I must really love punishment, because here I am again fixing another EM pinball machine. I can’t help it though, their tendency for faults aside, EM’s are beautiful machines and every line up should contain at least one. This time I’m looking at another baseball themed machine by Gottlieb, appropriately (maybe boringly?) named “Baseball”. It was released in 1970 with around 2350 units shipped. It came out about a year before Playball (which I fixed up recently) and both machines share a very similar playfield layout and feature set. This isn’t my machine and I’m simply repairing it for someone else (the same guy owns the Playball I fixed up and documented recently). It’s not a restoration, just a fix up for the issues it’s having.
Baseball has the traditional shooter rod to launch the ball, while Playball used the launcher from between the flipper. This means the playing area on the playfield for Baseball is slightly smaller since it has to account for the shooter lane and ball arch at the top. Baseball also has one less pop bumper, replacing it with a small island that contains couple of targets and switches – which I quite like about the design. Baseball uses the smaller 2″ flippers, compared to the larger flippers on Playball. Both machines count scoring for points and runs, allowing free games to be awarded from both. They use the same number of score reels and both have the double vari-targets, giving you a tempting (and rewarding) shot off each flipper for a home run. Internally, they are very similar, so my recent work on Playball will come in handy here. Some interesting trivia, there is an add-a-ball version of this same machine called “Batter Up”, which was also released in 1970.
The owner purchased it off a guy earlier in the year and has done a great job cleaning it up.
I enjoyed playing (..I mean testing..) Playball and I suspect I will enjoy testing Baseball once it’s working properly again. Something interesting I noticed is there are large filled in holes beside the smaller flippers (one for each flipper). It looks like at some point it had the larger 3″ flippers installed. There are small holes for different wire guides around the flippers too. It’s the only theory I can come up with for these holes appearing here. The game shipped with the smaller 2″ flippers, so I’m not sure what this is about. Maybe at some point in the past, larger flippers were installed before reverting back? If only this machine could talk..
The same holes appear on the other flipper too.
As always, I love to check out the coin counters and this one is sitting just below 57,400 plays. Overall the machine is still in very good condition for its age and has a lot of life left in it yet. The machine comes from a good home, so if I can get the game play issues sorted out, the owner is going to be very happy and give it the life it deserves.
Anyway, that’s enough of an overview of the machine – So what’s going on with Baseball to have it with me for repair? The good news is it’s far more stable than the Playball I recently looked at. You can start a game and play through to completion without any score motor issues. That means no SB armature switch issue to look at!! This pleases me greatly. This is always a good starting point. But there is something funky up with the score reels. They don’t reset properly at the start of a game (which is interesting as the reset sequence completes successfully and should only do so when the score reels are at the zero position!). During play, the score reels will add hundreds and thousands when hitting targets instead of the correct values. My primary suspect are the switches on the score reels here, but i’ll get to that shortly. There are also 2 score coils which lock on at certain points in the game and the cause obviously needs to be determined and fixed. The men on base don’t reset correctly during the reset sequence either, which is the same issue I found on the Playball machine too. The hit unit will require a look at. Also, importantly, the left flipper button can give the player a small shock from time to time during play. There are a few other very minor issues, and I’ll go into details on those as I fix them.
The starting point for this machine has to be the left flipper button. It’s not good that it gives the player a zap during a game, so it’s my top priority. Some older EM’s used metal flipper buttons and Baseball is one of these games.
The owner told me when he purchased the machine, the left flipper button would give you a shock. Believing the flipper switch was the problem, he purchased and installed a new flipper switch. Sadly, the zapping continued. I lifted up the playfield and had a look at the flipper switch. I could see the problem already – can you?
The new switch had been installed backwards – notice the insulation paper between the longer outer switch blade and the active blade of the switch. This longer switch blade should be up against the side of the cabinet. The switch was swapped around to solve the zapping – nice and easy. This might seem like an obvious mistake to make, but can be easily overlooked – especially on these sort of flipper switches where the two blade lengths are a similar size.
Looking at the original switch, you can see where the insulation paper had been broken over time from the flipper button pressing against it. A previous owner has used some electrical tape to try and keep the insulation paper in place – although it’s below the break. Maybe there was more tape higher up that fell off at some point in the past? I’m not sure. You can buy new bits of insulation paper for the flipper switches from parts suppliers – for around 10 cents, so it’s cheap stuff to replace.
Next issue to deal with is the scoring – more specifically – those score reels. At present, when you press the start button, the game runs through it’s reset sequence and then serves up a ball. At the end of the reset sequence, the score reels have not moved and remain in their last position.
For the reset sequence to complete successfully, the score reels (4 for points and 2 for runs) all must be in their home position. During play, the score reels tick over, but instead of being awarded 1 point or 10 points, you earn hundreds or thousands as well. Sounds like some switch troubles on those score reels to me. I had a look at each of the 6 score reels and all but 1 had an issue. On most score reels, there are 3 sets of switches. Home switch (zero position), run out switch (1 – 9) and carry switch (activated on 9th position – this switch may not be present if there is no need for carry). There is an arm which controls the state of the switches and it’s vital this arm is sitting correctly to set the state of the score reel to reflect the number shown on the backglass.
Looking at the score reels in Baseball, here is one example of that arm not positioned correctly. In this position, the left switches will never close and the middle switches will always be closed.
