Fifty years ago, David A. Mullaney was playing baseball in the backyard. To prevent dented siding and cracked windows that resulted from using an actual baseball, he and his friends used a tennis ball and a broom handle bat. His mother happened to be hanging laundry in the yard when he hit a pitch and almost nailed her with the yellow ball. The game quickly came to an end.
His father, David N. Mullaney, was a retired semi-pro pitcher. Unwilling to let his son be forced to abandon his love for baseball by possible injury, space constraints, lack of a full line-up, or the threat of property damage, he began to create a backyard-safe bat and ball and a set of rules that could make a competitive game between as little as two people. What was born was an idea so simple that its genius has become an American icon. Rare is the hand of an American youth which has not handled a WIFFLE ball and bat at some point in their development.
Since its inception in 1953, WIFFLE ball has gone from backyard fun to a competitive sport. Tournaments with serious prize money are offered across the nation. Connecticut has adopted WIFFLE ball as a state game and more states are interested. Variations on rules and pitch speed color national tournaments. Nick Benas and Jared Verrillo, creators of Big League WIFFLE Ball, are at the heart of the WIFFLE phenomenon.
“We’re a medium-pitch organization,” Verrillo said. “We find that pitch speeds up to 35mph create a tournament that is action friendly, allows sufficient hit-ability, and still allows for all the play you expect in WIFFLE pitching.” You can see how satisfying their tournaments are (and how profitable), when you check out their web site. Teams in the winner’s bracket can be seen flashing stacks of hundred dollar bills. They even have a Guinness World Record attempt approaching in May 2009 for the largest mass participation in a WIFFLE ball tournament.
You may notice that the winner’s bracket is often inhabited by the legendary professional WIFFLE team called DOOM. Dallas Mall and Adam Trotta dominate the East Coast but constantly are under threat by teams like Absolute Gunners, Lou’s Diamonds, Cereal Killers, and Krusty’s Kids. Teams like DGA tour the Midwest and battle their arch rival High Heat for victories in the Chicago-land area. Chad Heyda and Brian Payne compete in the Minneapolis area and with the help of a mutual friend took first place in a tournament in Madison, Wisconsin.
Serious WIFFLE players like to theorize why the game is so enjoyable. Many believe that it fits a niche in the American psyche where playing baseball can no longer reach the masses. When people are working two or three jobs or taking multiple extracurriculars along with long hours of schooling, there is neither time nor possibility to get the numbers needed for a baseball game at the local diamond. There is, however, time to get a few friends together to hear “the crack of the plastic” as your buddy smacks a home run or to hear the “wiff” of the iconic yellow bat as it misses a wicked curve, slider, or riser. America’s past-time has evolved. It’s latest manifestation is WIFFLE.