There was nothing really special about the Spaldeen. It was just your average everyday round pink rubber ball that could fit in the palm of your hand. It didn’t have any special qualities like its cousin the Super Ball or like another distant relative known as the Whiffle ball. After all, the only thing the Spaldeen did was bounce.
And believe me, that was plenty.
I don’t know how to recall my childhood memories without mentioning the Spaldeen in some way or another.
Spaldeens were first brought to the market back in 1949 and were sold mostly in inner cities in the Northeast. In 1979 they went off the market but much to the joy of street kids everywhere they made a triumphant return in 1999.
Back when I was a kid in 1969
I think they retailed for something like a quarter and were sold in every candy store that dotted the streets of Brooklyn, New York
. Candy stores in Brooklyn back then probably aren’t what they are today. They were usually individually owned and besides candy they were the place to pick up the daily newspaper, a pack of smokes and your favorite comic book
or magazine. If you were lucky, they had a soda fountain
where you could sit at the counter and gulp down an egg cream
or ice cream sundae
. If you were really lucky, it was a place where your old man sent you to lay off a bet or two.
But, this write up isn’t about candy stores, it’s about a rubber ball and the things you could do with it.
Shit, there are so many street games I remember playing with a Spaldeen that’s it’s gonna be hard to recall all of them. Let’s start with the most obvious.
A variant on the game of baseball. All you needed to play this was the beloved Spalding and a “bat” that resembled and was often made of a discarded broom stick. There were actually a couple of versions that varied based on the neighborhood you grew up in. The one I’m most familiar with involved “no pitching” and usually had about four players to a side. It was played on some of your wider streets and avenues and we always had to be on the lookout for oncoming cars. The team at bat would bounce the Spaldeen in front of them and then try hit the shit out it. Bases consisted of such things as fire hydrants and sewer caps. We’d draw a scoreboard with chalk in the streets to record each team’s runs per inning. Besides the threat of oncoming vehicles Spaldeens often fell victim to open sewers and rooftops. There was an unwritten rule that the owner of the ball had “chips” on it. Basically it was a gentlemen's agreement that whoever lost the ball had to reimburse the original owner for the cost.
The second version was usually played in schoolyards and involved an actual pitcher pitching to a batter. Instead of having a catcher, the backstop was a wall in which a crude strike zone was again, drawn in chalk. This had the added advantage of having the ball returned to the pitcher when the batter swung and missed or didn’t swing at all.
This game is probably better known throughout the land as “Chinese handball”. All you needed was a wall, the ball and some sidewalk. Usually it consisted of four players squaring off against each other in a line. Each player was assigned a box that consisted of the convenient cracks embedded in the pavement. The guy in the first box serves the ball by making it bounce once before it hits the wall. He can play it to himself to ensure he gets the proper angle against his opponent. Once the ball comes off the wall his opponent has to let it bounce once before returning it to another player. Accomplished players were able to slice or cut the ball by positioning their hand in such a matter as to produce either topspin or backspin. Each miss counts as a point and the first player to amass eleven points’ loses the game. That led to a follow up game called “Asses Up”.
Okay, so you’ve just lost at Kings and now have to suffer the consequences. You’ve got to go to the wall face first and bend over making your ass a prime target. Each player that beat you will stand about ten yards away and fire the Spaldeen in the direction of your ass crack. The way we played, each winning person had three shots to make a Bull’s eye and if you flinched they were awarded a do over.
I declare war!
For more information on this one, just follow the link.
Another variant on baseball and usually played in schoolyards but in a pinch the street will do. Usually played with nine members aside, slap involved a pitcher throwing the Spaldeen to a batter on one bounce. The batter than would hit it as hard as could with his open palm and from there it pretty much followed the rules of baseball. One advantage the Spaldeen had was that it was somewhat pliable. By manipulating his grip on the ball the pitcher could make it speed up, slow down or change direction after the ball made the first bounce. One of the decisions made prior to starting the game involved the “no flukes or spins rule” that determined if the pitcher was indeed allow to do that. It didn’t matter, we always cheated.
There’s probably a shit ton more games that we used the Spaldeen for that ranged from hitting a popsicle stick on the sidewalk to playing something called "stoop ball". Some of them had well established rules and some we made up on the fly. Either way, it was a blast.
I should mention that Spaldeens had a tendency to split open after they were caught just right or after extended use. We’d mourn their passing like we’d lost one of our own until somebody begged, borrowed or stole another quarter to get another one.
Plus, to a ten or eleven year old kid, the smell of a brand new Spaldeen smelt like a little slice of heaven.
It should also be noted that the name "Spaldeen" is somewhat of a misnomer. The ball itself is made by the Spalding Company but when translated from Brooklynese it came out as Spaldeen and a legend was born.