There were a few different variations of this issue across the other score reels, but ultimately the effect was the same – the switches on the score reels were not in the correct state during the reel rotation. This was fixed up to get the arm in the correct spot.
With the switches now changing state correctly, the game was started up again. On pressing the start button, the score reels burst into life and all reset to zero.
Playing the game, the score reels now advanced correctly too. No more 1000 points for a 10 point target. No more locked on single runs and single points coils either. The scoring was tested for some time and didn’t fail once. All points awarded and carries were correct. Each time a new game was started the reels would all correctly reset back to zero again before serving up a ball to play. Another issue resolved.
The next issue to look at is the men on base lamps not resetting at start up. This was an issue I saw on Playball and I’m not surprised to find it here also. Both games unit a continuous stepper unit called the hit unit. It’s fairly custom to these games and it must be operating correctly for the men on base feature to work. If it’s not working properly that means they will not reset or advance correctly during the game. For a baseball game, it’s vital you can move men around the bases – otherwise it’s not much fun.
First thing to do is service the hit unit. As mentioned, it’s a continuous stepper and has a home switch which opens up when at it’s zero position. As part of the games reset sequence, it will advance this to the zero position. If the rivets are not making good contact, it can inhibit the movement of the plate and also prevent the interlock relays (the ones that control if a base is lit or not) from activating / deactivating.
With the top plate removed, we can see just how dirty those contact are. Also, you can see the wear over time from the stepper unit constantly going around and around for every hit you make in the game. Some of the contacts are quite worn.
With a clean and a thin layer of gel lube, they are good again. The snow shoes on the top plate were also cleaned up before reassembling.
I checked the armature and coil, but did not have to service anything further like I did on Playball. This hit unit has a nice, clean stepping action and now good contact was being made between the shoes and rivets.
After the hit unit and interlock relays were dealt with, the game was started up again. Much better, but still not perfect. The first and third bases reset correctly, but second remained on. I repeated the start up process a few times and found that both first and third were consistently resetting correctly, but second would only behave sometimes and remain activated.
This required some cleaning and adjustment of the switches on the man on second interlock relay. This proved to be very fiddly, but in the end I had second base behaving most of the time. Spamming the second base target and then the home run switch, I counted two failures in 100 where it did not reset correctly. The problem always corrects itself on the next base advance.
A minor fault the owner me to address is the stop motion display on the backglass. As you load up the players on each base, it should also light up a corresponding player on the backglass. Here we can see there is a player on first and second base. The last thing to look at are the 3 interlock relays that control if a base has someone on it or not. These guys are notorious for needing a clean and adjustment.
But when we look at the playfield, we can see all 3 bases are loaded. The man on third on the stop motion display is not lit when it should be.
There are only a couple of possibilities here. The owner had replaced the bulbs, so it was unlikely to be an issue with the globe. To be sure, I accessed the light panel and checked – the globe was not blown. That leaves me with two options – the socket itself or switches on the man on base relay. Given I had just gone through the switches as part of fixing the reset issue, it was unlikely to be any of the interlock relay switches. Knowing this machine (and Playball before it) has issues with several globe sockets needing to be replaced, I wanted to check if there was power going to the socket. I switched the machine off and hooked up a spare second hand socket with some small clips. The game was started up again and the third base loaded. The lamp on my jumpered socket lit up nice and bright.
The machine was swithced off again and I unsoldered the socket installed into the headbox. My spare socket was installed and the third base tested again. This time, it lit up correctly.
The socket below the second base insert on the playfield was also very unreliable, so I took the time to replace this socket too. It now remains on correctly when the base should be lit. The stop motion display is very primitive compared to today’s world of colour DMD and LCD displays (and the animation they offer) – but back then, it’s great to see designers trying to add features to the pins and it works well with the baseball theme. Another issue sorted out.
With all the obvious game play issues now sorted, I got down to giving it a really good play test. As part of this, I like to have 2 – 3 sessions on the machine each day, with about 10 – 15 games in each session. I repeat this for 3 – 4 days. This way, hopefully, any issues that are lurking can be found. A couple of small issues did come up – the right outlane switch would sometimes lock on, causing home runs to continually be awarded and the right vari-target would occasionally not reset correctly. This resulted in the reset relay for the vari-target remaining locked on.
The out lane switch was a simply fix and only required a small adjustment to the switch blade and also the activating arm.
Next up was the vari target not resetting.
The only thing needed here was to clean the rivets on the vari-target and given them a very thin layer of gel lube.
The problem did not come back again during the remainder of my testing and the home run switch had no further signs of being stuck down. The only issue I could still see was occasionally the second base would not reset as part of moving men around the base. It’s occurrence is not common though and would correct itself the next time the hit unit was called into action. The owner was happy to live with it, rather than me continue to spend time on it. At worst, you earn an extra run or two every 20 – 30 games.
So that was it. The score reels were now functioning correctly, no more locked on coils, men on base advancing and resetting, stop motion fixed and rather importantly, no more zaps from the left flipper button. The owner came by, played some games and was thrilled to see it fixed. Baseball is a fun EM and is well worth trying out if you get the chance. I’ve never been a fan of the small flippers, but Baseball has gone some way to converting me. It’s always hard to say goodbye to a machine (even if it’s not mine) – but Baseball heads back home to be loved and I get some space cleared up – maybe for another project machine? I can only hope 🙂