Backyard Sport Still Winning After 50 Years

With summer winding down, barbecuing weekends are at a premium here in New England. Checking my calendar, I’ve been invited to attend five over the course of the next three weeks. One of the things I look forward to most, (besides the food, friends and libations of course) are the Wiffle Ball tournaments. Wiffle Ball, baseball’s [very] distant cousin, is usually seen informally on beaches, backyards or parks and played with a plastic molded bat and ball.

The tournaments, at least with my friends, are a high stakes game and very competitive. So, in preparation, I went on a quest to find out how to pitch the perfect slider.

In my search, I came across an article in the Wall Street Journal. Within it, I was surprised to learn the Wiffle Ball’s design has remained unchanged for almost 60 years. “You’ve got to stick with what works,” said Stephen Mullany, Vice President, Wiffle Ball Inc.

Normally, I would agree with Mullany’s “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it” philosophy. But I have to wonder, with today’s powerful CAD software, should we analyze the ball’s weight, thickness, material, aerodynamics, and hand positioning, to see if it increases, and in some cases decreases, the ball’s speed or ability to curve? All can be done with 3D simulation without ever leaving the office or producing a physical prototype.

Quite a space-age approach when compared with the original product concept that Mullany’s grandfather came up with in 1953 when he brought two plastic halves of a perfume company’s promotional packet together and cut holes until he landed on what we all see on stores shelves today.

Mullany states that the design has never been formally analyzed, and perhaps this is as good a time as any. With the rising cost of petroleum (their products are petroleum-based) and the need for efficiencies in the manufacturing process (they employ two injection-mold machines); it may revolutionize how Wiffle conducts its business and how its customers engage with its product out in the field.

Now, back to that original question, how do I throw that perfect slider?

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5 thoughts on “Backyard Sport Still Winning After 50 Years”

  1. Jennifer Martinson says:

    Sounds like a fun engineering challenge!

  2. Richard Ware says:

    Good Luck.The slider is as much or more about the grip and release as it is about the ball.
    Altering the slots in the ball will need to prevent changing the intended spin on the ball and at the same time keep the speed of the pitch at the same ratio as it is for the good old standard wiffle pitch. Very interesting analysis.

    1. Dan Marotta says:

      Hi Richard,

      I agree, the grip, release and design all go hand-in-hand. And its not until you understand all three that will lead you to throwing the perfect pitch. Whether it be a slider, sinker, curve or knuckler.

      Wiffle Ball enthusiasts have already mastered every pitch. I selfishly was hoping that by having a redesign, it would level the playing field [no pun intended] for everyone else to gain entry and be competitive.

      Thanks for the note.

  3. Maria says:

    My kids LOVE Whiffle Ball – we actually have a field with bases built into our yard! I think there may be protests if the original was changed… But, have you seen the new “Junk Ball” sets? Perhaps these are a new, optimized design? (More expensive too.)

    1. Dan Marotta says:

      Maria, I had to do some homework on the Junk Ball. Looks like they completely revamped the game? New bat, new ball, new named pitches. The yakker and the screwgie were my favorite. Slightly more expensive than the originals but the company claims they are “unbreakaball.” Thanks for the comment. Cheers! -Dan

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