Rob Manfred And Baseball’s History Of Manipulating The Baseball

There is no doubt there is something up with the baseball this year. Home runs are up across the board, and pitchers everywhere have been frustrated. It is at a point where no one is denying anything. In fact, Major League Baseball readily admits to the baseball being different in years past.

In his All Star Game first half review, Rob Manfred addressed the topic saying, “Baseball has done nothing, given no direction for an alteration in the baseball.” He would also go on to say the owners are not happy with the proliferation of homers or how the game is played.

During All Star Weekend, players have spoken out about it with Justin Verlander being the most vocal outright accusing Major League Baseball of juicing the baseballs to create more home runs. For his part, Manfred tried to make Verlander and others who think like him sound like crazy conspiracy theorists saying, “How you manipulate a human-dominated handmade manufacturing process in any consistent way, it’s a smarter human being than I.”

Before going further, we should revisit Major League Baseball’s purchase of Rawlings, who is the manufacturer of baseballs. When the deal was consummated and announced to the public, Chris Marinak, MLB’s executive vice president for strategy, technology and innovation, said:

MLB is excited to take an ownership position in one of the most iconic brands in sports and further build on the Rawlings legacy, which dates back to 1887. We are particularly interested in providing even more input and direction on the production of the official ball of Major League Baseball, one of the most important on-field products to the play of our great game.

(Fox Business) [empahsis added].

Marinak’s statements about the acquisition of Rawlings fly in the face of what Manfred is currently saying about the baseball. In essence, Marinak is saying Major League Baseball acquired Rawlings to “manipulate a human-dominated handmade manufacturing process” in a way to conform the baseball to act the way Major League Baseball wants it to act.

This is nothing new. As noted by The Atlantic in 2010 Major League Baseball has long resisted using automated machines or stitching, which would arguably create a more uniform baseball. Between the resistance and the inability to actually produce a machine fully capable of meeting Major League Baseball’s needs, they remain in charge of the instruction as to how a baseball is supposed to be stitched.

But it is more than stitching. As noted by The History Channel, throughout baseball history Major League Baseball has experimented with changing the composition and structure of the core of the baseball.One interesting antidote from the article was an experiment conducted in 1943 due to a drop in offense:

Cincinnati Reds general manager Warren Giles, who complained the ball was filled with “ground baloney,” conducted his own experiment by dropping 12 of the new balls and a dozen of the prior year’s from the roof of Crosley Field and found the old balls bounced considerably higher. A more scientific study at Cooper Union found similar results.

While the results of these tests were initially dismissed, like how Manfred is dismissing some of the allegations now, A.G. Spalding did eventually have to admit there was a change in the composition of the core of the baseball.

There have long been complaints about the baseball from year-to-year. Those complaints just don’t go towards it increasing or decreasing offense. As noted by The Ringer, the Astros and Dodgers were complaining of a slick baseball during the 2017 World Series. The end result was not just a difficulty throwing sliders but also an increase in the amount of homers. In fact, one of the things that series was known for was the all or nothing offensive approach of both teams.

In some ways, the current baseball sounds like the baseball we saw during the 2017 World Series. Of note, Noah Syndergaard has described the current baseball as being like a cue ball, and he has had difficulty throwing his slider. The end result was him having a career worst HR/9, BB/9, and K/BB while having to scrap his slider in favor of his curve and four seamer.

With respect to the current baseball, Dr. Meredity Willis, a Harvard educated astrophysicist, described how it has changed in an article for The Athletic. She found the shape and size of the ball has changed, and it has lower seams with smoother leather. There were other noted changes as well, but the main takeaway was this is “a more aerodynamic ball” leading to more homers.

The overriding point here is baseball has long sought to control the manufacturing process even when they did not have actual control over the process. Over time, baseball has sought to change the core of the baseball and make other changes to the ball in an effort to either increase or decrease offense. While not specifically denoting this as the reason for the acquisition of Rawlings, Major League Baseball has admitted they want to direct the production of baseballs.

With respect to Manfred, it’s entirely possible Major League Baseball did not want this proliferation of homers, and it’s even more possible they did not want to see high priced pitchers struggle throwing the baseball. Still, baseball did want something to change because they did in fact change the baseball. Manfred can say he didn’t, but they and the company they own did in fact change it. It’s an undisputed fact.

Overall, it is clear the baseball was changed, and it is very likely not something Rawlings did independently. In fact, it can’t be done independently as Major League Baseball owns it. Overall, what we do not know is if this was the result of unintended consequences or whether baseball wanted this and now just regrets their decisions.

What we should note however is this baseball is very similar to the baseball used during the 2017 World Series. That World Series drew very good ratings, and it featured many homers. Taking everything into account, it is possible what we are seeing has been intentional. If it’s not, baseball can always just go back to the baseball it was using last year. Notably, it hasn’t.

15 Replies to “Rob Manfred And Baseball’s History Of Manipulating The Baseball”

  1. LongTimeFan1 says:

    Jason Vargas doesn’t have problem keep ball in the yard.

    I don’t know what the truth is here, but rather than speculation there’s something different about the baseball that’s part of MLB and Rawlings conspiracy to increase homers, we should study other potential contributing factors such as hitter size, strength, bat speed, focus, nutrition, and all advantages gained through studying pitchers and using hitting technology to improve.

    We should also consider pitching factors, including, but not limited to umpire strike zone changes, pitching adjustments, pitch counts, hard throwing pitchers also provide the velocity for flight when batters barrel or otherwise hit those out. And that pitchers no longer throw often enough inside to make hitters uncomfortable.

    We should also study the impact of climate change on batted ball flight and perhaps how the ball feels.

