A Passion for Making Vintage Baseballs

June 10, 2019 07:23 AM

(ABC 6 News) - It's no secret that America's Pastime has a rich history and that the game of baseball has evolved since it first began. Well as the game changed, so did the equipment that is used to play it. For instance, the baseball. Have you ever wondered about its history? And what it may have looked like over 150 years ago?

That curiosity struck right here in Med City, within the Roosters Base Ball Club. The Roosters play the game as it would have been back in 1860, which includes using hand made baseballs.


As the woman who made the balls got older, it was time for someone else to take over. The husband of the woman who founded the Roosters learned, then he passed along his knowledge to Captain Corky Gaskell.

"This is what he taught me, but historically, what did they really do," Gaskell wondered. "That's when I started to dig into old newspapers, books, whatever I could get my hands on where anybody was talking about what they did back then."

After years of research and honing his craft, an incredible opportunity arose for the Roosters' Captain.

"I've been making baseballs for quite a while, and there's a gentleman that I know that is a part of the society of baseball researchers, called SABR, and they have this event every year out in Cooperstown," Gaskell said. "He suggested what I do was unique and that I should apply to present at that conference, at the Baseball Hall of Fame. So I did and fortunately I was one of the 15 that were selected to present."

In April, Corky presented his work in Cooperstown and got to meet his idol, Major League Baseball Historian, John Thorn.

"Made me nervous, but once I met him I realized he's not different than me just smarter and knows a lot more history," Gaskell said.

So, how does one make a vintage baseball? According to Gaskell, each year a book of rules comes out with the description of the balls and that is where he gets the size and weight for the baseballs.

The first step of making an 1860 baseball is building the rubber core. Corky said he uses rubber bands versus India rubber which was used back in the 1860s. Also, depending on the year, there are different stopping points when building the rubber center.

"In the rule book of 1871, they designated that you could have no more than one ounce of rubber so that would be this size," Gaskell demonstrated a smaller rubber band ball. "But before that, there was no restriction. Only on the total weight of the ball, so when I make them I get the three ounces of rubber.  Just a matter of continuing to wrap the rubber band balls."

Following the rubber center, one must start wrapping the ball in yarn, which can rip into your hands so Corky said the best way to avoid that is to use gloves. Also, it's important to turn the ball while wrapping so the yarn is smooth and doesn't bunch up.

"Once this is done now, we need to make the cover," Gaskell showed the leather he would wrap the ball in. "This one is already punched, but I will buy hides of leather, cut out the leather based on the patterns and actually have a punch that I use. So I just keep punching all these holes all around the petal and then this ball gets inside here."

To secure the leather, one must tie a knot at the top, then begin to stitch it up with waxed sinew, which is made from pig innards, starting at the bottom of the ball. 

"As we go down to the bottom here, what we'll do is go underneath all the leather, come up this side and go back up the same way we started," Gaskell said as he described the stitching method he uses.

After all the sides are stitched up, the result is a handcrafted 1860 baseball.


Jordyn Reed

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