The first baseballs were hand-made. One of the first styles of baseball used in the mid-nineteenth century is known today as the “Lemon Peel” or “Rose Petal” baseball, due to the way it was stitched: a single piece of leather with four “petals” that were stitched around to cover the middle. Inside the leather, a solid core was wound up in string or yarn. The core itself could be any solid material, and sometimes, the baseball would also be stuffed with some other substance. The leather used to make the ball was dark, since dark leather was readily available and it was easier for a player to spot a dark ball against a clear sky. White baseballs were not used until 1861, when it was agreed that white would be easier to see against a backdrop of wooded surroundings.
Since they were typically made by players or local vendors, the first baseballs did not have a standard size or weight. Until 1845, baseballs were also significantly lighter and softer than they are today. One of the early rules of the game allowed that runners could be “soaked,” or hit with the ball, in order to be put out. In 1857, the first baseball convention was held in New York, where fifteen New York teams voted on standard dimensions for the ball: it was to be 10 to 10.25 inches in circumference and to weigh 6 to 6.25 ounces.
“Figure Eight” stitched balls, which resembled the baseballs of today, were first created in the 1840s, though their use did not become popular until the 1870s. These baseballs were not hand-stitched, but rather, professionally manufactured. They were typically made to weigh 5.75 to 6 ounces and measured 9.75 to 10 inches in circumference. By comparison, today’s regulation baseballs are required to weigh 5 ounces, measure 9 inches in circumference, and possess 108 stitches. At the second baseball convention in 1858, it was determined that a baseball’s core was to consist of India-rubber, be wrapped in yarn, then covered in leather.
In 1878, the Spalding baseball became the official baseball of the National League. In 1883, Albert Spalding purchased Reach Sporting Goods, which had been supplying the official baseball of the American Association, thus giving Spalding a monopoly over the supply of major league baseballs. The Rawlings baseball replaced Spalding’s in 1977.
Today, the core of a baseball consists of a cork nucleus, weighing half-an-ounce, which is encased in two rubber layers and then machine wound in nearly a mile’s worth of yarn. This yarn-ball center is then coated in rubber cement and covered by two figure eight-shaped pieces of cowhide, which are sewn together with 108 cotton red stitches.
“Collecting Vintage Baseball Equipment.” KeyMan Collectibles Newsletter. KeyManCollectibles.com. Web. Accessed 3 April 2013. http://keymancollectibles.com/keymanletter5.htm
Miklich, Erik. “Evolution of Baseball Equipment (Continued): The Baseball.” 19c Base Ball, 2007. Web. Accessed 4 April 2013. http://www.19cbaseball.com/equipment-3.html
“What’s That Stuff?: Baseballs.” Chemical & Engineering News. American Chemical Society, 1999. Web. Accessed 4 April 2013. http://pubs.acs.org/cen/whatstuff/stuff/7713scit3.html