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        Wiffle Ball The Best Way 

                                                       by Jerry Driggs


Which Kind of Wiffle Ball is Best ?


          This topic is the sponsor of some very impassioned arguments on the web an among Wiffle aficionados

everywhere.   I feel uniquely qualified to comment on this issue as I have played ‘em all – for almost 45 years. 

My earliest concrete childhood memory is of my Dad interrupting a Wiffle ball game to show us a picture of my

brand new baby sister Jo-Jo.  We were playing a game in the empty lot beside our house on 8th street – our

homemade field of dreams - and I happened  to be batting when Dad showed us the Polaroid.  I was 7 years old

and the year was 1970.   Imprinted in my memory are my 2 recollections from that moment; first, “babies sure

are ugly” and “we stopped the game for this ?”

           I am sure my wife would affirm I have changed little in the ensuing 40+ years.  


          Our equipment then was not “official” Wiffle ball equipment.  We were partial to the black baseball like

bats and balls with the circular holes.  We went through balls by the dozens, taping them after they began to crack

and scraping together our nickels to buy new ones at the S.S. Kresgee store where the law enforcement complex

now sets in downtown Chillicothe.    The black bats came exclusively from Newberry’s Sporting Goods store and

were a whopping $2.49 each – although they lasted all summer thru literally thousands of games .  


          In 6th grade we moved to Caldwell Street with a tailor made field for our Wiffle ball heroics.   The Barrett

building (the red brick building one block North of the Mead) had a grassy field with plenty of infield space, an

unused alley serving as a warning track and Mrs. Kimmer’s back fence for home runs.  I stepped off the distance

in preparation for this story – 80’ to center field, 100’ to right and 90’ to left – respectable distances for a kid’s field.   


         Bobby Brown, Mike Lechner and Jeff Graves became my daily companions in competition.  My Brothers,

Jim and Jeff, were frequent inclusions in our neighborhood games.  On most summer days we would play several

times a day, recording our HRs and wins individually but nothing else.   The teams rotated and we would take turns

being the Reds – playing the A’s most often.    When it was my turn to be the Reds I would mimic the entire lineup

and the side of the plate they hit from, thus teaching myself to bat lefty and righty...

(Rose, Griffey, Morgan, Bench, Perez, Foster, Concepcion, Geronimo…pitcher -usually Don Gullett).


         We played overhand pitch, as fast as you could throw it.   The circular hole balls do not curve at all – but

Bobby Brown could absolutely bring it.   There was base running, pegging and ghost runners which counted – and

we always went as a group to Allen’s Pharmacy for 31 cent large Cherry Cokes after the afternoon game – except

when games went to extra innings because Mike had to be home exactly at 5 for dinner. 


         Eventually we took our game on the road – with our Bicycles that is (how we went everywhere).    We

challenged the guys at Poland Park, Southern playground, Allen school, ect. – and we did quite well and made some

of the best memories of my childhood.    Mike turned out to be a solid baseball player for CHS and was almost

impossible to strike out.  Bobby and I were inseparable until high school but then went our separate ways.   We

reconnected several years ago after he read an article in the Gazette about our league and threatened for several

years to get back in shape so he could join us.  Bobby passed away last year but followed our league and often

commented to me how those Wiffle ball memories were the high light of his childhood years.


         Our current fields are the offshoot of family outings on summer holidays that always ended in young vs

old games.   We were partial to Nerf Vortex Thunder bats then and allowed the youngest among us to hit solid balls

to even the playing field.    Eventually us old ‘uns became increasingly less competitive and thus the idea germinated

and grew of playing other folks – just like we did when we were kids.


         That is a long Segway into the 3 basic ways of playing Wiffle ball.   The first is fast pitch.  The second is moderate

or slow pitch and the third is underhand slow pitch.  


         There are tons of videos of fast pitch experts on Youtube – even some where the pitchers make major league

hitters look silly trying to hit their pitching.   Fast pitch leagues and tournaments usually are played with a 3’ x 2’

strike zone 3’ behind the plate with walks.  The pitching mound is typically 40’ – 50’ away and pitches can reach 80+

mph, which from 40’ is the equivalent of a 115+ mph major league pitch (plus 3’ of break).


          Most generally there is no base running in fast pitch but if the ball is fielded cleanly by a fielder and thrown into

a net at home the batter is out.  Hits are typically determined by where the ball lands in the outfield, with off the fence

in the air being a triple, to the fence on the ground a double and all uncaught balls out of the infield being singles.   

The fields are generally very narrow and short – 75’ down the lines and 90’ to center.   Nearly all fast pitch leagues

permit altered bats and specialty bats (Moonshots, etc.).


          Fast pitch leagues have 2 major differences from other forms of Wiffle ball.   Balls are always scuffed (to aid in

wind resistance which enhances their ability to curve) and batters are typically permitted to use all manner of bats

except fat bats.   The 2nd allowance is made because of the 1st.   Scuffed balls thrown at high speeds are almost

impossible to hit.  Numerous examples of fast pitch leagues can be found on the web where the league leader in HRs

after 30 games will have 10 HRs.   A high scoring game in fast pitch is 6-5.  


