How it all began:
It was a lazy summer afternoon in Fairfield, Connecticut, 1953. Thirteen-year-old David A. Mullany and his friend were locked in another marathon game of backyard ball. The boys used a broom handle and a plastic golf ball, because every kid knows you can't play hardball in the yard.
"We had tried playing with tennis balls at first, but one day my friend's mother was hanging laundry and I drilled a shot through her arms and into the backdoor light."
David's father, David N. Mullany - a former college and semipro pitcher - watched his son trying to throw a curve with the plastic golf ball, and he got an idea. "Whether they're playing the outfield or infield, warming up or just throwing the ball around, everyone is always trying to throw a curve," he told a Network News Service reporter thirty years later. "Then it hit me. If you could take a plastic ball and make it curve, you'd probably have something."
He needed something - his auto polish business had gone bust; he was broke and unemployed. The elder Mullany called a friend who worked at the nearby Colt Firearms factory. Besides guns, the company made packaging products. "They made a plastic-ball gift box for Coty, the perfume company," said Mullany. "The mold was still there so my friend pulled off some samples for me."
He brought them home, and that night he and his son sat at the kitchen table with white plastic hemispheres, a few razor blades and some scotch tape. With a baseball, a pitcher throws a curve by creating unequal spin on the two sides of the ball. David N. Mullany reasoned that a plastic ball could be made to curve if its two hemispheres were of unequal weight. Father and son cut holes, diamonds, and other shapes out of the balls, to create an imbalance. Then they'd tape two halves together and try out the ball. The Mullany's finally concluded that it was the shape of the holes, rather than the precise volume of plastic removed, was the critical factor in the ball's performance. The ball that worked best had eight oblong holes on the top half, and a solid bottom.
"I'll never forget how the name came about," said the elder Mullany. "It was a rainy day, and I was down in the cellar with Dave writing the rules for the game. I asked him, 'What do you call that game you play?'
"Without a second thought, Dave turned around to me and said, 'Wiffle. When you miss it, it's a wiff.'"
And so was born the Wiffle Ball.
As the younger David Mullany once put it, "The beauty of it is that you can get a guy 30 years old playing against his son who is 12 years old and he can't overpower him with size or strength."
David Mullany the Elder patented the Wiffle Ball (US No. 2776139), got a second mortgage on the house, took out some loans, and started marketing the product. The company never advertised very much, depending instead on word of mouth, and the word spread like wildfire among kids.
Incredibly in this day and age, Wiffle Ball Inc. has not been taken over by a giant international conglomerate which makes ovens, dog food, asphalt shingles and sporting goods. It is still a privately held company and does not disclose its sales figures, except to say that millions have been sold. Experiments with Wiffle golf, basketball, and football were flops, but the original ball has been a steady seller.
David A. Mullany, the first person to throw a Wiffle curve, became president of the company. His father passed away in 1990, but two more Mallany's, grandsons David J. and Stephen, are now vice presidents. The Wiffle factory is a small "undistinguished" two story building in Shelton, Connecticut, 10 miles from New Haven. The company employs about 20 people, working three machines.
The Wiffle Ball sold for 49 cents in 1959, only 75 cents in 1985. The original Wiffle bat was wood, but for many years it has been a skinny yellow fungo-shaped plastic bat, manufactured by another company. Today you can buy the bat-and-ball set as cheaply as $2.49.
From 1956 until 1992 the familiar Wiffle Ball box displayed a picture and endorsement from a big league star, like Whitey Ford, Eddie Mathews, Ted Williams, Jackie Jensen, Pete Rose, Mike Scott, or Rick Sutcliffe. The Mallany's never met any of these stars; they just purchased the photos from agents. "I've had a lot of people write in because we've had someone like Lou Piniella on the box," Mullany the Younger told NNS. "They bill themselves as the world's greatest Wiffle Ball pitcher and want me to set up a match with Lou."
The endorsements were discontinued in '92 because (surprise!) player endorsements were getting too expensive. And after a few early attempts, the company hasn't advertised at all. "We saw that the sales generated by the ads were about the same as we spent on the ads, so we stopped," young Mullany told the Associated Press. As he told Cobb, "Maybe I should sell a Wiffle Ball hat or a Wiffle Ball T-shirt to promote the thing. But I don't."
