A Wiffle ball will not dent a duck. Or a chicken. Or, for that
matter, a turkey. I know this because my daughters play Wiffle
ball in our barnyard. Farm rules dictate that braining a turkey
with a batted Wiffle ball is an automatic out. A chicken is two
outs. And a duck retires the side. We've had lots of fowl balls
around the poultry pen, but, so far, not one dead duck.
This property of benignity accounts for much of the Wiffle
ball's appeal. "Will not damage property, hurt bystanders or
players," boasted the box holding the original Wiffle ball in
1954. Four decades later the box crows, "Bat It! Bounce It! Safe
"However," says David A. Mullany, 56, "in today's litigious
society, one never knows." He ought to know. He's the guy for
whom the Wiffle ball was invented. He even took the first whiff.
Mullany was 13 when his old man, David N., gave birth to the
Wiffle ball in Fairfield, Conn. Bullied off the local diamonds,
the boy had to play ball in the unfriendly confines of his
backyard. He and his buddies would swat at plastic golf balls
with a sawed-off broomstick. "Those balls were hard to pitch,"
David A. recalls. "I'd snap my wrist to get rotation, and by the
end of the day my arm would be like jelly."
One night young David A. told his father that his arm was
breaking off from throwing golf ball scroogies. David N., a
former semipro pitcher, was almost broke himself. His car-polish
company had lost its luster and had gone into bankruptcy. In
need of a new career, he decided to fashion a perforated ball
that would behave somewhat like the real thing.
Mullany the Elder razored designs into some plastic moldings
made to hold perfume bottles. Round and hollow, the casings were
slightly smaller than baseballs. Mullany the Younger tested each
prototype in the backyard. Most were duds. But kitchen-table
tinkering produced a ball with a solid bottom half and eight
elongated holes on the top half. The ball swooped like a barn
swallow and didn't strain young Mullany's arm. So old Mullany
took out a second mortgage on his house and filed for U.S.
patent 2,776,139: the Wiffle ball. The march of progress is
Calling the ball Wiffle had been David A.'s idea. "You swung and
missed so much," he says, "it just seemed logical." Every bit as
logical as dropping the 'h' in whiffle. "I came up with that,
too," says Mullany. "I told my dad it would be cheaper to make
signs with fewer letters."
Wiffle Ball Inc. is a cozy little operation. David A. ascended
to the presidency several years before his father's death in
1990. His two sons, David J., 31, and Steve, 30, are the firm's
vice presidents. The family's marketing strategy is minimalist:
Advertising and promotion are disdained; player endorsements
taboo. "Today's ballplayers demand too much money," Mullany
says. "We're trying to keep our balls affordable." The first
Wiffle ball retailed for 49 cents; over 43 years, the same model
has "inflated" to a suggested retail price of $1.20. A Wiffle
bat and ball sell for $9.99.
For 38 years the Mullanys have stamped out plastic balls in a
modest two-story brick building in Shelton, some 20 miles from
Fairfield. An injection-molding machine coughs up Wiffle ball
halves with a consumptive wheeze. Another machine seals them
together. Balls--in junior, baseball and softball sizes--roll
out several at a time, every two or three seconds.
With its roundhouse curves and cutouts, the Wiffle ball has been
called the most unaerodynamic projectile ever conceived. "Maybe
it is," Mullany says with a shrug. "Personally, I have no idea
why a Wiffle ball whiffles."
Did he and his father ever ponder its Wiffleness? "Yeah, for a
couple of minutes. But what the hell's the difference?"
There's a kind of immortality in being the son of the father of
the Wiffle ball. During the summer Wiffle fans send Mullany
reminiscences of legendary Wiffle games, crayon diagrams of
Wiffle fields and dozens of requests for the official Wiffle
rules he and his dad cooked up in the mid-1950s. "I'm happy
people write in for the rules," Mullany says. "The game has a
The one played on my farm employs Great Pyrenees for bases.
That's a personal concession. If I didn't let my dogs
participate in Wiffle ball, they would run off with my Wiffle
bat. Mullany insists the pooch that can resist Wiffle plastic
has not yet been born. "If Wiffle bat sales ever drop," he
cracks, "I'd consider flavoring them with dog food."