          Because of the rules this kind of Wiffle ball is most frequently called line ball.   Let me say right up front that

whatever type of Wiffle ball one enjoys is fine by me.  If a group of guys thinks this or their way is the cat's meow

and they can get enough players to make a league to - more power to 'em.

          However, for the sake of this article, and in the mind of at least our team, this is the least enjoyable of all the

Wiffle ball varieties.   My conversations with players in our league and those who I have met at other tournaments

mirrors our lack of enthusaism for this type of Wiffle ball.   This variety hinges on the balls being altered - scuffed and

lines cut in them, otherwise they just won't move in the ways required to throw strikes.  Then there is the lack of

hitting, running, pegging and the necessary bat enhancements to have a prayer at even making contact with the

altered balls which makes this version of the game, well, cheesy.

          Line ball does have a significant and vocal following.   To adherents of this flavor Wiffle ball practicioners of

all other types are mere pretenders – unable to play with the big boys who throw hard and fast.


          There are numerous examples of Wiffle ball leagues for line ball on the web but as I am not a fan I do not

frequent them generally and so will not mention any here.  By my unofficial estimate 20% of all Wiffle leagues and

events are this variety.


          As far as our personal preference - we avoid this kind of Wiffle ball like the plague.  Watching  paint dry is more

fun to us.   We see little point to contests where only 4 balls are hit in play per game.   No, but thanks.   If playing line

ball is what it takes to be a big boy I’ll stay small, thank you very much.

          A more intriguing variety of this kind of play is fast pitch with unscuffed balls - including base running.   The

undoctored balls severely limit the kinds of pitches that can be thrown, making the ball more hittable.  Meaning,

more balls in play, more fielding, more pegging, more running - i.e., more like Wiffle was intended, imho.

          A good example of a league utilizing these rules is the Southeastern Michigan Wiffle League - commissioned

by our favorite Flying Squirrel Carl Coffee.  Click below to visit their website.  Generally, to prevent these leagues

from becoming walk fests, some eclectic rules are created to discourage batters from waiting it out for walks.  Carl's

league incorporates the rule where if the batter looks at a first pitch strike the batter is out - a K.   Which, by their

own admission, leads to most batters swinging leaflessly at any close 1st pitch - making the batter, in effect, start

with a 1 strike count.   


          The second variety of Wiffle ball is overhand slow, or moderate speed, typically called pitch-to-hit speed.   The

fields are similar to line ball fields but typically a little bigger and a little wider with 80’ down the lines to 100’ in center

being pretty standard.   Pitcher’s mound is typically 35’ – 40’ away and the same strike zone used in line ball is utilized

here.    Walks are not generally permitted, which can lead to very long at bats.   When walks are utilized there is typically

some counter balancing rule – such as a ball hitting the strike zone but not being swung at being an automatic strike out.  


           Many pitch-to-hit leagues allow only 2 outs per inning.  Most utilize some form of pitcher’s hand and the majority

have base running and fielding.   Half or so permit pegging  and half allow altered bats, or specialty bats such as Moonshots

while the other half require only “official” Wiffle bats be used.    A high scoring pitch-to-hit game is frequently double digits

for both teams. 


            The annual Reds Wifflefest is a great example of this type and my unofficial guess is 50% of all Wiffle leagues and

tourney events are of the pitch-to-hit speed variety.   In my experience, many pitch-to-hit players also enjoy underhand slow

pitch as the two varieties are very similar.


            This is the most authentic variety of Wiffle ball in my opinion – closest to what the original inventor had in mind

when the game was created.  The biggest complaint with pitch-to-hit contests is pitch speed.  At nearly every event the

Legends have participated in arguments have broken out concerning the speed of pitches.   Generally this devolves until

the pitchers for both teams are throwing as hard as possible – which is exactly what happened at the last 3 Red’s Wifflefests.   

Unless umpires make a concerted effort to regulate pitch speed there is invariably a down hill slide to throw it as fast as you

can – which is precisely why the last form of Wiffle ball is gaining adherents imho.


            This final type of Wiffle ball to be discussed is underhand slow pitch.   Fields are generally larger than the other 2

varieties with 90’ down the lines and 100’ to center average for field lengths.   Underhand pitch leagues almost exclusively

incorporate base running and pegging.  Walks are the rule as otherwise batters can be avoided which defeats the purpose

of pitching underhand.   In fact, the London tournament is the only underhand slow pitch league or event I have found in 4

years of scouring the web that does not utilize a walk rule.


            Typically underhand slow pitch leagues permit only official Wiffle bats to be used.   Otherwise hitting is too easy.   

Underhand slow pitch events exclusively utilizes some form of pitcher’s hand, although the application of the rule varies

from event to event.    High scoring underhand slow pitch games are in the high teens on average.


            Our league has utilized both the pitch-to-hit and underhand slow variety of play.   We have continually refined the

underhand slow pitch rules to match the spirit of the game – allow hitters to hit and require fielders to be able to make

solid plays.  We have balanced the advantage hitters have due to the slow pitch speed with pitcher’s hand and the rule that

defenders get the advantage on close plays – requiring base runners to have both feet completely off the bag to be safe.  


