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SEEKING THE HIDE
Henry Aaron not only restored public faith in the integrity of baseball for a fleeting moment when he clouted No. 714 on Opening Day in Cincinnati. It also appeared that he had launched brilliantly the era of the cow. Then the truth was out. The ball Henry hit and later got back in a brown paper bag was made of old-fashioned horsehide. "We use nothing but horsehide balls," said Jack Billingham, victim of Aaron's homer. "I understand the Reds have enough horsehide balls on hand for the season."
If they do, they are unique, according to officials of Spalding, the company that claims to have manufactured every ball ever used in a major league game. Spalding has not shipped out a box of horse-hides since last September, when it switched to cowhide, and Cincinnati might well consider holding on to its treasure for profitable resale as antiques. The bovine ball—pardon that—is in for a long stay.
Spalding began thinking of the cow as a substitute five years ago, when it became apparent that despite the recent proliferation of pleasure horses, big, tough workhorses, source of the best hides, were becoming scarce. Only 16,000 hides were imported last year, against 142,000 in 1960. Cowhide was selected as the alternative because plenty of it was around and its basic characteristics as they pertain to a baseball—that is, tensile strength, elongation, friction coefficient, appearance and feel—were comparable to the horse's. Sort of.
Tests by researchers revealed weaknesses in cowhide, thus the long period for development. Thirteen new tanning processes were tried before one was found that produced the flexibility of horsehide. It took the analysis of 2,000 specimens to show that while thick horse-hides are stronger than thin, the reverse is true of cowhide. And there were problems with wetness. When a cover is sewed on the ball it has to have the correct amount of moisture in it, else the seams will bulge and the leather is apt to tear.
Field tests of the new ball last September in New York and Pittsburgh and this winter in Puerto Rico were pronounced a success by Spalding, so how could it be this spring that some balls raveled after one smack, others became lopsided and still others ripped along the seams in the hands of pitchers and umpires? Embattled Spalding zeros in on a new adhesive it gave its workers in Haiti, who stick and stitch the hides to cores made in Chicopee, Mass. The Haitians are now adept in the use of the stickum, and Spalding is replacing the balls delivered to major league teams this spring. If there are more problems, Spalding says it will solve them. And a word of advice to Cincinnati. Mark those horsehides if you value them. Soon it will be impossible to tell the difference between the new and old balls.
The trouble with trivia, it began to dawn on Seattle Columnist Rod Belcher, was that the best material was becoming too familiar. When an anguished fellow pro cried out one night, "All the good ones are gone!" Belcher knew the time had come to act. He promptly twisted the game around into what he calls Trivia Transposed. As in that unnerving TV quiz show, Belcher is now giving the answer first and then asking the question. For example, he announces, "The answer is Ernie Nevers." You say, if you are any sort of trivialist, "Who was the first NFL player ever to score six touchdowns in one game?" If you are better than that you ask, "What athlete pitched for the St. Louis Browns in 1926 and 1927 and was the player-coach of the NFL's Duluth Eskimos those same years?" But if you are a genius, as Belcher is, you ask, "What member of both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame served up two home-run balls to Babe Ruth during the 1927 season when the Bambino hit 60?"
For practice we give you another one. The answer is "Ranger, Pacer, Corsair and Citation." The question? "What were the Edsel's four model names?"
And now that you have the picture, your final examination. The answers: