Appel: Imagining an inventors’ wing in the Baseball Hall of Fame

From SABR member Marty Appel at The National Pastime Museum on August 30, 2017:

Imagine the founding fathers of baseball seated around a wooden table drinking a little stout, mapping out a playing field, and getting around to the equipment to be used.

They come to the little sphere that will be called a baseball. They have to decide whether it would be woven with stitches to keep the horsehide together or whether it could somehow be fashioned stitch-free, like a billiard ball or a golf ball. Perhaps it could be dipped in a non-breakable solution that would harden just enough to keep the twine in place.

What they were debating, of course, came to be the very essence of the game. Without stitching, there could be no curveball pitching. And without curveballs, baseball would be only a test of hitting. Speed and control would be the hurler’s only weapons—no breaking pitches to keep the batter guessing.

And so the question for scholars and philosophers is: Did the founders have breaking balls in mind when they invented the game, or was it an accidental byproduct of the simple need to stitch the horsehide together? Perhaps they had no idea that curveball pitching would come from the incorporation of stitching.

The answer, which we really don’t know, is at the very heart of baseball.

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Originally published: August 30, 2017. Last Updated: August 30, 2017.