Evolution of Baseball Equipment Baseball is a sport that our nation has loved and enjoyed since the early nineteenth century. I have played baseball for as long as I can remember, and the game has become a passion of mine. As I am passionate about the sport, I have begun to wonder where the equipment we have today has come from. How did we get to pristine gloves and flawless bats? There a five main pieces of equipment used by a baseball player, and all of which today have been modified to perfection.
The five pieces of equipment would be the glove, used to field the ball, a bat, used to hit the ball, catcher’s equipment, worn to protect the catcher, cleats, used to increase traction, and of course the baseball. The progression I have seen in my lifetime is unbelievable and I cannot imagine all of the progress that has been made since baseball originally came to America. Baseball, like most other American culture, is derived from another country. An English game called rounder’s, which is significantly close to baseball, is believed to the basis of American baseball.
Baseball was officially formalized in 1845 when Alexander Cartwright wrote the first set of rules. There is a legend that a man named Abner Doubleday was the inventor of baseball, but many baseball historians disagree. Cartwright created the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York City, and the game began to gain popularity in the northern part of the country. During the civil war, Union prisoners would play baseball in Confederate camps and teach the southerners how to play. (RPI. EDU) The game was then spread all over the country and its popularity has soared to the magnitude it is today.
The most important piece of equipment in the game is by far the baseball. No other piece of equipment carry’s the responsibility of the ball, because the game itself depends on the ball. The baseball was originally made on a custom order basis, very different from today’s mass production. Baseballs were often homemade or ordered from cobblers, tanners, or other small business owners. After the National League was created the demand for baseballs increased which forced manufactures to make more balls. The raw materials used to create a baseball have only experienced one major hange since the beginning of baseball. Every baseball has a round cork pill as the core, a wool thread as the middle section, and a hide covering. The one major change is in the hide; originally the baseball was made with horsehide but due to the shortage of horses in 1974 caused manufacturers to switch to cowhide. The reason wool was chosen to be the mid section of a baseball is that tightly wound wool will contract on impact and return to its original size. (Madehow. com) Because the baseball has been made the same way for so long there is no evidence that the ball will evolve in any way in the future.
On the contrary, other components of baseball would see dramatic and continuing changes, such as the baseball bat. At the first baseball convention the general rules for a baseball bat were established. The rules were that the bat must measure within the acceptable girth (two and a half inches), it must be round, and it can be any length. The bat of the ninetenth century has changed greatly to form the bats we have today. Today’s bats are considerably smaller in girth at the handle and tapers steeply to the end of the bat.
In the nineteenth century, the handle of the bat was much thicker and the taper was a lot more gradual. The reason for this was that the tooling of that time period wasn’t made for steep tapers. Another aspect of the bat that has changed is the color schemes. Today’s bats are either a solid color, or two colors separated at a spot on the handle. The bats of the nineteenth century were one solid color with various rings that displayed the team color. The weight suggested for bats has also altered significantly from the early bats.
It was suggested that a bat weigh around forty-eight ounces, and never be less than thirty-six ounces. Today’s bats are considerably lighter, most often ranging between thirty to thirty-five ounces. Towards the end of the nineteenth century the acceptable barrel girth was increased to two and three-quarters inch. The materials used to make a wooden bat have not changed since the nineteenth century other than a few additional materials. Wooden bats in the nineteenth century were most often made of ash, maple, white and pitch pine, and hickory.
Today bats are no longer made of pine and were replaced with bamboo bats. Ash has been the most used material since the nineteenth century because of its strength, durability, weight, and “feel”. (baseball-bats. net) The most exciting change for the everyday player since the beginning of baseball is the introduction of the aluminum bat. The first metal baseball bat was patented in 1924, though it took almost fifty years before the first aluminum bat was used in a game. Aluminum bats have changed greatly since 1970 when they were first used.
The aluminum bat did not change in length, weight, and girth like the wood bat has because the acceptable dimensions were finalized before aluminum bats were created. The first aluminum bats were one solid piece of aluminum and were only used in little league. As the aluminum bat evolved, when Easton came on the scene, a higher grade of aluminum was used and metal bats became more popular. The aluminum bats used today are made with a stronger, lighter grade of aluminum, and are used from little league to college. (Mussill) The most recent evolution in aluminum bats is the introduction of double walled, and scandium-alloy bats.
Aluminum bats have never been used at the professional level for a few reasons. The first and most important reason is safety. The aluminum bats used today act like a trampoline bending at various points on the bat and springing the ball forward, creating increased velocity that a wood bat cannot create. The second reason is that in baseball one of the most fascinating things is the broken bat. When a wood bat hits the ball on the handle or at the end of the barrel the bat will snap or shatter. It is part of the game and it shows when a pitcher dominates a hitter. The last reason is the history of the game.
Baseball is a great game, and the way it has been played since its origin with wood bats, if aluminum bats were used at the professional level the records and history of the game would be greatly altered. The aluminum bat will eventually be forced to certain restrictions due to the level of play in college and high school today. The wooden bat will most likely not be revised, although the increasing safety risk of splintered wood stabbing players or causing injuries may need to be addressed. The glove is obviously the most evolved piece of equipment in baseball, because originally gloves were not even used.