One rare collectible ball stands out as perhaps one of the most unconventional pieces of sports memorabilia: The Official Orange Major League Baseball. Coming from an era of Major League Baseball’s past in which its time-line is dotted by several controversial shenanigans pulled off by one of the League’s most eccentric minds, former Oakland Athletics owner Charles O. Finley.
The Official Charles O. Finley Orange Baseball saw use only by the A’s in Spring Training in the 1973 season. It was supposedly disregarded as a flop; a fad that failed before it could even become a fad. A proposal so outlandish it was probably laughed at behind the privacy of closed doors and thick cigar smoke-screens of baseball’s big wigs. But some evidence shows that maybe the league took this much more seriously than they ever let on.
At least, BigLeagueBaseballs.com has come across some interesting prototypes that would suggest the hot orange ball had more than a snowball’s chance in hell at making the it to The Show.
Charles O. Finley’s memorable tenure in baseball is full of many outlandish stories, (check out Time Magazine’s typo/misspelling in the title! Ouch.) most based around his ideas to “improve” the national pastime by invoking anything and everything that would spit in the face of its long upheld traditions.
Some of Finley’s proposals gained approval and can still be seen in today’s game. He was responsible for bringing some color and aesthetics to the game with the Athletics bright green and yellow uniforms, as well as the first night games in the World Series, and the American League’s Designated Hitter rule.
A few of his more peculiar proposals? While the A’s were still in Kasas City: A mascot – in fact it was a live goat -named Charlie O., sheep grazing in the grass beyond the outfield wall, and a mechanical rabbit that popped up and gave a fresh set of baseballs to the homeplate umpire. Sounds like all this guy really wanted was a petting zoo. And by the way, if anyone can find video of that mechanical rabbit and upload it, please contact us. I want one of those rabbits to pop up behind my desk and deliver piping hot rounds of Starbuck’s every morning.
Finley also was the man who hired a very young “executive vice president” named Stanley Burrell to be his “eyes and ears” for the Oakland Athletics. Think you’ve never heard of Mr. Burrell? Maybe this will ring a bell:
My, my, my music hits you, so hard, makes you say “oh my lawd!” …I think I digressed.
Anyway, the Hammer somehow brings us full circle, back to the topic at hand, the Official Charles O. Finley Orange Baseball. The MLB commissioner at the time of its creation, Bowie K. Kuhn, wouldn’t let Finley use the ball in an official regular season game. So the bright orange baseball was first put into play in the Athletics 11-5 loss to the Cleveland Indians in a 1973 exhibition game. Some sources note that it was used in a second spring training game as well.
Reviews from this initial on-field orange baseball experience mentioned that the color of the ball gave it several advantages over regular white baseballs. Fans and batters could see it better than a white ball. Umpires also stated that the ball was easier to see, while it increased the offensive side of the game (which Finley always preferred: Designated hitters, designated runners) while decreasing the number of errors in the field. (From Keyman Collectibles).
But it was also mentioned by some hitters that they couldn’t see the spin of the ball, thanks to the red laces disappearing on the orange ball. That would explain why Finley would later tinker and add minor modification – switching to white laces. Regardless, the ball never was accepted by the league and all of Charlie’s hopes and dreams of leaving his finger prints on the Major League’s Official Game Ball never came close to being realized.
But then why, if the ball was deemed such a joke and a spectacle, did Major League Baseball contract Spalding to produce official prototypes, like these pictured below? Glowing bright orange MLB baseballs with the OFFICIAL Major League stamped American League President signatures of Joe Cronin and Lee MacPhail? Along with the Spalding logo on “No. 0” and “No. 1” Official model baseballs?
BigLeagueBaseballs.com obtained two of these samples, they are now the newest additions to the hallowed hall of official game balls, the Museum of Baseballs. I only wish I had more information on these great specimens. I only know that they came from true Spalding official dozen boxes, and that their covers may have been derived from pig skin. Don’t quote us on that.
So if nothing else it proves that the official supplier of Major League Baseballs at that time, Spalding, took the Orange Ball, or perhaps the “Night Game” ball seriously enough to stamp its prototypes and most likely run them through a battery of tests and send them off to the commisioner’s office. All speculation at this point, but if there are any collectors with a bit more knowledge of these baseballs, please share your wisdom in the comment’s section below, or in our shiny new Big League Baseballs’ Forum.