             I am a big fan of the pitch-to-hit overhand style.  I think lots of spin and trick pitches can be made without relying

on speed to get batters out.  I admit this the pitch speed is difficult to be consistent with and even in our limited league

experimenting with this kind of Wiffle ball we received numerous complaints about pitch speed and the lack of hittable

pitches.   I am convinced if all we permitted was overhand pitch-to-hit variety our league would not have lasted a single year.  


            The primary purpose for playing Wiffle ball is to hit – especially HRs.   Anything that significantly detracts from

this desire makes the game less fun and creates more arguments.   On the flip side, we have found that increasing the

batter’s opportunities to hit also increases the likelihood of fantastic defensive plays and exciting pegging chances in

the field.  The noodle for quantifying mandatory arch height is a key example of how we have refined our rules to give

batters more chances to hit – and thereby hit more dingers.   I only wish I could take credit for this great idea – but I

can’t.  Someone in the league recommended it, I just cannot remember who.


            If you have read the London Wiffleball Chatter site very many times you have encountered the argument that

walks slow down games.  I have been a big proponent of walks for the exact opposite reason.   My experience at London

has been that the ball is literally rolled on the ground to good hitters – eventually requiring them to swing at a horrible

pitch just to get the at bat over with.   If I had a nickel for every time this has been done to Levi and I, we would own the

Wiffle company.   


            It is automatic when we play in close games at London because there is absolutely no penalty for not throwing balls –

specifically flat pitching.   Teams that play London regularly know that flat pitches are nearly impossible to hit for HRs.  

So, these teams pitch as flat as possible  – generally if a ball gets to 2’ of arch it is a mistake.  A couple of years ago while

playing in the tournament elite 8 round, and in a close game, I counted 17 pitches to Levi before the opposing pitcher

threw something that was remotely hittable.    During the last inning of that game the opposing pitcher offered up 25

straight unhittable balls to me before I finally got frustrated enough to give in and just swing at one. 


            We feel we have solved that issue – and our games take an average of 45 minutes to play.   Our teams average 1

walk per game and I am certain the number of pitches per batter is significantly less than at London – plus there are more

hits – more potential HRs and more potential diving plays or peg outs – it’s a win-win-win.


            Anyway – those are the 3 kinds of Wiffle ball most played in the U.S.    With the help of the great players in our league

I think we have worked our way into what Wiffle ball was intended to be – a boat load of fun with the most opportunities for

dramatic crushed HRs, phenomenal diving web gems in the field and exciting base running mitigated by fabulous pegs.


            I would love to hear your Wiffle ball memories and impressions of what makes our league great – or what could make

it even better yet !


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   Comment : replies from the Commissioners are in orange
02/22/2013 22:04 - loved this article, reminds me of how we played growing up pretty much all day every day, until a fight broke out over a peg attempt and we quit, only to come back later and start again.
02/22/2013 22:09 - we stuffed our bats with newspapers lol
02/23/2013 14:53 - I really enjoyed this story. We lived in the backyard during the summer crushing homers and being denied by a huge willow tree in right center and had a blast
02/23/2013 15:19 - to each his own I guess.  Our league does overhand slow, I guess you call it pithc-to-hit and we don't care for the bullet pitching either.  We have not tried underhand, seems like it would be way too easy. Cam Jones
02/23/2013 16:35 - slow pitch is for wimps, underhand is for coach pitch.  Gorw up !  Be a man !  Hit the pitches men do - fastpitch !
02/24/2013 15:21 - I guess that's why real men take perfectly new balls and scuff them up - because they can make them move with out the help - or why they tape, stuff or substitute the "difficult to use" official Wiffle bats with fat ones, aluminum ones and carbon fiber ones.    Underhand is a tad easier - but it yields more HRs and more runs - meaning more hits and thus more fielding, throwing, base running and overall strategy because the ball is in play more instead of on the ground at the backstop
02/24/2013 17:15 - I wouldn't play fastpitch again if you paid me - it's as exciting as soccer - but at least soccer has 20 guys running around.  In fastpitch all you need is a pitcher, everyone else (including the batters) can just drink beer on the sidelines and watch.   That's it boys, play for those walks !
02/24/2013 22:03 - I have lots of fond memories with the neighborhood guys hitting wiffle balls with bats, broomsticks and pvc pipes - anything we could find.  The best part was seeing who could peg someone else the hardest.   In the hot summer with no shirt those things leave welts !  thanks for the reminder of glory days gone by - Kevin Gray
02/26/2013 13:39 - many, many hours spent wifflin' in the backyard. Fun summer days spent hopping between the pool and trying to smash the balls over the garage.  Great memories all !
02/27/2013 07:24 -  I loved this article because it brought back fun memories of the neighborhood gang spending those lazy summer days outside on the Wiffle ball field at my best friend's house.   I remember the no ghosts rule and the long pickles that followed as the defense tried to be just far enoufhg apart to entice the runners to go. Those were the days my friend !  Ray NJWL

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