Wiffle Ball Inc. is the creator, manufacturer, and distributor of the Wiffle Ball and Bat, “an outdoor toy, designed to get people out in the fresh air, playing ball and getting exercise.”1 Designed to be played in small spaces, such as a backyard or city street, Wiffle Ball is a simplified version of softball or baseball that has the additional challenge of hitting a plastic ball that ducks and dives as it crosses the plate.
David N. Mullany created the Wiffle Ball as a way to help his son be able to throw a curve ball without creating unhealthy “jelly arm” fatigue.2 As a former University of Connecticut baseball player and semi-pro pitcher for the industrial leagues in Bridgeport, Connecticut, David N. understood curve balls.
With his son David A., he experimented with different hole configurations cut in a sphere-shaped plastic packaging of a Coty perfume product.3 Together they decided on the current design: a hollow plastic sphere with eight oblong holes on only one half, perpendicular to the center seam. This allowed the ball to be thrown straight, as a curve ball, or as a slider – depending on the grip used.4 It also was impossible to throw or hit the Wiffle Ball a great distance, which meant that Wiffle Ball could be played safely in small areas and with as little as two players.
At this time, in 1952, David N. was unemployed and looking for something he could create and market. David A. named the ball a “whiffle ball” after a “whiff”, the street slang for a swing and miss. He also suggested that his father leave off the “h” to reduce the cost of making signs since it would be one less letter.5 With David A.'s input on the name and the rules, Wiffle Ball was born.
Wiffle Ball Inc. was created, the trademark of “WIFFLE” was registered, and the first Wiffle Balls were sold in 1953.6 David N. first began selling them at a local diner and then he hired a marketer, who was convinced the novelty would wear off in a few years.7 However, Woolworth stores began selling the balls retail and sales grew steadily. By 1959, they built a factory in Shelton, Connecticut, which is still in use today.8
Since then the design of the Wiffle Ball has not changed, though the sizes offered have been expanded from the original “junior size” to include standard baseball and softball sizes.9 The original bat that they produced was a wooden bat until they switched to their trademarked bright yellow plastic design in 1972.
Over the years, Wiffle Ball Inc. has offered flying discs, plastic golf balls, and logoed hats and neckties. They have found that keeping it simple is best. As David J. Mullany, grandson of David N. and current president, said, “What do you need? You need a Wiffle Ball, a bat, and another kid to play with. And really that's it.”10
David N. led Wiffle Ball Inc. until the mid 1970s when he turned over the company to his son, David A., who in turn led the company until 2004. At that time, David A.'s two sons took charge of the company with David J. as president and Stephen Mullany as Vice President over their production. They employ about 15 employees and are content to be a small company.11
While they market their product mostly in the United States, they also sell to Japan, Canada, South America, and England.12 Their steady popularity has been largely through word-of-mouth as the company does not do major advertising. The only media campaign they did was in 1960 with baseball great Whitey Ford endorsing Wiffle Ball in a TV commercial.13 However, they have benefited from free press, such as when Jennie Finch, an Olympic softball star, held a Wiffle Ball and Bat on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 200514 and when Major League Baseball teams have given away Wiffle Balls with their team logos in stadium promotions.
Wiffle Ball Inc. sponsors hundreds of Wiffle Ball events each year, and independent Wiffle leagues and collegiate intramural leagues are found throughout the country. In 2000, they teamed up with Kraft Foods, who developed an online game of Wiffle Ball at their Candystand.com site. Due to their online popularity, Candystand.com formed a Wiffle Ball Hall of Fame in 2003.15
- 1. Silverman, Fran. “Wiffle Ball Inc. Has Changed Little In The 50 Years (a blast from your past).” Hartford Courant. 1 Aug. 2004. < http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-chat/1190391/posts > 11 Nov. 2011.
- 2. “Welcome!” Wiffle. < http://www.wiffle.com/welcome.htm > 11 Nov. 2011.
- 3. “Milestones: Wiffle Ball Inc.” Connecticut Business News Journal. 24 Nov. 2003. < http://www.conntact.com/mainstreet/4539-milestones--wiffle-ball-inc..html > 11 Nov. 2011.
- 4. “The WIFFLE perforated plastic ball.” Wiffle. < http://www.wiffle.com/about_rules.htm > 11 Nov. 2011.
- 5. Op.cit., “Milestones: Wiffle Ball Inc.”
- 6. Op.cit., “Welcome!”
- 7. Op.cit., “Milestones: Wiffle Ball Inc.”
- 8. Robinson, Joshua. “Making a Wiffle Ball.” Wall Street Journal. June 18, 2011. < http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303635604576391642837417256.html > 11 Nov. 2011.
- 9. Op.cit., “Milestones: Wiffle Ball Inc.”
- 10. Op.cit., Robinson.
- 11. Op.cit., Silverman.
- 12. Op.cit., “Milestones: Wiffle Ball Inc.”
- 13. Op.cit., Silverman.
- 14. Op.cit., Robinson.
- 15. Op.cit., Silverman.