40th anniversary: The orange baseball experiment

40 years ago today, a very different kind of baseball game was played. Well, the game itself was the same—but the baseball itself was rather distinctive. 40 years ago today, the sport of baseball tried something different—playing a game with orange baseballs.

The idea was the brainchild of maverick Oakland A’s owner Charles O. Finley. He was never one to care much for tradition. In fact, at one point he suggested changing the four-ball, three-strike count to three balls and two strikes. It would save on time and make the game go faster, he argued. That was too radical a change and so never happened. But changing the color of the ball isn’t as big a deal.

Finley thought using white baseballs was for the birds. He figured, hey, orange baseballs might be more popular with the fans and thus good for the game. After all, orange stands out better and if it stands out better, then hitters might be able to see it clearer. If they see it clearer, more runs might follow. And if baseball history teaches us anything, it’s that fans like offense.

As it happens, in early 1973 Finley had enough pull in the game to allow for the experiment. Though never the easiest person to get along with or the most popular man with his fellow owners, in 1972 his A’s did win the world title, and being world champion owner gave him the clout he needed for baseball to try it.

Baseball traditionalist owners might have minded, but they could be placated by the fact that it was just a preseason exhibition game, not a real contest.

And so it came to pass on March 29, 1973. The game featured Finley’s A’s (of course) taking on the sad sack Indians, who finished last in the AL East in 1972. Sadly for Finley, the experiment was not a success. However easy it might be to see an orange ball against a green background, there was one way the new ball was distinctly worse for offense. Hitters complained that they couldn’t make out the spin of the red seems on the ball, and so had more difficulty figuring out what was coming. For their part, pitchers complained that the ball was slippery.

Also, there was no explosion in offense. The orange balls were used for two games, and then Finley agreed to end the experiment. Heck, for Finley half the point of trying something different was just to try and see what happened.

It became part of his legacy, though. A few years later when Time but Finley on their cover, the accompanying article on him featured his orange balls. Orange balls became part of his legacy 40 years ago today.

Aside from that, many other baseball event today have their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something that happened X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones is bold if you’d rather skim.

Day-versaries

1,000 days since new Arizona manager Kirk Gibson makes an inauspicious dugout debut. The Diamondbacks not only lose 14-0 to the Dodgers, but also commit a team record six errors. Yoiks.

4,000 days since Lance Berkman bashes three home runs in one game —in the first three ABs, too.

5,000 days since Manny Ramirez suffers through his worst game according to WPA. He’s 0-for-4 with a walk, strikeout, and a GIDP for a –0.655 WPA as the Indians lose 4-3 to Toronto.

5,000 days since Jim Abbott appears in his last game.

6,000 days since the Yankees go up three games to two in the 1996 World Series when Andy Pettitte outduels John Smoltz, 1-0.

7,000 days since the Padres sign free agent second baseman Harold Reynolds.

8,000 days since Cleveland’s Chris James sets a new club record with nine RBIs in the Indians’ 20-6 win over the A’s.

8,000 days since Larry Walker lays down his seventh and final career sacrifice bunt. He’ll have 7,431 more career PA, but no more sacrifice hits.

8,000 days since Jeff Fassero makes his big league debut.

9,000 days since Donnie Moore appears in his last big league game.

9,000 days since Tom Glavine loses his seventh straight game, a career worst. In that time, here is his line: 12 GS, 65 IP, 83 H, 43 R, 39 ER, 17 BB, 30 K and a 5.40 ERA.

20,000 days since Indians GM Frank Lane fires manager Bobby Bragan and hires Joe Gordon.

20,000 days since Kansas A’s Hector Lopez hits three home runs in one game.

25,000 days since 200-game winner Jack Powell dies.

Anniversaries

1849 George Hall, future Louisville player banned for helping to throw the 1877 pennant race, is born.

1867 Cy Young, the all-time win leader, is born.

1873 Duff Cooley, turn-of-the-century outfielder, is born. He’ll lead the NL in at bats in 1897.

1889 Washington trades one-time ace fireballer Jim Whitney to Indianapolis for John “Egyptian” Healy.

1910 Bill Dietrich, pitcher, is born. He’ll go 108-128 in his career. With the 1944 White Sox he’ll lead the league in losses (17) and earned runs allowed (99).

