Ballgate? MLB Used Two Different Kinds Of Balls During The 2021 Season
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Did You Know?
Max Scherzer, now with the Mets, has won only one of his last seven starts against Atlanta and is just 10-9 against the Braves in his career . . .
Yankees GM Brian Cashman, entering the final year of his contract and 25th year on the job, will have to do better to earn an extension . . .
Atlanta second baseman Ozzie Albies was the only NL player in 2021 to produce at least 30 homers, 100 runs scored, and 100 runs batted in . . .
Teammate Max Fried led NL pitchers with 15 hits, including a walk-off single July 4 against Miami as a pinch-hitter that made him the only Braves pitcher with a walk-off run batted in since RBI became an official stat in 1920 . . .
Fried is the first Atlanta pitcher to win a Silver Slugger since Mike Hampton in 2003, though Tom Glavine won four times in the ‘90s and John Smoltz won once.
Using different-weighted balls on the sneak demands investigation
By Jeff Kallman
So you thought pitchers using that new old-fashioned medicated goo on baseballs of dubious surface was scandalous. You thought they were trying to get away with murder when they started being stopped, frisked, and once or twice arraigned last summer. Well, what do you think about baseball’s administration itself trying a little cheating?
It took the magazine Business Insider and an admission from Major League Baseball itself, when pressed, that, yes, Virginia, those who govern the game are just as capable of cheating as those who play, coach, manage, or even umpire it. The headline on Business Insider’s November-ending exposé said it only too vividly:
Major League Baseball secretly used 2 different types of baseballs last season
It was bad enough that MLB kept monkeying around with the ball itself on behalf of—who knew what? But Business Insider writer Bradford William Davis says using two completely different balls in 2021, one a little more deadened, the other a little more lively, isn’t just a question of experimenting with the ball—it’s a potential question of game manipulation itself.
Davis cited a study by an astrophysicist (and Society for American Baseball Research award-winner) Meredith Willis in which she analysed hundreds of balls retrieved from Show ballparks and discovered 1) MLB did indeed introduce the lighter ball in 2021; but, 2) MLB also sent no few of the former heavier balls forth. And told nobody what it was doing.
That, on the threshold of the owners’ lockout that began when the last collective bargaining agreement expired at 11:59 p.m. on 1 December, was the last thing a game already awash in mistrust between its administrators and its players needed.
“Wills' findings could have far-reaching implications for the sport, shattering what little trust and goodwill remains between league officials and players, whose fortunes rise or fall on minuscule and obscure details like the weight of a baseball's center,” Davis wrote.
Informed by Insider that the league sent teams two different balls with different performance profiles, players, scouts, and front-office staffers expressed bafflement and frustration. "There's a lot of things that . . . the public doesn't really see," said one National League outfielder who asked not to be named. "There's just, like, lack of transparency, with [these] issues. And, you know, I don't know why that is."
Wills discovered among other things that Rawlings, which makes MLB’s balls, had switched between making slightly lighter and slightly heavier balls since 2019. MLB apparently ordered Rawlings not to ship the lighter balls during 2020, the pan-damn-ically shortened season, but some of the new balls got there anyway.
What did Wills conclude? Wrote Davis, “MLB manufactured two different baseballs for the 2021 season, one bouncier than the other, even though the league told teams in February that the new, less-bouncy, lighter-center ball met ‘all of our performance specifications’ and would be used for the new season.”
Raising certain questions about the integrity of certain games in certain series, of course. So long as either ball met baseball’s established standards for ball manufacture, nobody found a reason to tell the players a blessed thing. That’s what the Major League Baseball Players Association thinks when MLB claims it told the union about allowing different balls going forth, anyway.
Cincinnati Reds reliever Sean Doolittle suspected ball differences just watching his teammate Joey Votto belt a few strange-looking home runs; strange-looking, that is, compared to Votto’s normal home run deliverances. Some suspect more sinister things in play.
Davis referenced an unnamed pitcher to whom Wills spoke who tried breaking balls down along Wills’s discoveries making just such a suggestion. This pitcher thinks MLB was also looking to manipulate particular matchups with the variable balls: send the slightly more dead balls to such lesser sets as, say, the Detroit Tigers versus the Kansas City Royals, since nobody was going to be interested in them, but send the slightly livelier balls to the marquee sets such as the Boston Red Sox versus the New York Yankees.
