Big League Baseballs has uncovered a key turning point in the history of the Mid-Summer Classic’s game ball, and now we offer you the exclusive interview and story about how today’s colorful baseballs came to be, and how one fan and team employee, along with one Hall of Famer, played an integral part in the reincarnation of multi-color laced Rawlings Official Major League Baseballs.
The official regular season game balls used in Major League Baseball today may seem cold, corporate and lacking in aesthetic appeal and imagination to most autograph and memorabilia collectors. The Rawlings Official RO-MLB game ball has remained unchanged since 2000. It features blue ink, the iconic MLB batter logo on the lower panel (a big design upgrade compared to the lower panels of previous AL and NL balls), and the official stamping with commissioner Allan “Bud” Selig’s facsimile signature. The Majors switched to a universal game ball after dissolving the American and National League presidents’ offices, and ended a near 100-year run of individual league balls for both leagues. But regular season balls haven’t always been so bland.
One of the great cosmetic highlights of vintage Reach and Spalding baseballs of yesteryear were multi-colored laces, blue and red for the American League and black and red for the National League. Though it was only a short time before the leagues switch to all red laces on their respective baseballs, those vintage balls represent an era of America’s pastime and vintage memorabilia that is prized by serious collectors. The Majors went nearly 60 years without deviating from those red laces (with perhaps the exception of this new find from our last post). That was until one man, with a passion for baseball nostalgia and an astute marketing mind, got a chance to leave his stamp on the Major League’s Official Game ball.
Andy Strasberg, currently the owner of ACME Sports Marketing in San Diego, developed his baseball roots as a young New York Yankees fan living in Bronx, NY in the 1950′s. He is known by his peers as Roger Maris’s number one fan, and it’s hard to argue that considering Maris himself acknowledged it when Strasberg had the honor of meeting him in 1960s. Strasberg and Maris developed an uncommon friendship between fan and legendary sports star, one that perhaps helped pave the way for him to turn his love of the game into a successful career in the biz of baseball. The story of Strasberg and Maris is well documented and stands alone; what makes Andy an icon to BigLeagueBaseballs.com is his own contribution to the game and to the evolution of the Official Game Ball
In 1978, when Andy Strasberg was working as Padres Director of Promotions under VP of Marketing Elten Schiller, the organization was awarded the right to host the Mid-Summer Classic. With Schiller in charge of organizing the Padres end of the game, Mr. Strasberg was given limited responsibilities as a relative newcomer to the front office. But from that point forward he began developing ideas for when his time would come to lead the team’s marketing initiative for such an celebrated event.
MLB Official Game Balls were destined for a revolutionary change when Strasberg and the San Diego Padres ball club learned in 1989 that they’d been awarded the right to host the 1992 All-Star Game. Strasberg was put in charge of organizing and facilitating the festivities on behalf of the Padres and he coordinated efforts in MLB front offices in New York.
Andy was prepared, he referred to his list of ideas he had been developing since the ’78 game. And the one idea that makes Strasberg a legend at Big League Baseballs? It was simply to have the laces replicate the colors of team. “I took the old red and blue stitch baseball and translated it to a new All-Star Game ball,” remembers Strasberg.
Brilliant. Simple, yes, but brilliant.
Andy proposed a dozen new ideas to top-level folks at Major League Baseball, and, “to my shock and astonishment, they said ‘yes’ to all.” Andy notes that the toughest idea for MLB to accept was the radical change to the game ball.
“People in MLB thought the ball might be a distraction and a problem. I thought that was ludicrous. We tried three or four different types of baseballs. The first one had black stitching. I said ‘it’s not right.’ The next had blue stitching, then orange. We went through a number of prototypes. They finally made a protoype I liked, and made 6 dozen that had Padres colors.”
And BigLeagueBaseballs.com is fortunate enough to have the evidence of these protypes (a BIG thank you to Andy Strasberg):
Strasberg continues: “The agreement was if Tony Gwynn took batting practice and didn’t have a problem seeing and hitting the ball, they’d allow it. He took BP, and I asked him if he had any problem seeing them. He said ‘no, no problem whatsoever.’ That’s how those baseballs became a reality. It started in San Diego in ’92 and it has carried on ever since.”
