Time Out: July 16, 2014
It is the great equalizer, a rare innovation that levels the playing field and neutralizes the power the big kids bring to a backyard baseball game. Since the early 1950s, Americans of every size, shape, sex, and age have at one time or another played Wiffle® Ball. That’s right, the abbreviated backyard baseball game using those long skinny, yellow, hard plastic bats and that plastic baseball featuring eight holes in the ball.
Wiffle® Ball is the invention of a keen-eyed father who enjoyed watching his son play baseball in the backyard. The year was 1953. David Mullany Sr. was watching his son David Jr. and a buddy emulating a baseball game in his backyard in Fairfield, CT. Like many of the boys of that era, David and his pal were innovative, using a broomstick as a bat and a small plastic golf ball as the baseball. The idea of designing a plastic baseball with aerodynamic features took shape as David Sr. watched David Jr. struggle to make the plastic golf ball curve. Everyone would love to throw a ball that was easy to curve, the older Mullany reasoned.
So, David Sr. let his imagination run wild. Supplied with plastic balls by a friend who worked at a factory that manufactured them, the experiments began. Baseball legend has accused and lauded pitchers for loading the baseball since the earliest days of the game. Pitching greats like Whitey Ford, Gaylord Perry and Nolan Ryan were recognized as some of the most adept doctors of the grand old game. None could compare with the shenanigans applied to a plastic ball by David Mullany Sr.
As he struggled to develop the prototype of a plastic ball that would curve without snapping the wrist hard or pulling down the arm, Mullany added varying weights to the sides of the ball and cut holes in the plastic of varying numbers, locations, and sizes. Using trial and error, Mullany discovered the ball that had the best curve had eight oval shaped holes in the top half with a solid plastic lower half.
With pitching pedigree in his background, Mullany pitched on both college and semi-professional baseball teams, David Sr. began to devise a set of rules for playing baseball with his new ball. But, first he needed a name. A master of the obvious, dad went to son and asked if they had a name for the game he and his pal played in the back yard. “We call it whiffle. When you miss it’s a whiff,” explained the younger Mullany.
Mullany Sr. needed capital to produce his new product. Always willing to take a risk, he took out a second mortgage on his home and shortly thereafter production began. The Wiffle® Ball equipment got positive initial reviews on many fronts. Mullany’s invention was a perfect fit for backyard baseball, allowing people of any age to simulate the baseball game on a diamond at a mammoth stadium in the confines of an average sized backyard. Backyard baseball played with Wiffle® Balls rarely broke house windows like other balls, a huge plus with moms and dads. And, playing backyard Wiffle® ball didn’t require 18 players like a standard baseball game.
No glove needed
The ball could be fielded with your bare hands, great for those who lacked a glove, and, no matter how swarthy the batter, it took a good swat to hit a ball out of the yard for a home run. In fact, I’m sure many people reading this column would agree that hitting a Wiffle® ball with that skinny yellow bat had a similar feel as hitting a regular sized baseball with a wooden baseball bat.
It didn’t take long in the late 1950s and throughout the ’60s before Wiffle® ball was the rage. And, the game invented by David Mullany wasn’t simply a fad. A third generation of Mullany’s still operates the company today and produces Wiffle® balls.
“You get people who played as kids, and then played with their kids and then play with their grandchildren,” Stephen Mullany, a vice president of the company, told Sports Feel Good Stories.com.
Wiffle® Ball, like a hot dog, popcorn, peanuts, and Cracker Jacks, part of every summer’s baseball tradition. And, Wiffle® Ball helps remind us we should never feel too old to play a kid’s game.