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Wiffle ball is a variation of the sport of baseball designed for indoor or outdoor play in confined areas. The game is played using a perforated, light-weight, rubbery plastic ball and a long, plastic (typically yellow) bat.
Miniature versions of baseball have been played for decades, including Stickball, and kids improvising using everything from rolled up socks to tennis balls. The ball most commonly used in the game was invented by David N. Mullany at his home in Fairfield, Connecticut in 1953 when he designed a ball that curved easily for his 12-year-old son. It was named when his son and his friends would refer to a strikeout as a "whiff". The classic trademarked Wiffle Ball is about the same size as a regulation baseball, but is a hollow rubbery plastic no more than 1/8 inch thick. One half is perforated with eight .75-inch (19 mm) oblong holes, with a solid second half. This construction allows pitchers to throw a tremendous variety and size of curveballs, sinkers, and risers. Wiffle balls are typically packaged with a hollow, hard plastic, yellow bat that measures 32 inches (810 mm) in length and about 1.25 inches (32 mm) in diameter.
Since the invention of the ball in 1953, the game became popular nationwide by the 1960s, seen in backyards, and on city streets and beaches.
Tournaments have been the driving force in modern Wiffle ball and have been held in the United States and Europe since 1977. That year, Rick Ferroli began holding tournaments in his backyard tribute to Fenway Park in Hanover, Massachusetts. In 1980, the World Wiffleball Championship was established in Mishawaka, Indiana. With the explosion of the Internet in the 1990s there are now hundreds of Wiffle ball tournaments played in the US, most in the same place every year, with a few tournament "circuits." The World Wiffleball Championship remains the oldest tournament in the nation, having moved to Skokie, Illinois in 2013, after introducing regional stops over three decades in Baltimore; Los Angeles; Indianapolis; Eugene, Oregon; and Barcelona, Spain. The tournament is featured at #20 in the popular book "101 Baseball Places to Visit Before You Strike Out."
There are some Wiffle ball enthusiasts who have taken field construction to inspiring heights. Some have built fields to resemble major league ballparks. Thomas P. Hannon Jr. authored a book, Backyard Ball, on his experiences building a smaller version of Ebbets Field. Patrick M. O'Connor wrote a book, Little Fenway, about building his versions of Fenway Park and Wrigley Field. But not all wiffleball fields have been modeled from major league ball parks. Some have created original fields, Strawberry Field in Encino, California being the most exquisite. Rick Messina spent $700,000+ constructing Strawberry Field, which features lights for night games, bleachers, and a press box. He also converted a neighboring house into a clubhouse/pub.
Building fields can lead to controversy and legal issues. In 2008, The New York Times published an article about Greenwich, Connecticut teenagers who were forced by the city to tear down a Wiffle ball field they had built because of neighbor complaints.
Safety controversy in spring 2011
In April 2011, the government of New York State proclaimed that Wiffle ball (as well as kickball, freeze tag, and dodgeball) was "unsafe" and a "significant risk of injury" for children, and declared that any summer camp program that included two or more of such activities would be subject to government regulation. The story often became a source of ridicule and amusement, with Parenting.com sarcastically commenting "According to new legislation introduced in New York State, to survive classic schoolyard games like capture the flag is to cheat death." Wiffle ball executives originally thought the order was a "joke". The company has never been sued over safety issues in its 50+ year history. The disapproval of people from across the nation pressured the NY legislature to remove Wiffle ball and many other entries from the list of high risk activities, such as archery and scuba diving, that require state government oversight.
Wiffle ball in popular culture
Wiffle brand products play a central role in Wiffle Ball Summer: The Ride of the Elmoron. The nonfiction title was released in 2011 and details a bicycle journey taken by a man with a Wiffle ball bat strapped to his bike frame. The final destination of his journey in the story is a large Wiffle ball tournament in Lafayette, Ohio.
In his book The Complete Far Side, cartoonist Gary Larson reproduces a letter he received after including a "Wiffle bat" in his cartoon. The letter contains language from Wiffle Ball Incorporated's attorneys: "In the future, when you use the brand name WIFFLE, the entire brand should be capitalized, and it should only be used in reference to a product currently manufactured by The Wiffle Ball, Inc."
The Beastie Boys song "Paul Revere" contains a lyric about a Wiffle ball bat; "I did it like this. I did it like that. I did it with the Wiffle ball bat."
In How I Met Your Mother Season 8 Episode 12: "The Final Page, Part One", Barney said to Ted, "it's a jinx swear, so if you break it I get to hit you in the nuts three times with a Wiffle ball bat."
On an episode of ESPN's "SportScience" Wiffle ball pitcher Joel Deroche was featured to show the world the sport of wiffleball. He pitched to current Tampa Bay Ray's first basemen James Loney in which he was unable to hit Deroche's pitches until he was given a thicker bat that than the original yellow wiffleball bat.
On an episode of Comedy Central's "Tosh.0" pitcher Sean Steffy, more well known by his YouTube username WiffleBoy28, was featured. He showed off his speed with a 95 MPH pitch and also threw a pitch which curved around Daniel Tosh who was standing between the mound and home plate and hit the strike-zone. He also hit Tosh in the face which broke his Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses.
- "What's 50, Curvy And Full of Air?; It's the Wiffle Ball, Still Popular, Holes and All – New York Times". The New York Times. August 14, 2003. Retrieved February 1, 2012.
- "Official Site of the Little Fenway Wiffle Ball Field Located in Jericho, VT". Little Fenway. Retrieved February 1, 2012.
- "Wiffle Ball Hits Home – Los Angeles Times". Los Angeles Times. October 11, 2000. Retrieved February 1, 2012.
- Wiffle Ball: The Ultimate Guide by Michael Hermann, pages 107–110
- By Peter Applebome (July 10, 2008). "Our Towns – Build a Wiffle Ball Field and Lawyers Will Come". The New York Times. Greenwich (Conn). Retrieved February 1, 2012.
- Blain, Glenn (April 19, 2011). "Classic kids games like kickball deemed unsafe by state in effort to increase summer camp regulation – New York Daily News". Articles.nydailynews.com. Retrieved February 1, 2012.
- "Playground Games Deemed Unsafe for Kids". Parenting.com. April 20, 2011. Retrieved February 1, 2012.
- Blain, Glenn (April 20, 2011). "Wiffle Ball creators call scrapped New York state listing of backyard game as dangerous 'ridiculous' – New York Daily News". Articles.nydailynews.com. Retrieved February 1, 2012.
- "State Officials Back Off Regulating Freeze Tag, Kids' Games". NBC New York. April 19, 2011. Retrieved February 1, 2012.
- "Wiffle Ball Summer: The Ride of the Elmoron eBook: Geoffrey Arthur Drewyor, Art Drewyor, Eric J. Neeb: Kindle Store". Amazon.com. Retrieved February 1, 2012.
- Larson, Gary (2003). The Complete Far Side 2. Andrews McMeel Publishing. p. 71. ISBN 0-7407-2113-5.