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Whatever happened to spaldeens?

You know what spaldeens are, they’re those pink rubber balls, fist-sized, fairly bouncy. My Dad played with them on the streets of the Bronx in the forties. I happened to be thinking about them because we took him back to P.S. 6, where the strip of hip-high molding (not really molding, but an architectural detail much like it) that they used to bounce balls off is still there. Down the block, there was a game of catch going on, probably a mother and daughter, but the point is that they were using a tennis ball.

When I was a kid, we had a variety of games with a variety of balls: big inflatable red balls with lots of bounce for dodgeball and kickball and ga-ga, softballs and hardballs and whiffle balls for baseball-like games, little superballs for, well, just for bouncing around, really, and tennis balls for tennis-like games, and also for playing catch. Racquetballs were a lot like spaldeens, I suppose, although a bit harder. But we never used them.

Were tennis balls much more expensive than spaldeens? Spaldeens wouldn’t be (I’m guessing) quite as good on grass games, being ideally designed to bounce off walls, and the big suburban shift presumably led to a shift in demand there. But there were certainly plenty of urban kids, and even in my suburban neighborhood there were plenty of places to play on blacktop against a wall, and we certainly did. Or wall ball, or stair ball, or off-the-roof—well, I can see why a tennis ball would be better for off-the-roof, and a whiffle ball better yet. Still.

The Internet tells me that Spalding has been making the spaldeen again for ten years or so, after not making if for a while during my teenage years. My kids mostly play with tennis balls and whiffle balls, though (and soccer balls—I think I knew one kid that had a soccer ball of his own, and he was a serious jock), and I would have to make a special trip to get a spaldeen for them. And then, you know, our yard isn’t big enough for stickball, and we don’t let them play in the street.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


Wikipedia says that they were "supposedly made from the defective core of a tennis ball without the felt", which might indeed have made them cheaper, if they were an otherwise useless side effect of tennis ball manufacturing. Maybe tennis ball manufacturing got more efficient, and they stopped getting so many "free" defectives, and decided not to keep making them deliberately?

I saw five or six spaldeen-like objects in our local CVS a few weeks ago, in the toy section. I don't believe they were actually made by Spalding, but it was clear what they were modeled after.

For the record, I don't believe I ever played with a spaldeen myself, but learned about them from my mom, who's probably of about the same generation as your dad. Also, in our house, "spaldeen" is shorthand for "pale pink non-juicy grocery-store tomato purchased in January."

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