The box always featured diagrams of how to throw a curve and a slider, but according to Nathan Cobb of the Globe, the diagrams are wrong. Mullany the Elder, a southpaw, showed a graphic artist how he gripped the ball. The artist then drew a right hand, while keeping the ball in the same position. So the diagrams were backwards, and they were never changed. Young David Mullany admitted this Cobb, "Yeah, but in all that time I've only gotten two letters about it."
Until the mid-1960s, the box included a set of "loosely structured" rules, derived from David A. Mullany's backyard game, with 2 players and imaginary baserunners. The rules are still available from The Wiffle Ball Inc., PO Box 193, Shelton, CT 06484.
The Rules of Wiffle Ball
There are two major tournaments in the United States. The World Whiffle Ball Championship is held in July in Mishawaka, IN and the The World Wiffleball Association tournament is held in September at Hanover, MA. Both claim to be the spiritual center of Wiffle-ism. Here are the rules:
1.00 THE PLAYING FIELD
1.01 The FIELD shall be laid out using the instructions below, supplemented by Diagram 1. The playing surface may be dirt, grass, artificial grass, concrete, or asphalt. FOUL LINES shall extend from the back of home plate to the base of the foul poles, in left and right fields, clearly defining the limits of"fair" territory of the playing field.
1.02 The OUTFIELD must be enclosed by a fence or wall. Fences shall be no less than 4 ft., nor greater than 16 ft. in height. The distance from home plate to the base of the nearest foul pole shall be no less than 80 ft., nor greater than 105 R. The distance from home plate to the base of the center field fence shall be no less than 95 ft., nor greater than 125 R.
1.03 the INFIELD shall be marked with a 42 ft. single's line, extending from Foul line to Foul line, and a 65 ft. double's line, also extending from Foul line to Foul line. See Diagram 1.
t.04 A PITCHER'S MOUND shall not be used. The pitching area shall be flat and at the same ground level as home plate. The distance from home plate to the front edge of the pitching rubber shall be 42 ft., as shown in Diagram 1. The distance from the pitching- rubber to the backstop shall be 45 ft.
1.05 The BATTER'S BOX shall measure 4 ft. in width by 6 ft. in length and be laid out as shown in Diagram 2.
1.06 The BACKSTOP shall be located 3 ft. directly behind home plate. The STRIKE ZONE, cut out of the backstop shall be 22" wide by 30" tall, and start 12" off the ground as shown in Diagram 3.
2.01 The BALL - The official Wiffle Ball (baseball size) shall be the official ball of the Hamilton County Park District.
a) Balls may be lightly scuffed upon the pitching rubber, in order to remove their slick finish at any time throughout the game.
b) Any ball with greater than a 1/4" crack will be thrown out of the game.
2.02 All Players must play barehanded. No gloves are to be worn. Exception - In the North American Wiffle Championship, the pitcher only may wear a glove to hide his grip on the ball.
2.03 The BAT- Three bats may be used. The yellow Wiffle Ball bat, supplied by Wiffle Ball, the Ledge Sledge and King's Stick, supplied by J.T.L.
a) A grip may be applied to the handle not to exceed 12" above the handle end, or to add extra weight. b) Bats may not be modified in any other way.
3.01 All BALLS and STRIKES are designated by the "hole" in the backstop. If the ball goes through the hole, it is considered a strike, even if it hits the side of the hole first. If the ball does not go through the hole, and is not swung at by the batter, it is considered a ball. A pitched ball that hits the batter is also considered a ball, although the batter must attempt to avoid being hit. If a batter has 2 strikes on him, and foul tips the ball through the hole, it is considered strike 3.
3 .02 It is the responsibility of the batter to make all FAIR and FOUL calls, because he is looking down both foul lines.
3.03 LINE CALLS (Single, Double, Triple) - It is the responsibility of the fielder closest to the ball to make the line call, since he has the best view of the play.
3.04 CHECK SWINGS - It is the pitcher's responsibility to make all check swing calls.
3.05 OFFICIAL SCORE - The home team has the official score, in case of a discrepancy.
3 06 SITUATIONS a) The batter says the situation as he enters the batter's box. Example: "Runners on 1st and 2nd, 1 out." He must dictate the base runners and the number of outs. b) The pitcher says the count before each pitch. Example: "2 balls, 1 strike".
