Major League Baseball has taken extreme steps in the past to ensure the legitimacy of the game and preserve the league’s reputation. Some of the game’s best players aren’t in the Hall of Fame because they committed the unforgivable sin of betting on baseball. MLB understandably takes a very hardline stance on things that might damage the integrity of the game.
Except when it comes to the actual baseballs. A big part of Commissioner Rob Manfred’s job is maintaining the reputation of the sport and the league, and he’s been a colossal failure in that regard because of the actual balls being used in games.
Over the last several years, the liveliness of the ball has shifted dramatically back and forth, creating an inconsistent offensive atmosphere like we haven’t seen in the past century or so. In 2019, there were more home runs hit per game (1.39) than any other year in baseball history; in 2022, that number was back down to 1.07, and the overall league batting average of .243 was the third-lowest in the live-ball era.
Not all of that is the balls, but research has shown that a lot of it is the balls. And the problem is exacerbated when Manfred, in all his “I’m smarter than you” wisdom, insists the things that have been scientifically proven simply aren’t true. Who are you gonna believe, the data or your benevolent commissioner?
Former Dodgers pitcher Rich Hill isn’t happy about the ball situation, as he shared on the “Baseball Isn’t Boring” podcast recently.
“I fully expect it to be different,” Hill said when asked if he was expecting a new ball in 2023. “Apparently we used three different baseballs last year. So, it always keeps it fresh, keeps it fun, keeps you guessing. You never know. But hey, look, it’s just the players’ careers, not a big deal. It’s unbelievable.
“Make one consistent f-ing baseball, I don’t care. I don’t care if it’s a ping-pong ball, a golf ball, a super ball or whatever. Just make it consistent, keep it consistent for the entire year. And let the players know, how about that? ‘Hey guys, we’re going to change the ball this year. We’re going to use a bit of a softer ball, we’re going to use a harder ball, we’re going to use a disco ball, we’re going to change it up and try to see what happens.’ …
“I just don’t see why a hockey puck is a hockey puck, a football is a football, a basketball is a basketball, a baseball could be anything. Why do we do this?”
As Hill said, the balls are only part of the problem. It’s the secrecy and denials that drive people crazy. When Manfred denies things that are obviously true, it erodes trust in the system and the league. When active pitchers are speaking out about how badly you’ve screwed things up, maybe it’s time to take a look in the mirror and figure out where you went wrong.
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