Friday, January 27, 2023

Baseballs, Did You Know?

Cushioned wood cores were patented in the late 19th century by sports equipment manufacturer Spalding, the company founded by former baseball star A.G. Spalding. In recent years, various synthetic materials have been used to create baseballs; however, they are generally considered lower quality, stitched with two red thick thread, and are not used in the major leagues. Using different types of materials affects the performance of the baseball. Generally a tighter-wound baseball will leave the bat faster, and fly farther. Since the baseballs used today are wound tighter than in previous years, notably the dead-ball era that prevailed through 1920, people often say the ball is "juiced". The height of the seams also affects how well a pitcher can pitch.

Baseballs used in MLB and the top minor leagues (AAA) are made to the same specifications, but labelled separately. Balls used in the lower minor leagues (up to AA) use slightly different specifications intended to make those balls somewhat more durable, although MLB pitchers on rehab assignments in the minors are usually supplied with major league-grade balls. Generally, in Little League through college leagues, the seams are markedly higher than balls used in professional leagues.

Baseballs cost three dollars each in 1900, a unit price which would be equal to $98 today. Due to their high relative cost, club owners in the early 20th century were reluctant to spend much money on new balls if not necessary. It was not unusual for a single baseball to last an entire game, nor for a baseball to be reused for the next game especially if it was still in relatively good condition as would likely be the case for a ball introduced late in the game. Balls hit into the stands were retrieved by team employees in order to be put back in play, as is still done today in some other sports. Over the course of a game, a typical ball would become discolored due to dirt, and often tobacco juice and other materials applied by players; damage would also occur, causing slight rips and seam bursts. This would lower the offense during the games giving pitchers an advantage. However, after the 1920 death of batter Ray Chapman after being hit in the head by a pitch, perhaps due to his difficulty in seeing the ball during twilight, an effort was made to replace dirty or worn baseballs. However, some rules intended solely to reduce the frequency (and associated expense) with which balls need to be replaced during a game remain in force - the Pine Tar Incident in the 1980s was one famous occurrence directly resulting from the enforcement of such a rule.

Today, MLB teams are required to have a minimum of 156 baseballs ready for use in each game. When combined with baseballs needed for practice, etc. each MLB team uses tens of thousands of balls every season. However, modern professional-grade baseballs purchased in bulk as is the case with professional teams only cost about seven dollars each as of 2023 and thus make up a negligible portion of a modern MLB team's operating budget. Recreational-grade baseballs can be purchased by the public for an even lower unit price.

Read more, here.

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