Growing up in the city, a kid could get himself in trouble for lack of something to do. The summers were long and hot in the mid 60s, when there was no cable TV or not very many air conditioners around. Even if there was, your mother wouldn’t let you stay in the house anyway. A kid needed to develop his own fun. I was introduced to the pimple ball during those long summers in the city.
It was a time in Philadelphia when you could leave the house after dinner and stay out till 11pm because you were in the neighborhood and everyone knew where and who you were. Stoop ball or step ball were popular because the ball used in the game was cheap and safe. A pimple ball was rubber and a little smaller than a standard baseball. Because it was thin and hollow, it wouldn’t break any windows on the block.
Equipment needed for stoop ball – a concrete step and a pimple ball
This baseball type game was played on your front stoop at the bottom of your row house that was hopefully on a one way street. It was played with a new pimple ball. The player up would slam the pimple ball, trying to catch the bull nose of the stoop. If you hit the stoop right, the ball went over the row house on the other side of the street. That was a home run. Singles, doubles, and triples were laid out on the street but with no base runners. If someone caught the pimple ball on the fly, the player was out.
Two or more could play. The more players, the better. You wouldn’t have to chase the ball. More often than not, the game ended because the pimple ball ended up in the sewer or in someone’s rain gutter on top of a flat tar roof. Occasionally a father would go up to the top of one of the roofs to throw some tar over a leak. While he was there, he would throw all the pimple balls that were up there from the previous summer. We were good to go.
Equipment needed for halfball, cousin of stick ball – a broomstick and a pimple ball
When we had enough of stoop ball and the pimple ball was worn out and flat, we cut the pimple ball in half and played half-ball. Halfball was the ultimate street game. When my family moved to the suburbs, the pimple ball and the halfball game moved with us. For a good halfball you needed to cut a pimple ball in half perfectly so both sides were the same size. In the city you used a broom stick. As the game got older and we moved to suburbs, we sometimes used a whiffle ball bat.
The art of halfball was in the pitching. You could throw a curve, a riser, or a floater that would fool the best hitter on the street. The pitcher used his thumb and middle finger to wrap around what was the triple stripe or where the ball was cut in half. He then threw the ball underhand. The ball would come in like a frisbee. It was a hard thing to get control of but once you did, it was a thing of beauty. The batter had three strikes or three outs. Each strike was an out. If you caught a half-ball right with a broomstick or whiffle ball bat, you could send one over the old Sears Tower on JFK Boulevard in the city, or over two blocks in the suburbs. There was nothing like it.
The pimple ball was an important part of americana and growing up in the city
Pimple balls were distributed by the Eagle Rubber Company of Ashland, Ohio from 1932 to 1982. They produced a half a million pimple balls each year. They all ended up in the sewers or rain gutters on the flat tar roofs of the row houses in the city. Halfball and stoop ball games were played a little differently depending on the city – Boston, Philly or New York – but the equipment was the same and now is available for big kids these days at a higher price.