    Overall this isn’t simple matter. We shouldn’t just look at simple explanations (ball construction change, MLB conspiracy) to explain a complex problem with many potential contributing factors. This requires extensive formal study by physicists and a range of scientists.

    1. metsdaddy says:

      The study was conducted and cited in the article.

      1. Blair M. Schirmer says:

        Great writeup. Thanks.

        It’s fine to eventually include other elements in the equation, but isolating the production of baseballs and looking at what the new ball in isolation is likely to do is an eminently sensible place to start.

        1. metsdaddy says:

          Thank you. I appreciate the kind words.

  2. Saul’s Colorist says:

    Check out the piece on Cyrus Vance junior today in the NYT.
    I say it smells of helping the rich.
    Clinton photos w Jeff Epstein purged from Google search they claim
    Do big market teams get sweetheart stadium deals ?
    Probably enough…
    Yet what was Brooklyn before and after the Dodgers.
    Teams matter to create connection, connection of line of racial differences and community.
    I see a Met cap… I saw on the subway…. “Let’s Go Mets”
    Baseball wants more money, change the ball, let the free market and buying public decide….

    1. metsdaddy says:

      I think you hit the nail on the head. Baseball saw decreased attendance and decided to juice the ball.

    2. Blair M. Schirmer says:

      “Do big market teams get sweetheart stadium deals ?”

      –All teams except the SF Giants get sweetheart stadium deals, given that all teams (ie team owners) get free public money subsidizing stadiums built for the benefit of private corporations for no reason other than corruption.

      The usual pretense is that ‘they might move,’ but to take just one example, Congress could (and should) revoke baseball’s antitrust exemption (which is simply legalized theft, cronyism, and bribery), and NYS could happily tell the Yankees to feel free to get lost, then sell municipal land at market value or simply watch the sale of land to an organization that will establish the New New York Yankees in the Bronx. (Or laugh uproariously while watching a New Jersey baseball team try to privately build a stadium and make as much profit as the original Yankees franchise.) States can and should also arrive at compacts that disallow businesses from pitting states against each other in a race to the bottom that removes worker protections, crushes unions, destroys environmental protections, grants absurd tax giveaways, and so on.

      The Bronx or NYC or NYS could also decide to take a cut of the revenues of any team it allows in the Bronx and apply those billions towards the need of its citizens. It could additionally demand that the working people without whom no industry can prosper or even exist, receive shares of preferred stock in any team permitted in the Bronx via publicly issued corporate charters, and could demand that working people receive a 51% share of seats on the board of directors for the NNY Yankees. There’s no reason to allow a small handful of the most corrupt of the sociopathic accumulators to decide who gets what, when, and where.

      Just wrt baseball, corporate theft, corruption, bribery… rampant corruption in Congress, and in state and municipal lectures have funneled many tens of billions of dollars to the rich who bought our politics and who bought both major parties. Thievery through “subsidies” and the like, ie socialism for the rich, is just one example of the corporate welfare costing the country at least three trillion dollars each year.

      1. Saul’s Colorist says:

        What about hitting a single here vs. a grand slam?
        The Yankees swapped land, got these favorable bonds etc.
        They had to finance much more than the Wilpons.
        Yet tourists do add Yankee Stadium to the list and tour guides go there.
        What I am saying is that there is some degree of economic benefit to the taxpayer, economy, jobs, community ….whether material I do not know…

        There has to be a very thorough study possibly through Congress, possibly taxing the public benefit of these deals.

        What happened as a result of the Barclay Center?

        Personally, if there can be an demand to add to the performing arts facilities there or elsewhere, parks, programs to improve viable causes such as after school sports, expensive equipment that the poor can not afford etc.

        I see these college football stadiums a bigger problem.
        Look at rural poverty in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama.
        How many stadiums built that ignore these people among the poorest and poorest health.


        1. Jeff’s Weaver says:


          WTF WTF – Jeff, Fred and Saul sh*t show will go on for more decades
          WTF WTF – Jeff, Fred and Saul sh*t show will go on for more decades
          WTF WTF – Jeff, Fred and Saul sh*t show will go on for more decades
          WTF WTF – Jeff, Fred and Saul sh*t show will go on for more decades
          WTF WTF – Jeff, Fred and Saul sh*t show will go on for more decades
          WTF WTF – Jeff, Fred and Saul sh*t show will go on for more decades
          WTF WTF – Jeff, Fred and Saul sh*t show will go on for more decades
          WTF WTF – Jeff, Fred and Saul sh*t show will go on for more decades

        2. Blair M. Schirmer says:

          @Saul Agree that football stadiums surely are a comparable issue.

          As for the economic benefit of something like the Yankees and the Stadium, though, subsidizing profit-making private businesses already enjoying monopoly protection (that was surely favor enough!) and making enormous profits is simply a way of funneling ever more of our tax dollars, and doing so at a time when taxes on the rich are at historic, postwar lows–the truly rich now pay an effective tax rate of about 9%, compared with an effective tax rate around 55% under GOP President Eisenhower in the 1950s.

          If profits on the order of hundreds of millions of dollars each year for the owners of a team like the Yanks isn’t enough, and they want to leave for New Jersey, baseball (if it were not complicit) would be entirely within its rights to give the Bronx, NY franchise to a new ownership group, which would then go on to amass the extraordinary profits only a NY franchise can. That threat alone by MLB would be enough to cause mass laughter as the Steinbrenners tucked in their tails and agreed to build their own stadium without a dime of public money.

          Put another way, if you wanted to open up a garage in your neighborhood that was guaranteed to turn a significant profit, the state would not also build that garage for you and pick up much of the tab in so doing just because your garage would make it easier for people to get their cars fixed and because you would be creating some jobs in your neighborhood.

          We have free market capitalism for working people–it’s long past time to have free market capitalism for the rich, too.

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