My grandparent’s lived on West 106th Street. The stretch from Madison Avenue to Lorain Avenue seemed to go on forever. There was a brick building directly across from the house with intermittent gaps of fencing. Behind the fences were automobile and truck frames. This company manufactured them and stored them.
My good friend Russ lived south of their house, closer to Madison. Across from his house were two garages which seemingly were never used. we used the brick facade that divided the two garages as home plate and white chalk allowed us to outline a strike zone on that aging red brick.
The pitcher threw from the curb. Batters would smack those wiffle balls at the house that Russ lived in and also the one to the left, occupied by a German family with a son named Atilla, the aptly named scourge of the neighborhood. If you made it to the porches on the fly – a home run. Get it past the pitcher on the ground – a single. you could get doubles and triples if you could hit the ball between the houses in the driveway – depending on the distance. If you hit it in the driveway all the way to the backyard – a home run.
Given the fact that the street was the infield area, no running was done. A lazy man’s game perhaps, but skills were needed. The wiffle ball, was usually purchased at nearby Rose’s Drugs for $ .59 each… no small sum back then!
The wiffle bat was a ripoff because we all to easily destroyed them. We went to broomsticks instead. The magic of the wiffle ball after all was that it really did curve. The extra length of the broomstick allowed the batter a chance to really drive those curve balls. If you held those perforated slots the opposite way, you could throw a nasty slider. Remember though… if the batter didn’t swing and miss, the pitch still had to hit the chalked box on the bricks or it was a ball. It took a certain expertise to throw a sweeping curve ball with a wiffle ball… or a slider to a lefty. The fastball grip was obvious and the rest fell on the strength of your arm.
Russ was a year older than me. He was tall, wiry and strong, which meant he could bring the heat. But Russ was fascinated with Hoyt Wilhelm who was mastering baseball with a baffling pitch called the knuckle ball. So instead of just easily striking everyone out, Russ made it a game by trying to throw knuckle balls. Like in real baseball, if it doesn’t “knuckle”… it get’s hit a long way. I was always heavy set and slow, but had very good eye-hand co-ordination, so I could always hit. I spent many summers at my grand parents house, and every Saturday was wiffle ball day. Pitching while waiting for the traffic to clear was a nuisance, but what I wouldn’t give to be “toeing the curb” one more time….
The wiffle ball was introduced to kids in 1954. Go HERE to read the original rules. And yes, the wiffle ball is still being made, although I doubt that it still sells for $ .59. Why not track one down and let your kids experience the thrill of throwing a “sweeping” curve… As it did for us back then, you and your kids may look at baseball differently and may want to take in a game or two… can’t hurt, it’s a GREAT game….