4.00 STARTING/ENDING THE GAME
4.01 A regulation game consists of seven innings, unless extended because of a tie score or shortened because (i) either team holds a ten run or greater lead at the end of the fifth inning or (ii) the home team needs none of it's half of the seventh inning, or (iii) either team holds a 15 run or greater lead at the end of the fourth inning. TOURNAMENT GAMES consist of six innings.
4.02 GAME DELAYS - The crew chief shall halt play if field or weather conditions are deemed too severe for play. Play shall not resume until the crew chief determines that field and weather conditions allow play. If the crew chief judges that field and weather conditions render the game unplayable, the game shall be called.
4.03 REGULATION GAME - If the game is called it is a REGULATION GAME if five innings have been completed and either team has the lead.
4.04 SUSPENDED GAME - If the game is called, it is a SUSPENDED GAME if five innings have been completed and neither team has the lead.
NOTE: A SUSPENDED GAIN shall be continued from the point at which it was called until it's conclusion or it meets the REGULATION GAME parameters and is called for again.
4.05 POSTPONED GAME - If the game is called, it is a POSTPONED GAME if fewer than five innings have been completed.
NOTE: A POSTPONED GAME shall be considered null and void. All records shall be wiped out and the game shall be replayed in it's entirety.
4.06 EXTRA INNINGS - If the score is tied after seven complete innings, (six for tournament), play shall continue until (i) the visiting team has scored more runs than the home team at the end of a completed inning, or (ii) the home team scores the winning run in an uncompleted inning. PLEASE NOTE: In extra innings, both teams begin with the bases loaded.
4.07 PROTESTING GAMES - In an protested games, the decision of the Association President or Tournament Director is final.
(a) No protest shall be permitted on judgment calls by a player.
(b) Whenever a manager protests a game because of an alleged misapplication of these rules, the protest will not be recognized unless the crew chief is notified at the time the play under protest occurs and before the next pitch is made.
(c) If a game is protested, the official scorer shall note the exact situation at the time of the protest, including the score, the number of outs, the batter, the position of any runners, and the ball-strike count.
(d) If a protest is upheld by the Association President or
Tournament Director, a replay of the game shall not take place unless the Association President or Tournament Director deems that the violation adversely affected the protesting team's chances of winning the game.
(e) If a replay of the game is ordered, the game shall resume at the point of the protest. The correct ruling shall be made and the game shall continue until it's completion. The line-up and batting order of both teams shall be exactly the same at the point of protest subject to the rules of substitution.
5.00 GENERAL GAME RULES
(a) ROSTER - Teams shall carry a minimum of two and no more than eight players on their roster.
(b) Teams shall employ a minimum of two players (pitcher, one fielder) in the field. NOTE: If a player leaves the game and the team has no other available roster players to take his spot in the line-up, his team may continue play with fewer than three players. An automatic out shall be recorded each time the player is due to bat.
(c) STARTING LINE-UP - A team's starting line-up consists of all players who appear in the batting order at the start of the game.
(d) BATTING ORDER - A team's batting order shall
have no fewer than two, nor more than four players in it. The number of players in the batting order shall remain the same throughout the game. An additional hitter is optional (fourth batter - but only three play the field).
(e) BENCH PLAYERS - All roster players not appearing in the batting order at the start of the game shall be considered bench players.
(a) PITCHER(i) A pitcher may be substituted for at any time after he has faced a minimum of one batter. (ii) A pitcher being replaced maintains his spot in the batting order, unless the relief pitcher is a bench player, or he is pinch hit for by a bench player.
(b) FIELDERS (i) Free substitution of fielders is permitted among all players in the starting line-up. Fielders being replaced in the field by starting players shall maintain their spot in the batting order.
(ii) If a bench player replaces a starting player in the field, or at bat, he shall take the replaced player's spot in the batting order.
(iii) If a starting player is replaced by a bench player, he cannot re-enter the game.
(iv) All Fielders must start behind the single's line,
but, may field the ball in front of line after the pitch is made.
5.03 BATTING OUT OF ORDER
BATTING OUT OF ORDER
(a) A batter shall be called out, on appeal, when he fails to bat in his proper turn, and another batter completes a time at bat in his place.
NOTE: The proper batter may take his place m the batter's box at any time before the improper batter completes a time at bat, and any balls or strikes shall be counted m the proper batter's dine at bat.
