Players have always complained about the quality of the baseball with which they earn their livings. Everything is still the same, except that their cacophony now surrounds balls sewn in Haiti. The major-leaguers are not grousing idly; their complaints are valid but not all have to do with how the baseballs are sewn.
SPORTS ILLUSTRATED retained the Haller Testing Laboratories of Plainfield, N.J. to test 76 balls obtained from the supplies of major league clubs. Through a variety of tests, Haller technicians found that 19.7% of the balls were too heavy or too light to meet big-league standards. They also discovered a range of 11.8% between the liveliest and deadest balls. Other tests verified that some balls were lumpy, that some were slick, that some were anything but round and that some were decidedly larger or smaller than others.
As for the seams, they were extremely flat on some balls, while on others they provided the ridges that are invaluable to breaking-ball pitchers. In sum, these tests proved, just as similar ones in the past have, that the baseball—Haitian or otherwise—is an erratic product.
Major league specifications call for a maximum variance of 6.4% in rebound. The 11.8% variation found in this year's ball indicates that bounciness remains the most troublesome inconsistency. (SI's most recent previous tests in 1970 showed an even greater variance of 16.9%.) If the same force needed to hit the deadest of this year's balls 350 feet was applied to the liveliest, the latter baseball would travel 391 feet, a 41-foot variance that could easily mean the difference between a routine out and a home run.
Spalding officials insist they can manufacture a baseball that would be consistent in all aspects. Already they have abandoned rubber windings in making some golf balls and replaced them with a solid, synthetic core. Similar material could be used in making trouble-free baseballs which would be covered in vinyl.
There are two reasons such a project has not been initiated: the excessive startup cost of the manufacturing process and the objections that would come from baseball purists. The cost and controversy might be worthwhile, since an entirely synthetic ball could ensure that games would be determined by the ability of the players not by the idiosyncrasies of the baseballs.