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Wiffle Ball: A Connecticut Invention, Not Just for Kids Anymore

By Philip R. Devlin

(June 23, 2024) — Wiffle Ball entered popular culture seventy-one years ago in the summer of 1953. David N. Mullaney of Shelton conceived of the game for his son.

A Wiffle Ball is about the size of a regular baseball but is made of two hemispheres of molded plastic, with one of the hemispheres having eight holes of about three-quarters of an inch each. The holes are key, as the air that circulates within the ball causes it to curve, drop, rise, or dance, depending on atmospheric conditions, temperature, speed, and delivery by the thrower.

Mullaney’s twelve-year old son (who is now over 80!) and his buddies gave the ball its name, as its unpredictable movement often caused them to “whiff”—baseball slang for striking out. One of the great appeals of Wiffle Ball is that it’s a great equalizer: a 30-year old can compete against a 13-year old, often with no discernible advantage.

The Wiffle Ball plant at 275 Bridgeport Avenue in Shelton is still very much alive, employing about 20 people to make the famous yellow bat and hole-filled balls. David Mullaney died in 1990, but his son and two grandsons took over the company. The game remains extremely popular with both young and old.

In fact, adult Wiffle Ball leagues and tournaments abound these days. One of the most famous exists in the backyard of Rick Ferroli in Hanover, Massachusetts. Rick has turned his backyard into a mini-version of Fenway Park. His facility draws a crowd. The “Green Monster” in left field is 66 feet away from home, with a 14-foot wall topped by a 3-foot screen. Centerfield is 100 feet away, and right field is 85 feet away. The field is replete with light towers and an electronic scoreboard. Rick formed the World Wiffle Ball Association and has hosted numerous tournaments there until recently.

Where Rick Ferroli has left off with hosting Wiffle Ball tournaments, Pat O’Connor took it a step further. O’Connor, a longtime IBM businessman, has built not only a replica of Fenway Park in his backyard in Essex, Vermont, but also a replica of Wrigley Field and has been hosting tournaments there since 2002. The Fenway replica field even includes a Citgo sign in left field! (The story of the field’s construction is detailed in a book entitled Little Fenway.) O’Connor sponsored the Travis Roy Tournament in Vermont.

Travis Roy was a gifted hockey player from Yarmouth, Maine, who played for Boston University. Unfortunately, during his first-ever shift on the ice for BU, Roy suffered a catastrophic spinal injury in 1995, which left him a quadriplegic. Roy died in 2020 at the age of 45. The tournament was held there from 2001 through 2021. More than $7.5 million was raised from the tournament over the years to go to spinal cord research.

All youngsters playing Wiffle Ball in the backyard at one time or another imagined themselves to be in their favorite major league team’s stadium. Now that fantasy can be realized for New Englanders. Replica stadiums have sprung up in the region, both in Massachusetts and in Vermont, enabling adults to extend their youth, while at the same time funding worthwhile charities. Check You Tube for footage of games played at these remarkable replica stadiums.
Photo by Philip Devlin

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