Jewish World Review Sept. 9, 2003 / 12 Elul, 5763
What's so great about Wiffle Ball?
http://www.jewishworldreview.com | Q: I've seen a promotion that Wiffle Ball is turning 50 this year. My question is: What's so great about Wiffle Ball?
A: What's ... so great ... about Wiffle Ball?
I'd like to answer that on behalf of anyone who's ever been an American kid. Clarence Darrow was never more inspired to formulate an argument than I am at this moment.
A Wiffle Ball and bat are all you need for a whole summer of ball-playing. Yet a kid can buy them with pocket change.
The white plastic ball with holes in one side bestows freakish pitching powers. The thin, banana-yellow bat slices the air with major league velocity.
And whistling through the holes of every Wiffle Ball is something else: The magic of daydreams. It's impossible to play without imitating your big league hero, putting yourself in the World Series, narrating your own at-bat, seeing yourself on the mound, under the lights, on TV.
That's what's so great about Wiffle Ball: Everyone is a superstar.
Your toes dig into the thick, summer grass as your best friend does his imitation of Luis Tiant's pitching wind-up.
His curveball breaks an eye-popping four feet. But you ain't fooled. You swipe the long bat through the air in a yellow blur. CLICK! (Oooh, you got good plastic on that ball!)
Your line drive zooms in an S-curve across the street, directly into the plate glass window of the mean old neighbor lady's house.
She glares out, but you just wave and smile.
She can't touch ya: A Wiffle Ball won't break windows.
It also doesn't require mitts. And because it doesn't travel far, you can create a ballpark out of a back yard or cul-de-sac, basketball court or parking lot.
See, not every kid can be a great baseball player. Little League has its share of painful moments. A baseball is hard. The game can be, too.
But there's a glory-filled Wiffle Ball park in every back yard. Any kid can throw a curve with a Wiffle Ball - and not some measly little curve, no sir. Because there are holes on only one side of the ball, air currents allow you to throw a swooping, did-ya-see-that! curve. Or a fall-off-the-table sinker. Or a riser that starts at the batter's knees and then zips by his ear.
Getting hit by these science-fiction pitches doesn't hurt, either. (In my neighborhood, we encouraged and cheered beanballs.)
In 1953 David Mullany made the first Wiffle Ball from a plastic sphere that was used as packaging for perfume. (So that's why this toy has always been so intoxicating.) He got the idea after watching his kids play baseball with a perforated golf ball and a broomstick.
By the next year he was selling millions of the balls for 49 cents all over the country. (Now the ball's cost has skyrocketed to $1.25.) The yellow bats arrived in 1959, to replace the broomsticks kids had been using. Now, for lawn-mowing money kids could buy a ball and bat. A set now costs $3.19 online, and around that in stores. (Many kids hot-wired the equipment by taping up the ball or bat, to make hits travel farther.)
Whitey Ford, Pete Rose and Thurman Munson, among others, endorsed the ball. Mike Scott - who was rumored to scuff baseballs to make them Wiffle a bit - smiled innocently from the product's box in the 1980s. Kevin Mitchell, the hulking 1989 National League MVP, learned to hit the curveball by playing Wiffle Ball in his yard.
Of course he did. All us superstars did.
To celebrate Wiffle Ball's 50th anniversary, you can nominate a childhood friend to the Wiffle Ball Hall of Fame online at http://candystand.com/wiffle/.
And there's an online Wiffle Ball game. But c'mon, wouldn't you rather bust out the yellow bat and the ball with the holes in it?
Gimme your best curveball. I'll smack it 50 feet.
SOURCE: Wiffle Ball
1. What purple potion was a favorite to Radar O'Reilly?
2. What chocolatey drink sounds like a little old lady's greeting?
3. What Canada Dry grapefruit soda was in the public "eye" in the `60s?
4. Coca-Cola used a pink can to market what diet soda to women?
1. Grape Nehi
Appreciate this column? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.