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Autographed Baseballs in the Joyce Sports Research Collection: Introduction to the Catalog

The ensuing catalogue contains individual entries for many of the signed baseballs in the Joyce Sports Research Collection at the University of Notre Dame. Entries include full descriptions of the ball and its signatures, notes on historical context, and up to six photographs cumulatively showing all the ball's decipherable autographs. These latter are accessed from the main catalog entry, under "Signatures," by clicking on the name of the appropriate panel (i.e., the area of the ball's surface shown in a particular photograph). These "large" images are typically around 100K; also included with each entry is a representative "small" image of about 50K. Issues treated in the individual catalog entries include the following:

Ball type: Baseballs themselves are typically identified by manufacturer and type, the latter being the league, level of play, or occasion for which the ball is intended. This information is normally stamped on the front panel and adjacent areas (for the nomenclature of ball panels or locations, see below under "Signatures") by the manufacturer after inspection. In this catalog the most frequently encountered types are the Official League balls of the American and National Leagues. American League balls bear the trademarks of A. J. Reach Co. (1901 to 1974), A. G. Spalding & Bros. (1975 and 1976) and Rawlings Sporting Goods Co. (1977 to date); National League balls bear the marks of Spalding (1878 to 1977) and Rawlings (1978 to date). (In fact, Reach was a subsidiary of Spalding; the two balls were manufactured at the same plant). Early in the century both the Reach and Spalding Official League balls were double stitched: thread of two different colors was used to sew the two separate pieces of horsehide cover together. The Spalding NL ball used red and black thread from 1911 to 1933, while the Reach AL ball used red and blue from 1901 to 1934; thereafter all balls were single stitched (sewn with red thread alone). Both trademark and stitching can be helpful in dating American and National League baseballs; even more important in this regard is the stamped, facsimile signature of the current league president, present on Offical League balls since the first decade of the century. Early on these signatures were stamped apart from the trademark, on the right side panel; from the mid-1930s they were integrated into the trademark on the front panel.

Signatures: All the baseballs in the Joyce Collection employ the familiar "figure eight" cover construction, which became the norm not long after it was patented in the 1860s. Such a cover consists of two similarly shaped pieces of horsehide (or, since 1974, cowhide), bulbous at the ends and narrowing towards the center, which are stitched together to provide a casing for the cork and rubber core and 300+ yards of tightly wound yarn that constitute the ball's interior. The surface resulting from this cover construction may be conceived as six more or less discrete areas or "panels" of hide, separated by the slightly elevated seams; each panel roughly corresponds to a "side" of the baseball, and may be readily photographed. Moreover, each panel is a common and logical focal point for the grouping of signatures. Panels are of two different shapes. The first corresponds to the hourglass-like centers of the constituent figure eights; these are two in number, and they lie on opposite sides of the ball, running at right angles to one another. The second type corresponds to the rounded ends of the figure eights; these are four in number. By establishing a consistent nomenclature for these panels, it is possible to describe the location of each signature on a given ball. In naming the panels, the basic point of orientation has been the manufacturer's stamp, typically centered on one of the two hourglass-like panels; this area has been arbitrarily designated the front panel. Its identically shaped companion thus becomes the back panel -- the area also known as the sweet spot, since it has long been regarded as the most aesthetically pleasing (and consequently the most prestigious) location for a signature. Turning back to the front panel, and with label facing directly forward and right side up, the lobed area approximating the ball's top becomes the upper panel; that to the viewer's right becomes the right side panel; the area approximating the ball's bottom becomes the lower panel, and the area to the viewer's left becomes the left side panel. These are the terms used throughout the catalog to describe signature location; they are likewise the terms used to designate the various photographic "views" of a given ball.

Each ball's signatures, then, are enumerated by panel, beginning with the front and proceeding to the back, upper, right side, lower, and left side panels. Each group is listed in the order in which they appear on the ball, from top to bottom (according to the orientation of the handwriting). Names used are those by which the individual is most commonly known - which may be at variance with the form of the name used in the signature. Bracketed question marks [?] indicate the presence, or probable presence, of an autograph which cannot be deciphered; these are not included in the total number of signatures given for each ball. A final bit of information here included is the writing instrument used on each ball, whether fountain pen (typical of the earlier balls in the collection), ballpoint (common from the 1950s) or porous tip (seen from the 1960s).

Inscriptions: Described here are personalizations, dates, and any other kinds of inscription other than the names of the signers.

Condition: As signed baseballs have become commodified, a new emphasis has been placed on condition. Today, balls and their signatures are commonly "graded" with reference to some sort of sliding scale - either descriptive (very good, excellent, near mint, and so on) or numerical (usually on a scale of one to ten). This sort of grading has been deliberately avoided, in favor of a brief narrative evaluation of each ball's condition. Several terms frequently used in these evaluations require definition. When a signature is "discernable," the pen's original path is entirely visible to the eye - regardless of any fading that may have occurred. When a signature is "decipherable," the pen's path is not entirely visible - but the name of the signer has nonetheless been identified. Neither of these terms has to do with the relative legibility of the signature - i.e., the readability of the signer's handwriting.

Notes: Much of the material in the notes is historical background on the team, group or individual whose signatures appear on the ball. Also included is information specifically relevant to issues of identification and dating.