1917 Tommy Holmes is born. He’ll lead the 1945 in slugging percentage, hits, doubles, home runs, OPS, and OPS+. He’ll also top the league in hits in 1947.

1921 Ferris Fain is born. He’ll win back-to-back hitting titles in the 1951-52 AL.

1933 Kiki Cuyler, Cub outfielder, breaks his leg. He’ll miss nearly three months.

1935 The Cardinals release Hall of Fame pitcher Dazzy Vance.

1938 Former Yankees co-owner Captain Tillinghast L’Hommedieau Huston dies at age 71.

1944 Denny McLain is born.

1945 Jim Hughey, a member of the 120-loss 1899 Cleveland Spiders, and the last pitcher to lose 30 games of the season, dies.

1953 Tom Hume, Reds reliever, is born. He’ll lead the NL in games finished in 1980.

1954 Cubs manager Phil Cavarretta gives his ownership his honest opinion of the team’s chances that season. They fire him for defeatism.

1955 The Red Sox sign free agent Eddie Joost.

1958 Jimmy Archer dies at age 74. He was a well-regarded catcher for the Cubs in the 1910s.

1960 Kid Carsey, former 1899 Spider, dies at age 87. That leaves only three players left from the 40-120 team: Sport McAllister, Harry Colliflower, and Otto Krueger. As an 18-year-old rookie in 1891, Carsey led the AA in losses (37), hits allowed (513), earned runs allowed (230), homer allowed (17), and wild pitches (29).

1960 The Giants trade Al Worthington to Boston.

1962 Billy Beane, A’s GM, is born.

1963 Wilcy Moore dies at age 65. As a 30 year-old rookie in 1927, he went 19-7 while leading the NL in ERA with a 2.28 mark.

1967 Brian Jordan is born. He’ll play in the outfield for 15 years.

1971 Oakland signs free agent Tommy Davis.

1975 The Yankees release longtime ace Mel Stottlemyre.

1977 Toronto trades John Lowenstein to Cleveland.

1979 63-year-old former ballplayer Luke Easter dies.

1980 Rico Carty is released by Toronto.

1983 The Dodgers become the first team to shut off season ticket sales before the season begins.

1988 The White Sox sign free agent pitcher Jerry Reuss.

1988 Detroit returns John Wetteland to the Dodgers.

1988 Ted Kluszewski dies at age 63. He was a star, muscle-bound slugger with the 1950s Reds.

1989 Atlanta purchases Mark Eichhorn from Toronto.

1990 Phil Masi dies at age 74. He appeared in four All-Star games as Braves 1940s catcher.

1991 Texas releases Pete Incaviglia.

1995 The Players’ Association votes to return to the diamond IF the federal courts uphold the NLRB complaint of unfair labor practices against the owners.

1995 Terry Moore dies at age 82. He made four All-Star teams as a St. Louis Cardinals centerfielder from 1939-42.

1999 Anaheim trades Phil Nevin to the Padres, where he’ll blossom.

2000 The Cubs and Mets open the season in Japan’s Tokyo Dome. The Cubs win, 5-3.

2000 Tampa Bay release starting pitcher John Burkett

2005 Andres Galarraga announces his retirement.

2006 Marquis Grissom announces his retirement.

2008 Houston trades Woody Williams.

2011 Major league baseball creates a new seven-day DL for players who have suffered a concussion.

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Comments

  1. Professor Longnose said...

    You have overrated the 1899 Cleveland Spiders!

    They were 20-134. You gave them the ‘62 Mets’ record.

  2. Chris Jaffe said...

    D’OH!  Sorry about that.  Not sure how I did that.  The Spiders are one of my favorite teams, too.

  3. dennis Bedard said...

    Re:  Cy Young, all time win leader.  let us not forget that he was also the all time loss leader with 316.  Whole different era then and his accomplishment needs to be put in perspective.

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