"Ed Ball: Ping Pong Revolutionary?"
by Dan Kapelovitz
photo by Kevin Scanlon
Forget Terrell Owens. Forget Ron Artest. The most controversial figure in sports today--at least in the world of Westside Los Angeles table tennis--is the improbably named Ed Ball. A devoted proponent of the classic hardbat game, Ball is on a one-man crusade against sponge-surface rackets.
According to Ball, the softer surface gives players an unfair advantage by allowing them to deliver shots with much greater spin. "You come to the game with a souped-up racket, there's no dialogue," says Ball, who looks like an athletic Anthony Perkins. Ball also contends that the classic game relies on technique, not equipment, to generate power.
The self-proclaimed "hardbat revolutionary" is so outspoken about his anti-sponge stance that he has been banned from nearly every table-tennis hall in the city.
"They have a smear campaign against me," says Ball of his opponents, whom he calls "spin doctors" and "pro-sponge propagandists." Ball was excommunicated from one table-tennis venue for writing about a club director's "uncontrolled indoor re-gluing fetish." (The latest trend in pingpong is to re-glue a spongy sheet of rubber to the racket just before each game. The chemicals react with the rubber to rejuvenate the surface, creating even more spin--as well as noxious fumes.)
"[Re-gluing] is like planned obsolescence," says Ball. "It reduces the rubber's life. The pro-sponge propagandists love the glue game because it means more money. They're not only selling the glue, but also the rubber, which is up to $40 a sheet."
Like all great crusaders, Ball's mission is on behalf of a higher power. His inspiration is pingpong legend Bobby Gusikoff, the last player to win the U.S. Open using a hardbat racket.
Ball switched to hardbat in 1997 to bring attention to his mentor's plight. Gusikoff is ill, and Ball is currently accepting donations for the former champ's hospital bills.
(This article first appeared in the LA Weekly on April 19, 2006)
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