Terry H. Schwadron
July 13, 2019
Here’s a nice, contained little war in a teacup that is a good break from the tales of White House woe we’ve become too accustomed to hearing.
You don’t even have to be a baseball fan or follow sports at all to recognize the same kind of Trust issue that is driving so much division in the political spheres.
Just before this week’s Home Run Derby, part of baseball’s All-Star game, Houston Astros’ star pitcher Justin Verlander whined publicly that official baseball management was “juicing” the actual baseballs, prompting more offense and more home runs to generate better audience response.
Axios said the comment added more fuel to an already raging fire, a dispute that you may have successfully avoided until now. Of course, baseball, the drawn-out, draggy, if endlessly interesting national pastime, is fighting above its weight to remain relevant to an America that now craves non-stop action and instant resolution.
It’s why NFL football, NASCAR racing and horse-racing are competing to be the focus of the American sports mind: The betting lines and lapsed attention-span of the nation prefers to watch for the potential of people collisions than in chess-style strategizing. Unless that game is a championship match, most baseball is simply serving as, um, a passed ball, and seen as going wide of the entertainment plate.
Attendance at national baseball parks is dropping. Baseball is turning more and more to antics to build audience. Why else send the Red Sox and Yankees, traditional rivals, to play two games in London? Why else pepper the season with giveaway nights of baseball merch? Why are cities and regional governments still being pit against one another in entreaties for new stadium spaces in which corporations can rent super-luxury suites at exorbitant rates?
The Washington Postrecently reported that major league baseball teams are projected to hit at least 6,463 home runs this season, which would break the all-time record set in 2017 (6,105) by almost 400.
So, ESPNput a microphone in front of pitcher Verlander, whom we can trust opposes seeing opponents hit substantially more home runs. Here’s what he said: “It’s a f — -ing joke. Major League Baseball’s turning this game into a joke. They own Rawlings, and you’ve got [commissioner Rob] 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. … They’ve been using juiced balls in the Home Run Derby forever. They know how to do it.”
News outlet Axios was among those who decided to take a look, concluding that, in fact, Major League Baseball does in fact own Rawlings, makers of official league baseballs. The MLB bought Rawlings last summer — more than two years into this ongoing home run surge. “Obviously, that hurts the argument that the balls were suddenly altered once MLB took control,” Axios concluded.
But, Axios added, multiple independent studies have shown that, beginning in 2015, the balls changed. So perhaps MLB was influencing the design before the purchase? The news agency suggested that baseball players are being coached to elevate the ball like never before, and that is certainly contributing to the record numbers. “Something is going on with the balls, and the players know it,” said Axios.
When asked, Rob Manfred, the commissioner of baseball, suggested that there is no problem here, and, much like the White House itself, suggests that those asking about the issue simply should move along. Said Axios, “MLB’s ‘nothing to see here!’ stance grows more disingenuous by the day.
In case you never learned this, baseballs contain a cork center called a “pill” that is wrapped in two thin rubber layers. Basically, 88 inches of 5/10 red cotton thread is used to stitch the cowhide covers. They are stitched by hand using 108 stitches taking about 10 minutes. Recent research on the home-run question produced xrays of a large sample of baseballs. The x-rays and chemical tests showed the cores of recent balls were somewhat less dense than the cores of balls used before the 2015 All-Star Game, were a half-gram lighter than older balls, perhaps enough to cause baseballs hit on a typical home run trajectory to fly about 6 inches farther.
“Here’s the crazy part: If they’d just admit that something significant is going on with the balls — instead of gingerly suggesting that maybe something is afoot — would anybody be mad? Fans love homers, and even pitchers would likely appreciate the transparency. Instead, Manfred continues to play defense, seemingly worried that anything he says will make the league look bad when, in reality, the only thing making the league look bad is that they refuse to fully acknowledge what every fan and player is thinking,” reported Axios.
Soda companies change the formula for new products, then said there had been no significant change. Pharmaceuticals said there never was a problem with hacking into its medicine bottles on store shelves. Insurance companies want us to think they only deny bad claims. The DMV says there will be no waiting.
And then there is the White House telling us daily that there is no scandal in the latest scandal.
It’s all of a piece. My truth is just as valid as your Truth. There actually are alternative facts, apparently. The argument about whether there is a base reason like this to explain away too many home runs may sound silly, but it emerges from the same public trust fountain as Donald Trump reporting in a straight face that he supports very clean drinking water and clean air even as he undercuts exactly those things by deregulating environmental rules affecting whole industries who pollute both.
May we need Lets Make America Trust Again hats.