On the ball: Baseball’s unlikely celebrity

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The baseball. What is it about the little circular object that drives men to try to hit it every spring?
In his insightful and entertaining book, “The Baseball: Stunts, Scandals, and Secrets Beneath the Stitches,” author Zack Hample shares the secrets behind everyone’s favorite stitched orb.

1 Throughout the major and minor leagues, every game-used ball gets rubbed with mud to reduce the slickness and glare. The mud comes from a top-secret location off a tributary of the Delaware River in southern New Jersey. It then gets mixed with special ingredients and sells for $33 a pound.

2 Several players have attempted to catch baseballs dropped from great heights. In 1926 Babe Ruth snagged one that was tossed from an airplane flying 250 feet above an army aviation field. The record belongs to Cubs Hall of Fame catcher Gabby Hartnett, who in 1930 grabbed a ball that was dropped from a blimp 800 feet high.

3 Baseballs used to be so scarce that one ball had to last for the entire game, and the winning team got to keep it. Fans who caught foul balls were expected to return them, and until 1886, if a ball went missing, the game was delayed while the players went looking for it.

4 Charlie Sheen really likes baseballs. In 1992, he paid $93,500 for the famous ball that trickled through Bill Buckner’s legs in the 1986 World Series. (At the time, that was the most that anyone had ever spent on a baseball.) Four years later, Sheen purchased the entire left field pavilion at an Angels game — 2,615 seats in all — to increase his odds of snagging a home run ball. It didn’t work, and he went home empty-handed.

5 Every major league baseball gets stamped with invisible ink at the Rawlings factory in Turrialba, Costa Rica. It’s part of an extensive quality control system, and some of the stamps survive the cleaning solvent that gets applied at the end of the manufacturing process. Check out some baseballs under a black light and see for yourself.


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