Is the MLB “juicing” baseballs?

Chicks dig the long ball but so do the fans? Lets take a long look on theories from different sides, going back to the history of the steroid era and into this season in 2019 as we broke numerous offensive records.

1999 “Chicks Dig the Long Ball” Nike Commercial

Earlier this year there has been much discussion and theory of the anatomy and performance of baseballs through the years. There are people on both sides of the theory here as players, representatives and even the commissioner having words on the theory. One of the most notably outspoken critic on this topic has been Pete Rose.

The Cincinnati legend Pete Rose, who is very critical on MLB since his own controversy betting on his team, gives no holds bar interviews on how he views the game of baseball in todays eye. In one of his interviews given in 2018 he has gone on the record to say that:

“I’m going to argue with baseball until the day I die,” Rose said, “that baseball is juiced. I don’t care what anybody says. They’ll say it’s not, which they have to. I saw a ball bounce behind the dugout the other day in Anaheim and it bounced into the second deck. Now, there’s something going on there.”

“I saw Bryce Harper break his bat in half, and hit a 420-foot home run in New York. That just doesn’t happen. I know the ballparks are small. It just seems to me that everybody who plays baseball today is a potential home-run hitter.”

Pete Rose (2018)

It’s known that Pete Rose has beef with MLB commissioners for not allowing him into the baseball HOF and that in his playing generation he was king of the small ball. Pete Rose was known to have a hit streak stretching 44 games, the only player in the top 5 that is still alive. Could this be a cranky old man who is just vengeful that he didn’t get his name casted in bronze in the HOF? Maybe but there are more people who are willing to support his claim.

Earlier this year the MLB set the record of number of home runs hit in the month of May at a staggering 1,135. This season alone they are on pace to obliterate the previous season record of home runs set at 6,105 in 2017. The New York Yankees have hit home runs in 31 consecutive games in this first half of the season. Compared to the “steroid era” in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, in recent years batters have been able to just about match home runs in a season without the help of PEDs.

Many players, coaches and managers are starting to question if the baseballs have been altered through the years. Most notably of them is Justin Verlander, who is very respected as a pitcher and an 8 time All-Star and a World Series champ. In a press briefing before the All-Star game activities he voiced his opinion and said:

“Major League Baseball’s turning this game into a joke. They own Rawlings, and you’ve got Manfred up here saying it might be the way they center the pill. They own the f—ing company. If any other $40 billion company bought out a $400 million company and the product changed dramatically, it’s not a guess as to what happened. We all know what happened. Manfred the first time he came in, what’d he say? He said we want more offense. All of a sudden he comes in, the balls are juiced? It’s not coincidence. We’re not idiots.”

Justin Verlander 7/8/19

But this comment comes at a caveat, Verlander has given up a season high 26 home runs, and is in a walk year in his contract. Maybe he’s protecting his stats by blaming it on the commissioner? Many other pitchers like CC Sabathia are backing up Verlander’s claims but to only a certain degree as they don’t want to be that outspoken about it. Verlander ends his claim saying that:

“If you’re going to change something so dramatically, I think you need to make people aware.”

Justin Verlander

Let’s take a look at another prime example this year as the game of baseball was introduced overseas in its first ever game in London. The two game series between the Yankees and Red Sox “across the pond” were the prime example of how to showcase the game and make it exciting. For people who aren’t baseball fans or people out of the loop, let’s watch the highlights of the first game in London in the two game series.

NYY and BOS highlights of game 1 in Boston

Wasn’t that fun and exciting? The game had a total of 30 runs combined, higher than any NFL game showcased in London. The only downside to this game is that it lasted almost 5 hours but for new fans to the game they sure looked glued to their seats. This was the best chance the MLB could get to create excitement for the game for fans. I would say that these baseballs were juiced even more than regular balls used in America.

So what does Rob Manfred have to say about this conspiracy? Well Rob seems to dance around the question a while and while he does agree that it seems like the baseball appears changed to him he denies having anything to do with it directly.

“We had a spike (in homers) this year. We went back to those scientists and they said, ‘Look, you have baseballs with less drag.’ We’ve acknowledged that, said it a number of times. We went back to the scientists and said, ‘We need to figure out why.’”

Robert Manfred 7/9/19

Surprisingly though, as mentioned by Verlander before, the company that makes baseballs, Rawlings, is owned by the MLB and is the only company that makes the official game ball. In a 2018 article posted by FiveThirtyEight, they x-rayed some of the baseballs used throughout the years. Scientists at the Keck School have noticed that not only have the density of the balls been changed through the years in the core but the chemical composition of the core has been altered. This change can at least be contributed to at least half of the home runs hit. Spokesperson for Rawlings have mentioned that manufacturing varies from year to year in the composition of the baseball. Meanwhile the commissioner has been adamant about getting to the bottom of this problem and has conducted an independent test on the baseballs. We won’t hold our breath on waiting for their results…

So why could they be “juicing” baseballs?

Good question, so if you believe that they are juicing baseballs it’s obviously for fan enjoyment and to increase profit for MLB owners. As of today MLB is one of the highest paying sports if you are a player which makes it very attractive to play in, and you can have a long career barring any weird injuries. Although it is tougher than any other sport out there where you must hit a ball with a tiny bat while pitchers are throwing 90+ MPH baseballs at you, they will pay handsomely if you excel at it. Currently the team with the highest payroll is the Boston Red Sox which sit at $225,513,226 this season. Baseball takes a lot of money to play and to have up keep on the game. Up keep that must be paid from the fans pockets with admission prices, food sales, and other profits made. Unfortunately though the writing is on the wall for baseball as their viewership has been in a steady decline ever since WW2 ended.

Since the mid 1960’s American Football has been the favorite sport to watch on TV. MLB has fallen to 3rd behind NBA since the late 90’s.

So why don’t people like the game of baseball today? Some people have said it’s the ridiculous ticket prices stating that they can see professional baseball cheaper in the smaller minor league system where you get a more intimate experience. Other people have been harping the constant changes that are being brought on from the commissioner which include challenging plays, pitching time clock, Buster Posey rule, the Chase Utley double play takeout slides, and fan interferences. These changes were made to make players safer when playing and to speed up the game. Other changes that will probably be addressed in the near future are the defensive shifts.

Buster Posey’s injury, the start of the Posey Rule

These changes influenced older fans to abandon the game of baseball and while newer generations are focused on more gratifying and faster paced sports like Basketball or Football where it’s more of a ritual rather than a relaxing pastime. Newer generations aren’t accepting the game of baseball as they once were, the roots of little league baseball is now being rivaled by football leagues, lacrosse camps, basketball clinics, and even soccer. America is slowly becoming more “diverse” in their choice for sports and that is putting a huge strain for the game of MLB.

In Conclusion

There’s significant evidence that the baseball has been changing along with the game of baseball. This is occurring at the same time America as a country is changing to accept more diverse and gratifying sports. It’s not hard to believe that Manfred commissioned the balls to be changed to help make the game of baseball faster and more exciting but at the same time why not publicly announce it? There could be fear and backlash from players that their statistics were skewed due to this result. As we head into the future baseball should be a game of perfection and the dissection of everything including any and all equipment that may be involved. Fans really dig the long ball.

Sources used:

We X-Rayed Some MLB Baseballs. Here’s What We Found.

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