I have stated many times in this space that I am an unabashed fan of baseball. I loved playing it and I enjoy watching it, especially in person but also on television. I think replay and recent rules changes are ruining it and I am thankful every day, month and year that the designated hitter stays out of the National League. I believe the team with the best record should have home field advantage in the World Series and don’t want the post season wild card series to be best two out of three. But I’m not here today to write about any of that. I’m here to discuss the one thing that makes baseball, baseball. The baseball.
I have been watching our national pastime for more than five decades and have recently noticed, more than ever before, the number of baseballs tossed aside by both pitchers, catchers and umpires. Perfectly good, still round, orbs cast into oblivion because an errant sinker, slider or two seam fastball ever so briefly touched the plate, or the dirt around home plate, before finding the catcher’s mitt. The scene has become all too familiar; pitch catches turf, catcher hands ball to ump, ump hands new ball to catcher (or tosses it out to the pitcher himself) then ump tosses the “old” ball toward the home team dugout. It made me wonder how many Rawlings “Official Major League” baseballs signed by commissioner Rob Manfred are put to use during an average MLB game and what in the world happens to the perfectly good baseballs that get the heave ho? Inquiring minds (at least this one) want to know.
So I sat down to watch a few games. First up was the Washington Nationals against the Detroit Tigers in Washington. Stephen Strasburg was on the mound for the Nats and it became immediately apparent that a pitcher throwing 95 miles an hour plus fastballs was not conducive to my research. Plenty of foul balls into the stands for souvenirs but fewer pitches in the dirt meant fewer balls tossed away. So I flipped to the Miami Marlins and the Milwaukee Brewers only to find fire balling right hander Jose Fernandez dealing for Miami. I needed to find a game with sinker ballers Mike Pelfrey or Jake Westbrook or Joel Pinero pitching. OR I could just speak with a friend who spends a ton of his time around major league baseball and ask him.
Because I am me, I texted instead and got the skinny. According to my source an average of ten dozen baseballs are used during your run of the mill, nine inning, major league baseball game. Then I went to the calculator. There are 30 teams in the big leagues and each plays 162 games during a season. So I multiplied 120 (balls) x 162 (games) x 15 (teams) and came up with 291,600 baseballs per year. Not scientific I am aware but give or take a few balls here and a few balls there that is still a lot of baseballs. My friend added nuggets like all the balls are “rubbed up with Delaware Mud” by an umpire attendant before each game. Of those Delaware rubbed baseballs lets immediately cut the number that are left lying around in half because those end up in the stands as souvenirs thanks to foul balls, home runs and balls tossed to fans, young and old, at the end of every half inning. So now we’re down to somewhere in the neighborhood of 145 thousand baseballs. According to the expert those all end up in batting practice bags all around the league.
But I digress. If you watch a lot of baseball games, you can’t help but notice how many “perfectly good baseballs” get tossed into that waiting BP bag. Every time a pitch makes even the slightest contact with the earth it’s deemed “not worthy” by the catcher, the pitcher, the umpire or all three. But a ball blasted off the bat of Buster Posey, that hits both the grass and the dirt as it scoots through the infield into centerfield, for a base hit stays in play. That is until the pitcher throws it in the dirt on the first pitch to the next hitter. Why the double standard? I queried my friend, to which he replied, “No reason. Just stupid habits.”
I also found out that the Rawlings factory in Turrialba, Costa Rica produces all the balls used during Major League Baseball games in the United States. Some estimates put the number of baseballs produced by that factory at 1.8 million every year. So it’s clear they have extras to toss out just because of a little blemish. Teams supply 10 dozen baseballs per game, on Monday that meant at least 1,300 white leather spheroids were rubbed up with mud. By contrast 24 footballs are used during an average NFL game (each team is responsible for supplying 12), the NBA only needs three basketballs. Hockey may use as many as 30 pucks a game while a professional golfer goes through between a sleeve (3) and half a dozen Titleists per 18 holes.
Bottom line is NO sport makes more, uses more, or indiscriminately consigns more balls to the scrapheap than major league baseball. I guess ultimately the question isn’t why, but why not? Gotta go, a game is on.