Strasberg received little recognition for the idea to bring back multi-colored stitching to the game’s Official Baseball. Several of the other innovations that he played a part in were coveted by those fortunate enough to attend the game. One of those included a bit of a “prank” - sneaking a girl into the outfield, with hair tucked under a ball cap, to shag fly balls with the guys during the Homerun Derby. “She eventually took off her hat, letting her pony tail fall out, and the crowd went crazy,” said Strasberg. “She was a softball player, and was out there catching line drives.”
Some more collectibles made possible by Strasberg: The Official Game Programs: “I wanted the program to play take me out to the ball game; open it up, it does.” And when the program is opened up certain page, a “popup” presents fans with a foldout baseball card. Strasberg’s contributions to baseball memorabilia also include perhaps the most unique Rawlings Official Commemorative Game Baseball ever made, the 1996 La Primera Serie Official National League (Coleman stamped) game ball.
Yes, it features multi-colored laces, all thanks to Strasberg’s breakthrough concept in 1992, which opened the door for such colorful creativity to be brought back into the game. The red and green laces were a no-brainer for Andy, who wanted to replicate the host nation’s official colors and baseballs. The red stamping was also a first on a regular season game ball.
This is the first NL commemorative gamer ever used, and it commemorated the first MLB regular season games in Mexico. Strasberg noted that at that time, these weren’t made for “merchandising” as much as they were used to truly make the games that much more special.
Today, Strasberg continues to contribute to the game. As the founder of Fantography, he enables fans to share their personal photographs of America’s favorite pastime with other fans. Strasberg encourages all fans to contribute their pictures from their trips ballpark, and he notes that “some of the world’s best baseball photos are in shoeboxes all over the word.” For a detailed story behind Fantography, check this post on Sports Then and Now.
Strasberg’s connection to the game, and specifically to Roger Maris, also landed him a technical advisory role on the set of the Billy Crystal directed HBO special 61*. His responsibilities for the production were to assure the film’s great attention to detail as it retold Maris’s historic home run record breaking season. He appeared in the film in a small role, and also helped commission Fotoball, (which along with Rawlings was a subsidiary of K2 Inc.) to make 10 dozen official-style American League Joe Cronin-stamped baseballs. They were real baseballs complete with leather covers, replicated Spalding-Reach logos and Cronin facsimile signatures. And they were used as the official baseballs in the film. And, thanks again to Andy, one of these official movie props is pictured:
Awesome! Check out the trailer for 61*, at about the 18 second mark, you can see one of these reproduction baseballs in action:
Finally, one last note, as if Mr. Strasberg hasn’t provided Big League Baseballs with enough amazing experiences at baseball’s highest level, we’ve found a book that he co-authored: Baseball’s Greatest Hit: The Story of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.“
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Now just think where commemorative MLB game baseballs would be today without Andy’s contribution? All of the All-Star balls from 1992-2010 feature multi-color laces. After Strasberg brough his Padres orange and bright blue laces into the game, baseballs have been stitched with black, yellow, purple, green, navy blue, dark blue, silver/gray and sandstone/off-white. And, we can count at least nine commemorative MLB game balls with either multi-colored laces or balls that feature lace colors other than the traditional red:
- 1995 Cal Ripken consecutive games record “8″ ball
- 1996 La Primera Serie, Monterrey, Mexico ball
- 1996 Mickey Mantle Day ball
- 1998 Joe DiMaggio Day ball
- 1999 All-Star Game Home Run Derby, Boston, ball
- 2002 MLB Opening Day ball
- 2002 Memorial Day ball
- 2002 4th of July ball
- 2002 9/11 ball
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BigLeagueBaseballs.com would like to thank Andy for all the time he took to share his amazing stories with the site, and all the pictures he contributed. And on behalf of baseball memorabilia collectors all over the world, a collective admiration and a big thank you for his incredible contributions of the evolution of Major League Baseball’s Official Game Ball – where would commemorative baseballs be without his reintroduction of multi-colored laces to the Official All-Star Game Ball? Check our forum to discuss this and other stories about Official Game Balls and other sports memorabilia.