These days, it seems as though baseball has become more mind-numbing to watch than golf. People complain that there’s no contact, or the game takes too long. Kids and young adults today just don’t have the patience for America’s greatest pastime. Growing up surrounded by baseball allows me to understand the game on a deeper level that I do not believe today’s fans are getting to. Hall of Famer Yogi Berra described the game as, “Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical.”
In 1998, the MLB entered into what would be known as the “Steroid Era.” Players like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and many more would be players to break home run records to only have an asterisk next to their stat. They were caught with substances like HGH and anabolic steroids in their systems, breaking the rules of baseball.
The game of baseball was changed forever when steroids were introduced. Balls were hit further. They were hit harder. The players got bigger. Pitchers had to work harder to win. Intentional walks became a common occurrence. Barry Bonds holds six of the top ten spots for most intentional walks in a season. He also holds the number one spot with 120 intentional walks in a season in 2004. The first player to not be Barry Bonds on this list is Willie McCovey, who had 45 intentional walks in 1969.
In the year 2000, the MLB as a whole hit 5,693 home runs in 4,858 games. That number is the current MLB record for most homeruns in a season. Going into today’s games, the MLB as a whole is currently at 4,342 homeruns in 1,724 games played. With 706 more games to be played, the projected total homeruns this season is 6,119. That total shatters the 2000 MLB season.
One would assume with those stats, that steroids are making their rounds through baseball again. Fortunately that does not seem to be the case as only two players in the MLB have been suspended for being caught with the use of PEDs (Performance Enhancing Drugs). A pitcher out of Houston, David Paulino who received an 80 game suspension and Pittsburgh Pirates player Starling Marte who was also suspended 80 games. So if steroids aren’t the cause, what is?
Pitchers and coaches all throughout the MLB believe they found the reason for the surge of home runs this season. They believe it to be that the MLB has changed the blueprint of the baseball. Rumors are swirling around that baseballs have been “juiced” so to say. This would change the entire integrity of the game. Miami Marlins veteran reliever Brad Ziegler is one of the pitchers who have spoken up about the issue.
“There’s just something different about the baseballs. I don’t have anything to quantify it, but the balls just don’t feel the same… It just feels different to me, a little harder, tighter than the past.” Ziegler isn’t the only person to notice a difference in the baseballs. Mets manager Terry Collins got hold of a ball after it was fouled into the dugout. “The seams are different and the balls are a lot harder.”
A baseball has a certain density to it. There is cork in the center, and then it’s surrounded by yarn. There are two strips of white horsehide or cowhide tightly stitched together on top of the yarn. If the MLB were to change the center or the type of hide they used, that would change the effect of the ball off the bat. Even altering the seam stitching would give pitchers blisters that normally don’t get them which has been the case with pitchers like David Price and Johnny Cueto.
Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Alex Cobb detected a difference as well. “I’ve been at the Top [Tropicana Field] my whole career, and I’ve never seen so many balls hit catwalks. You used to see once a home stand, maybe. Now it’s twice a game, sometimes.”
There is a shift in the number of home runs being hit. There is no doubt in that statement. It appears to be that players, specifically pitchers just want answers. The MLB is denying claims, stating that they even had extra testing done. That is an absurd statement in itself. If the MLB is juicing the baseballs, is it not bias that the MLB is investing those claims? Detroit pitcher Justin Verlander is skeptical himself.
“You see balls leaving the yard that otherwise shouldn’t. Whether it’s juiced or not, I don’t know,” Verlander responded to a reporter’s question. “I wish, if it was true, that MLB would just say, ‘Yeah, you know, we wanted more offense, we juiced them just a little bit.’ At least then, it’s like, ‘OK, we’re all on the same playing field, we got the same ball in our hands.’”
Verlander makes a great point in that. If they were to just admit that they did it, then we’d know, pitchers would know and be able to make their adjustment to the baseballs and how they are going to pitch to the batters they face.
The reason I believe the MLB is denying it, is because they do not want to lose the fans that have the love for the game that only comes from being surrounded by baseball their entire lives. When everything you do as a kid growing up is inside or around baseball, you develop this love for the game that few can understand. So for fans to see the sport they love become stained like that can cause distaste for many. There will be some resolution to this theory soon, I believe. Unfortunately I don’t believe that will be this season.
Side Note: The 1999 Home Run Derby was held at Fenway Park. Ken Griffey Jr. was the winner with 16 total home runs. Bob Lobel, a Red Sox sportscaster at the time was able to obtain a home run ball after the home run derby. Lobel taped on his show, him standing on a bench dropping a regular season baseball, and that home run derby ball from the same height. The result of the test was the home run derby ball bouncing about 1 foot higher than the regular season ball. So who is to say that the MLB can’t be doing that now with the regular season baseballs?