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On This Date in Sports August 2, 1938

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

Yellowbaseball

Yellow baseballs are used during the first game of a doubleheader between the St. Louis Cardinals and Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field. The idea of using a yellow ball came from concern over the difficulty to pick up a baseball in flight, which led to the nearly fatal beaning of Detroit Tigers catcher Mickey Cochrane in 1937. The Dodgers would win the game with yellow baseballs 6-2.

On May 25, 1937, Detroit Tigers catcher and manager Mickey Cochrane, was hit in the head by New York Yankees pitcher Bump Hadley after hitting a home run in his previous at-bat. Cochrane sustained a serious concussion and was hospitalized for a week. The injury proved to be career-ending as doctors advised him to never play baseball again. Cochrane remained manager but lost the competitive spirit and was dismissed the following season.

While some called for protective gear for the head, most players were against it out of tradition. With a scientific study stating the difficulty of seeing a white object in motion, the idea of switching to yellow baseballs was suggested by Brooklyn Dodgers President Larry MacPhail. The first use of yellow baseballs occurred on April 27, 1938, in a collegiate game between Columbia and Fordham. The balls would be used in several other college games, though no conclusion was made on whether or not they could be seen better than traditional white baseballs.

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After getting the yellow baseballs sanctioned by the National League, Larry MacPhail, President of the Brooklyn Dodgers announced that the balls would be used on August 2nd in a doubleheader against the St. Louis Cardinals. In the first game of a doubleheader, Dodgers manager turned to Freddie Fitzsimmons to make the start, while Roy Henshaw was selected by Frankie Frisch to start for the Cardinals. Brooklyn got on the board in second, when Ernie Koy singled home Cookie Lavagetto who led off the inning with a walk. In the third inning, the Dodgers took advantage of walks again as Goody Rosen and Johnny Hudson scored after being issued free passes to make it 3-0 with a Tuck Stainback RBI single and a Dolph Camilli sacrifice fly. In the sixth, the Dodgers added three more runs, with Koy leading the charge with a triple, as Fitzsimmons aided his own cause with an RBI single a bunt attempt. St. Louis broke through in the seventh as Johnny Mize hit the game’s only home run. Don Gutteridge added an RBI single in the eighth inning, but it was not enough as the Dodgers claimed a 6-2 win.

White baseballs would be used in the second game and the Dodgers would complete the sweep of the twin bill, winning 9-3. After the games, Freddie Fitzsimmons, the winning pitcher claimed the balls were harder to grip. The National League would approve the yellow baseballs for use in any game that both teams were in agreement to play with them. However, despite having many proponents their use was limited as tradition won out, with the yellow ball fading into obscurity.

Three decades later, Charlie O. Finley, Owner of the Oakland Athletics suggested the use of orange baseball, which were used in a pre-season game in 1973. However, like before the balls had no chance against the traditionalists who continued to resist any change in baseball.