A new exposé proves that MLB deployed two different kinds of baseballs in 2021 without informing players of the changes that impacted their careers
Major League Baseball is a little more than 24 hours away from an all-but-guaranteed lockout, the free-agent signings are flying out one after the other like a log flume, and a new exposé by Bradford William Davis is the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Davis uncovered that, unbeknownst to players, coaches, scouts, and execs, MLB used two different baseballs in 2021. Each was designed to perform differently. The lighter ball was deadened, making it more pitcher-friendly. It was supposed to replace the ‘juiced’ balls of recent years, which had heavier centers and led to an abundance of offensive power.
However, physicist Dr. Meredith Wills analyzed over 100 baseballs from 15 MLB ballparks and found that Rawlings — which has been owned by MLB since 2018 — went back and forth on making two different kinds of baseballs.
In short: after the 2021 season began with decreased offensive numbers and several no-hitters, MLB went back to the juiced balls that made the game extremely hitter-friendly.
After they were presented with Wills’ research, MLB admitted that they used two types of baseballs in 2021. However, they blamed the coronavirus pandemic for “production delays” that led to Rawlings distributing old “excess inventory” along with the new.
This explanation would make sense, except the baseballs are each marked with batch numbers, which prove when they were made, and Wills noted that several of the balls had batch numbers that post-date MLB’s switch to the deadened balls.
This discovery was shocking on its own, but Davis also spoke to several players and MLB employees at various levels. Each said that they didn’t know, or took the diplomatic route and kept mum, which in itself speaks volumes.
Baseballs are the key tool of this trade, so the decision to alter their construction impacts every single player’s career. And yet, Davis says none of the people he spoke to had been informed of the changes. One scout told Davis that it was “a big breach… of competitive integrity” in his eyes.
“Everything in this game is based on your statistics.
There’s a million of them. If the variables are being changed out from underneath you and in an unfair way, that sheds doubt on every statistic that you have.”
Adam Ottavino via Business Insider (subscription required)
There is already a serious lack of trust between the players and the league, and the league making decisions that directly impact the players’ on-field success without informing them only further fractures the relationship between the two sides. This situation only reaffirms that MLB considers itself to be the puppet master, and the players simply their puppets.
MLB fans are calling for commissioner Rob Manfred to be removed
To say Rob Manfred is an unpopular commissioner would be an understatement. When he was elected to succeed Bud Selig in 2014, it was the first contested election of a commissioner in nearly half a century and it took six ballots for him to finally reach the requisite three-quarter majority.
Since then, Manfred has made MLB team owners rich. However, he’s drawn seemingly-endless ire from unhappy baseball fans who are blacked out from televised games, priced out of ballparks, and infuriated by the rule changes and other issues distracting and detracting from the game they love and simply want to be able to enjoy without the many roadblocks Manfred and his endeavors have created for them.
Manfred’s era of MLB is all about profit, so veteran reliever Sean Doolittle’s proposed conspiracy theory isn’t remotely far-fetched: With MLB’s new, highly-lucrative gambling partnerships, using two kinds of baseballs could manipulate sports betting, and tip the scales in a specific direction.
If that were true, it would be appallingly hypocritical for a league famous for the 1919 Black Sox scandal and the lifetime banning of Pete Rose. But with MLB owning Rawlings, it wouldn’t be hard for them to pull off.
There’s another significant element of hypocrisy at play here, as well. In the middle of the season, Manfred cracked down on pitchers for using foreign substances to improve their grip on the baseball. Several pitchers were suspended, others were mocked for their struggles and elevated ERAs after the change.
The situation sent shockwaves through the game, but meanwhile, behind the scenes, the league had been providing two different baseballs without telling the players. The increase in offensive output was a key reason pitchers felt the need to get a better handle on the balls in the first place. In essence, Manfred was punishing pitchers for a problem his office secretly created.
Now, there must be consequences. Davis noted that a former commissioner of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league resigned after a similar situation came to light. They had introduced juiced balls to yield more home runs but had not informed their players. So in an eerily similar situation, should Manfred resign or be removed?
Maybe one day, MLB will be able to go a month, a week, even a day without scandal and outrage. But as long as Manfred sits in the Office of the Commissioner, that feels unlikely. And in the meantime, the game of baseball will continue to suffer.