparent: the bounces were averaging a good three inches lower than those recorded on the 1963 tests. Facts, figures, methodology were all hastily checked and rechecked. Then the truth emerged. Antes was measuring the bounce from the bottom of the ball at its maximum height; in former years it had been measured from the top of the ball.