(b) If an improper batter becomes a runner or is put out, the defensive team must appeal the legality of his at bat before the first pitch to the next batter. If this is done, the umpire shall (i) declare the proper batter
out, (ii) nullify any advance or score made because of a ball batted by the improper batter or because of the improper batter's advance to first base on a walk.
(c) If an improper batter becomes a runner or is put out, and a pitch is made to the next batter before an
appeal is made, the improper batter becomes the proper batter and the results of his time at bat
becomes legal and shall stand.
(d) If the proper batter is called out because he failed to bat in turn, the next batter shall be the batter whose name follows that of the proper batter in the batting order.
(e) If an improper batter becomes a proper batter because no appear is made before the first pitch to the next batter, the next batter shall be the batter whose name follows that of the now legalized improper batter.
5.04 BUNTING - Bunting is illegal. If a batter attempts to bunt, he shall be ruled out by the crew chief and the put out shall be recorded as a strikeout.
6.01 THE COUNT - The official count shall be 4 balls and 3 strikes. A strike shall be called if a pitched ball (i) goes through the target strike zone in the air, (ii) is swung at and missed by the batter, or (iii) is fouled by the batter. NOTE: The hands of the batter shall be ruled as an extension of the bat. If a batter swings at the pitch and hits a fair ball off of his hand(s), the ball shall be ruled a fair ball.
6.02 The pitcher shall be allowed 15 warm-up pitches before his first inning or work. Each succeeding inning, the pitcher shall be allowed 5 warm-up pitches.
6.03 HIT BY PITCH - Any pitched ball which hits the batter legally positioned within the batter's box and not in the act of swinging shall be called a ball. No base awarded.
6.04 BATTER INTERFERENCE - Once the batter has legally positioned himself within the batter's box, he is not required to move out of the path of the pitch. However, if the batter is ruled by the pitcher to have intentionally moved into the path of the pitch in an attempt to block the pitch, he shall be called for batter interference, and the pitch shall be called a strike.
NOTE: The issue of Rule 6.04 is not whether the pitch would have hit the target strike zone, but did Me batter intentionally move into the path of Me pinch in question.
7.01 Each offensive player shall bat in the order that his name appears in the batting order.
7.02 The batter shall take his position in the batter's box promptly when it is his turn to bat. The batter's legal position shall be with both feet completely within the batter's box.
7.03 The batter has legally completed his time at bat when his is either put out or becomes a runner.
8.01 Any fair ball that touches on, or beyond the pitching line is a single.
8.02 Any fair ball that touches on, or goes beyond the double line on a fly is a double.
8.03 Any. fair ball that hits the fence on the fly is a triple. On the V.I.P. Field, if the ball hits the Green Monster" on a fly, and is caught by the outfielder before it touches the ground, the batter is held to a single.
8.04 Any fair ball that goes over the fence is a home run. If an outfielder touches the ball, it is still considered a home run.
8.05 Any fly ball that is dropped by a fielder - fair or foul, is considered a single, even if he is beyond the double line.
8.06 Any fair ground ball misplayed by the fielder is a single. A ground ball may be bobbled, but if it retouches the ground, it is considered a single.
8.07 Base runners advance same amount of bases as batter.
8.08 SACRIFICE FLY - (only pertains to runner on 3rd base) batter has option of tagging - must say "sacrifice fly" while ball is in air. The defender who catches the ball must throw it through the hole in backstop on the fly from where he caught it. If he does, it's a double play, if not, then the run scores.
8.09 Any ball that touches beyond the single line in foul territory is a foul ball, even if it bounces back into fair territory.
(a) A defensive fielder shall not position himself behind the pitcher within the batter's hitting background. If a fielder does position himself in this fashion, the batter must appeal to the pitcher to have the offending fielder reposition himself out of the batter's hitting background before the pitch is delivered.
(b) A defensive player shall not engage in any action or movement with the intent to distract the batter.
10.00 BASE RUNNING/RUNNER ADVANCEMENT
Physical running of the bases shall not be employed. Instead, "ghost" or imaginary runners shall be used. All runners automatically advance the same number of bases as the batter.
10.01 AUTOMATIC RUNNER ADVANCEMENT
(a) The batter earns a walk - all runners that are forced to advance by the advancement of the batter to first base advance one base.
(b) The batter hits a ground rule single, double, triple, home run, or reaches on an error, all runners advance the same number of bases as the batter.
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