The History of the Stitching on a Baseball

 

With the World Series just around the corner, it’s hard not to think about baseball and how it has been part of American history for decades. The baseball is the iconic staple of the sport, with its bright white surface and stitched red lines. But, have you ever wondered how the red stitching came to be? One would think that in today’s era of high-end equipment and digital technology, baseball stitching would be a product of these machines. This isn’t the case, however.

The First Baseball Design

Baseballs have always had some form of stitching. The earliest balls featured a core, which was basically any solid surface, with hand woven yarn or string. The baseball would usually contain some type of stuffing as well. The cover was one piece and stitched onto the core in a “lemon peel” or “rose petal” fashion. The four sides were sewn together to close the baseball’s core, and an “X” configuration gave the design a more formal look. These were the first balls, and even though today’s balls are larger and brighter, other things have not changed.

The Start of Stitching Machines

The United Shoe Machinery Company was formed out of several shoe machinery companies in 1899. By 1910, the company had 80 percent of the shoe machinery market. In an effort to expand their product line, the company tried their hand at many other projects, including those in the military and computer divisions. In 1949, the company undertook three experiments to develop baseball stitching machines. The machines were intuitive, including controls for stitching and component inserting. At the time, baseballs were handstitched, with 108 stitches through cowhide leather on each ball.

No matter how hard the company worked and how advanced the machines were, manual labor was still necessary. There were also countless other problems with the machines, and in the 1960s, all efforts on stitching machines were stopped. Although it was believed that the machines would make the baseballs more uniform in appearance, some speculated that players would like the look and feel of a hand-sewn baseball.

Today, baseballs are still hand sewn. There have been further efforts to automatically stitch laces onto the cowhide leather, but nothing has been successful. And, who can argue with a hand-sewn baseball that represents a piece of American history?