It is a vision that appears to lonely, terrified men on the mound: Baron Samedi, a sepulchral figure in top hat and tails, dances crazily to the beat of native drums while a chorus of nymphets dressed in virginal white writhes around him. There are a motionless goat with candles burning at the tips of its horns and an entranced woman possessed by ancestral spirits. Off to the side a man sets his torso aflame and a token zombie or two sit in eerie silence.
Standing before the swirling, smoking scene, a priestess in a red bandanna mumbles an incantation over a boiling pot. The drums abruptly stop beating as she reaches inside the caldron and withdraws a small, round, white object. She holds it aloft, waving it in hypnotic arcs in front of the crazed assemblage. There are shrieks as she stabs it savagely with pins and needles. Baron Samedi, howling, bounces off into the banana trees. The virgins swoon. The zombies are deader than ever. The burning man simmers. The priestess finishes her knitting, then tosses the stitched white thing against the wall of her hut. She fields it on the short hop and addresses the goat in a lilting Creole dialect. "Well, kid," she says, "that's baseball."
That, at any rate, is about the way the pitchers see it as they heft the new baseball sewn in Haiti, land of voodoo. After nearly a full season of dodging line drives they are prepared to attribute magical qualities to the dread " Haiti ball." All 12 American League teams have higher batting averages this year than last, and 11 of them have hit more home runs. The league average is up nearly 20 percentage points. Lest this climb be credited solely to the introduction of the designated hitter, the pitchers point to the National League, where averages, scoring and homers have also increased. Two National League teams—Montreal and San Francisco—are hitting 25 percentage points higher than last year.
The hitters fall back on old chants to explain their rejuvenation. Some are "seeing the ball better" and others are "getting good wood on it." The pitchers blame it on the ball, which they regard as another manifestation of the international conspiracy against them. They have already endured lowered mounds, narrowed strike zones, shortened fences and designated hitters. Now they must contend with exotic sorcery.
There is not much agreement among the bewitched on what specifically is wrong with the voodoo ball beyond the fact that it is obviously hexed.
"The seams seem high on the Haiti ball," says Brewer Chris Short.
"The Haiti balls have lower seams," says San Diego's Bill Greif.
"The old balls felt like suede," says Phillie Jim Lonborg. "The new ones feel like shoe leather. No softness."
"You can't get a good grip on the ball from Haiti," says Cincy's Clay Carroll. "It's smoother and lighter, and the seams aren't raised, so you have trouble throwing breaking pitches. I've noticed the way they jump off the bat. They really fly out of the park. They must be wrapped a lot tighter than the old ball."
"The Haiti ball is like a rock," says Cleveland Pitching Coach Warren Spahn.