Let’s get real. Cheating is as old as organized baseball itself. We’ve never quite known whether to wink, laugh at, or fume over such player cheatings as doctored balls and bats. (The list of those culprits would probably fill twice the size of the Hall of Fame.) Or, team cheatings such as finely-sculpted foul lines. (The Philadelphia Phillies once tried to keep Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn’s baseline bunts fair.) Or, turning the dirt near first base into a swamp. (The San Francisco Giants once tried that in a bid to slow Maury Wills down from grand theft second base.)
Wasn’t there outrage enough over the era of actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances? Didn’t we hear “cheaters!” often enough about the players who indulged, never mind that nobody really proved all that successfully that the stuff did or didn’t actually enhance certain performances? (You can look it up, folks: a lot of those who used actual/alleged PEDs saw their stats drop a bit instead of hike a bit.)
Didn’t we have plenty of reason for outrage when discovering that what was long speculated proved fact: the 1951 Giants cheated their way to a staggering pennant race comeback forcing a three-game playoff? (The Giants stole the pennant! The Giants stole the pennant!) Didn’t we have plenty more reason for outrage when the Houston Astros went beyond mere replay-room reconnaissance to a front-office-led culture of illegal, off-field-based, electronic sign-stealing cheating?
We have plenty of reason for outrage now if Meredith Wills, Bradford William Davis, and that unnamed pitcher are right, and baseball’s administration itself manipulated baseballs—contravening its own previous public statements—and perhaps manipulated actual season series’ play, too. Not to mention manipulating the life blood of the game.
“Everything in this game is based on your statistics," said free-agent relief pitcher Adam Ottavino to Davis. "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.”
Ballgate demands a complete investigation. And commissioner Rob Manfred—whose tinkerings with the rules of play have already made him baseball’s version of Rube Goldberg’s evil twin—should be held to maximum account. Especially by the owners who employ him but whom Ballgate may also have made further fools.
Jeff Kallman is an IBWAA Life Member who writes Throneberry Fields Forever. He has written for the Society for American Baseball Research, The Hardball Times, Sports-Central, and other publications. He has lived in Las Vegas since 2007 and, alas, has been a Met fan since the day they were born.
This Baseball Lockout Will Be Lengthy Without Outside Help
By Dan Schlossberg
The public be damned: the owners and players hate each other more than the Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill.
When the two sides met at the Four Seasons in Dallas, ostensibly for lunch, they parted company after seven minutes — not only unable to agree on what to order but unwilling to tolerate each other’s company.
The result, predictable on the date the last Collective Bargaining Agreement was signed five years ago, was the first baseball work stoppage in 27 years.
Though no lockout has lasted much longer than a month, this one could be a record-breaker.
The owners, understandably, are fed up with players they consider overpaid, over-pampered, and often under-performing.
The players, emboldened by militant negotiators hired since the last CBA, are willing to sign nine-figure contracts but unwilling to compromise for the good of the game.
Issues include free agency and arbitration — players want to qualify for both sooner — plus expanded playoffs — owners want 14 of the 30 teams included in the postseason tournament because it would reap more television and advertising revenue.
There are a few areas of agreement, including the universal designated hitter, but not enough to keep both sides in the same room without verbal fisticuffs.
Players want owners to dump the luxury tax and drop demands for an international draft, while owners want players to promote their product better — and thus sell more tickets and attract more advertisers. Nike logos already appear on jerseys and other sponsored emblems may follow, emulating trends in Japan, Korea, and other leagues.
Both sides are digging in, like a dog determined to extend its walk, but deadlines are looming. The Winter Meetings are the first casualty but reporting dates for pitchers and catchers could be next.
Baseball usually begins its spring around Valentine’s Day but there won’t be much love between the parties if the lockout continues. Teams need ticket and merchandise sales from spring training, which includes some 30 exhibition games, and players need time to get round into shape for the regular season.
Or will that bite the bullet too?
The 232-day player strike of 1994-95 not only wiped out the postseason but cut into spring training and the April schedule the following year.
After losing games to cancellation — and the labor-management argument over when or if to start the 2020 campaign — Major League Baseball cannot afford a delay based entirely around greed. On both sides.
The game would be best served if each of the warring parties would add an advisory panel of fans whose only objective would be to get an agreement hammered out.
That shouldn’t be too much to ask of Rob Manfred and Tony Clark, who don’t trust each other and shouldn’t be entrusted with preserving the integrity of the game.
Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ couldn’t care less about any other sport and is furious that the players and owners can’t decide how to divide billions in profits. The author of 39 baseball books, he covers the game for forbes.com, Latino Sports, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Sports Collectors Digest, and Ball Nine. He’s at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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