In the Bronze Age (beginning 3000 BC), the rackets were so heavy you needed two hands to hold them, thus leading to a rather bizarre and unhygienic spitting of balls from the mouth in order to serve and to begin a point. The calamitous result of this yucky development led to infections and disease, of which The Black Plague or Black Death was the most virulent. It came about as a result of bacterial transfer onto the ball while playing ping pong (Yersinia pestis, the offending bacterium). It is estimated that this hideous illness killed off 30% to 60% of Europe’s population, including most players rated below 1700. Higher ranking players (2100 and above) were provided with Purell in freebie gift baskets, and most survived the various epidemics but only to succumb to an even greater scourge – ITTF regulations (which required these elite athletes to buy expensive, unaffordable rackets which left them destitute and lacking money for food). Yes, indeed, ping pong in those years was not the placid sport of the basement 1950’s. It was lethal! The average life span of a ping pong beginning or intermediate level competitor was 2-3 months (and there were no partial refunds on annual club memberships, as the prorated concept in insurance was not yet available in the Dark Ages).
The Iron Age and the Aluminum Age: (Editor: There is no “Aluminum Age.”) That’s what I was going to say – there was no Aluminum Age. Despite mighty attempts by Alcoa and Reynolds Aluminum to sell their light weight rackets and baseball bats, the ITTF and both the American and National Leagues barred them from doing so. Here’s the inside skinny on this. The ITTF, following the lead of the American Baseball League, wanted a ‘designated player’ to come in and play a point for a contestant during a ping pong match, but the idea was considered so ludicrous and devoid of one iota of rationality that Genghis Kahn had to step in and overrule those International Table Tennis Federation masterminds. He didn’t like the American League rule, either (i.e., the designated batter), but that one he let stand because he was so busy in uniting nomadic tribes in order to get on with his slaughtering and massacre campaigns. If he hadn’t been distracted, the American League would still probably have a pitcher with a 050 batting average in the # 9 position in the batting order.)
Biblical Times: Rackets made of leather or vellum, coconut shells, parchment or bark from trees were prepared by the same rabbis who made the Dead Sea scrolls. Biblical documents discovered in pottery vases or jars, with early ping pong rackets used to seal the tops of these containers, can be seen in the Biblical Ping Pong Museum of History in Jerusalem. All of these antiquities are the work of a Jewish population that inhabited Qumran, an ancient settlement near the Dead Sea in Israel, which was destroyed by the Romans slightly after Jesus’ time. The Romans have always been severely maligned for having pillaged, ravaged and whatnot, but this Qumran was so small that Caesar’s soldiers were probably only there for a cup of coffee. It wasn’t a big deal. Yeah, so they snatched a few things. It couldn’t have possibly taken more than an hour or two to do a fairly thorough job of plundering. And rather than destroy everything, the Romans should get credit for saving various priceless ping pong treasures, notably a collection of miscellaneous paddles made of papyrus, goatskin, horsehair (abandoned quickly as there was no trampoline effect ) and birchbark. The book of Isaiah and Deuteronomy housed in one jar, was found practically hermetically sealed owing to a racket with a rubber-like coating that created a sealing action (pips out).
A few unconvincing and strange myths that emerged with the discovery of these priceless artifacts in these seaside caves, were the beliefs that one papyrus racket belonged to King David himself, and another to Joshua. There is no hard proof of the former, but the latter may have indeed been the owner of an early goatskin prototype, because a similar one was found at the base of the walls of Jericho where it was well known that Joshua knocked several down during his own ransacking and plundering days.
In our next and final edition, (Editor: Yay!) we will be chronicling the history of ping pong in our own country, sea to shining sea. We will examine the contributions of our redskin natives (Editor: That’s highly offensive.) Okay, okay, we’ll be looking into the advancement of racket technology by our own indigenous noble savages. (Editor: that’s equally derogatory and racist.) Okay, okay, Native Americans. And, by the way, just for the record, there’s not a racist bone in my body. Hell, I’d marry a squaw. Maybe have a few papooses, too. (Editor: That’s misogynistic. More denigration. Pathetic!) I give up. Just make sure you read the next and last chapter. Lao Du