A few days into the season, a beleaguered Spalding vice-president responded to public criticism of the new ball. The balata was not to blame, he said. The culprit was some nasty cold weather, combined with unexpectedly fine pitching by previously mediocre hurlers. But within days, Spalding had taken a second look at its balata concoction and admitted that the first shipment of baseballs "did not measure up to standards." Corrections were hastily ordered at the factory, and Judge Landis renewed his request for a bit of jackrabbit in the updated version. The problems, Spalding assured baseball, would be solved.
Well, almost. The American League chose to continue to use the dead balls until May 9, when all eight parks were to receive the improved balls. Meanwhile, in several National League parks, hundreds of 1942 baseballs were still in storage; equipment managers had simply not yet returned them to Spalding, as was customary. So out they came, setting off a new controversy: Could two different balls be used in one game? The rule book was scrutinized. There was apparently nothing against it. So the teams that had the '42 balls started slugging again, while the rest stayed mired in 1908-style baseball. In the first game in which the '42 ball was used, the Dodgers celebrated by thrashing the Phillies 11-4 at Ebbets Field. There were 23 hits. Across town, playing in a game that was entirely different, Spud Chandler of the Yankees came within one pitch of no-hitting the Senators. And so it went, though cynics noted that the Senators often had trouble hitting any kind of ball.
Two weeks into the season, National League president Ford Frick invited reporters to his New York office to introduce them to the "new" revised balata ball. This one substituted a synthetic rubber cement (which remained gummy and sticky) for the two hard balata shells within the ball. When dropped on the hardwood floor of Frick's office, the revised baseball drew smiles all around. It bounced twice as high as its predecessor, meaning it was almost half again as resilient as a 1942 baseball. Both leagues, delighted with the revision, agreed to begin using the balata again. The National League didn't have enough of the good old 1942 baseballs to last the entire season anyway. When the balata was put into play in the American League that Sunday, batters teed off for six home runs. Previously there had been nine home runs in 72 games. Landis, who was in Chicago at the time, was pleased, and said so. "I'm glad they've found out what's wrong. I think this will settle the whole matter."
As the season progressed, the controversy faded. The ball was revised and revised again until it became acceptably lively, although it was still not the jack-rabbit Landis wanted. But 1943 continued to be a very quirky year. More than once in that season, visiting managers, watching hometown pitchers mow down their troops, wondered if a balata pelota had been smuggled into play. Occasionally one was, but the ball was also a handy excuse for a poor game. O'Neill, a man fated to be tortured by the dead ball, caught the Philadelphia A's tossing balatas at his club in Shibe Park on June 1. He protested the game, a loss in the nightcap of a doubleheader. But Harridge disallowed the protest after discovering that the dreaded "cement clunker"—as sportswriters called it—had surfaced in the first game, too, uncontested and unnoticed by the Tigers, who had won that one 7-0. In the World Series the Cardinals played the Yankees, suggesting that whatever the makeup of the baseball, everyone had been victimized equally over the course of 154 games. In the end the best teams had won anyway.
Uncle Sam took the major leagues off the hook the following winter. By then synthetic rubber was being manufactured on a large scale in the U.S. and supplies were readily available. There was enough for tanks and airplanes and baseballs. Nineteen forty-four opened sunny and clear, with good, lively Spaldings in abundance. It was like the return of an old friend; hitting was back.
There was only one hitch, as someone noticed a few days into the season. There weren't that many good hardwood bats around. The wartime supply of wood and wood pulp was being diverted into more urgent uses, and, well...a good solid ash bat was suddenly damned hard to find. But professional athletes, like everyone else, had to learn to make do during war. And bats are an entirely different story.