Whispers of the ball being juiced have entered the arena, inciting the fans away from the bread and the circuses. Of course the first reply should be “The sample size is too small for anyone to cry about, or seriously consider.”
But of course deadlines are to be made and words need to be a big part of those deadlines. This I understand, and some of this stuff is fun, while it also does do a small injustice to the feats of the players.
It didn’t take long, but White Sox announcer Hawk Harrelson has gone on record as saying he thinks the ball is juiced this season. And that was during Sunday’s telecast from Kansas City, the Chicago Sun-Times reported, before the White Sox hit three out of Comerica Park and the Tigers one.
Up the road from the South Side the Cubs were pondering the same question, or at least one of the writers who followed them the first week and half.”
Maybe the ball is on steroids,” Cubs manager Dusty Baker said.
He was joking.
“I think stuff like that is so stupid,” said Cincinnati slugger Adam Dunn, who wasn’t joking.
But Dunn has helped the theorists with their argument because he has hit four home runs in seven games, including two of the six the Reds hit in Tuesday’s win at Wrigley Field. During the first week of the season, home runs were up 10.6 percent over last year. Detroit’s Chris Shelton has six already.
In fact, the ball seems to be flying out of Detroit’s historically stingy Comerica Park for the Tigers and White Sox. But a day after the Reds hit those six homers against the Cubs, it was hard to find anyone buying into “Baseball” bringing out a secret stash of juiced-up spheres. And that includes Cincinnati pitcher Bronson Arroyo, who has a homer in each of his two starts, which puts him on a pace for 32 this season.I don’t see any difference in the ball, not at all,” Arroyo said.
He should know because, after all, he also throws the baseball.
“I don’t see any difference,” Baker said, serious this time.Then why was the ball flying out on Wrigley’s wind Tuesday, and why were the Reds and Tigers leading their leagues in homers?
What’s odder is that the writer fails to recognize that the Reds led the National League in Home Runs and Extra Base Hits last year that would probably address part of his query.
Over the years the ball has always been in question, it’s the center of the game and the one who controls its manufacture can control the way the game is played. This is evident in several instances over the history of the game.
The cork center ball was introduced in 1911 and was responsible for an offensive surge that was met with a responsive pitching surge later in that decade
The 1911 season produced a noticeable increase in offense and some storied years from players in both leagues.
YEAR AVG SLG OBA OPS 1909 .244 .311 .306 .618 1910 .249 .326 .318 .644 1911 .266 .357 .336 .693 1912 .269 .359 .337 .695 1913 .259 .345 .325 .670
Of course the media and the Leagues attempted to dissuade the fans that it was other factors.
The next ball issue occurred in the early 1920’s and is perhaps the most famous of the ball issues in major league history. Centered on the emergence of Ruth and the end of wartime restrictions on the wool that the ball was wound with plus the end of “Freak Pitching” created the largest change in the game to date, the emergence of the Home Run as a viable offensive weapon.
1919 .263 .348 .322 .670 1920 .277 .372 .335 .707 1921 .291 .403 .347 .750 1922 .288 .401 .348 .749 1923 .284 .391 .347 .738
Discussion of the balls lively behavior was the talk of the game and it finally was enough for the owners to try and institute a change to benefit the pitchers
The decade continued with a steady parade of hitting, finishing up with a robust line that dwarfed the prior decade.
1930 proved to be the landmark year for hitting in Major League history, the offensive boom was once again met with a murmur from fans, the press and even players.
The calls of “It’s not fair!!” were heard, and again the pitchers tried to help themselves out against the onslaught, this time instead of doctoring the ball they tried to change their style with the emergence of the “Quick Delivery.” A move that was promptly banned and in its wake the hitting just continued to amaze and again the owners made no attempt to change anything to reduce offense.
Even older players from the bygone era of “Inside Baseball” were queried for their reaction to the heavy hitting around the majors.
YEAR AVG SLG OBA OPS 1928 .281 .397 .344 .741 1929 .289 .417 .353 .770 1930 .296 .434 .356 .790 1931 .278 .391 .339 .731 1932 .277 .400 .337 .737
Another less famous ball issue in the Major Leagues occurred in April of 1943 and involved the Reds General Manager Warren Giles and a slew of low scoring games to start of the season. In the first seven games of the season the Reds had scored 13 runs and their opponents 9. The Cardinals scored 14 runs and their opponents 10 in their first seven games. Giles could probably see where this was leading, in an already war depressed economy entertainment was important. As we all know in baseball entertainment usually means offense. Citing the cement glue used in the balls as the fault for their lack of buoyancy Giles spearheaded a drive to get the spring back in the ball before the fans fled.
YEAR AVG SLG OBA OPS 1941 .262 .375 .334 .709 1942 .253 .350 .323 .674 1943 .253 .344 .323 .667 1944 .260 .358 .326 .684 1945 .260 .355 .329 .684 1946 .256 .360 .328 .688
So when you listen to the whispers please remember this, perhaps the ball is “juiced,” maybe, perhaps it is different. However in my opinion, a week and half is too small of a sample size to make decisions on what sort of trends both leagues will be traversing this season, a week and a half is a spot of ink in the ocean of a long, long season.
I myself like what Will Carroll had to say about it today.
The research done by Jay Jaffe in “The Juice” does show that the makeup of baseballs is a small but significant part of the home run increase. But there are many factors in the homer increase–weather, smaller parks, maple bats, less pitching, expansion dilution, and, yes, performance enhancers. It’s far too simplistic to pick out any one and say “yep, there it is.” Baseball is a complex game, one that could be affected by such things as the strength of the hands that stitch the ball or the butterfly flapping its wings outside the Rawlings factory that leads to the stiff wind blowing straight out of Wrigley. Baseball is so enjoyable because we just don’t know; it’s the most complex series of tangible and intangible variables found on green grass.