Once Again… It must be the Ball?

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.

“The Hawk” One of baseballs first swingers.

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.

.256/.322/.338/.660
.285/.347/.397/.743

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.

To remedy this Major League Baseball immediately authorized the use of balls in storage from the prior year, a controversy occurred when the Dodgers got a hold of the 1942 balls before the rest of the league. They scored 11 runs in the first contest that they used the balls.
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.

I’ll give it more time myself. But suffice it to say, I’m aware that they like their offense in baseball, they like it just fine

3 Responses to “Once Again… It must be the Ball?”

  1. daedalus says:

    So much for the “steroids causing all the balls to go out” theory…

    The Mets hit four out in RFK Stadium on Thursday, where center field is called the homerun graveyard…

  2. Cary says:

    Just as sure as Grandma’s perennials will pop up in the Spring, so will the same stories emanate from the opening of baseball season in April. Juiced balls, amazement at individuals who hit a few home runs out of the gate and the obligatory predictions of stardom, to the cries of “get rid of the bum” for someone who starts out slow.

    With all that said, here’s a possibility I didn’t see mentioned for gopher balls–pitchers two years removed from steroids, baseball’s even dirtier little secret.

  3. Administrator says:

    The Toronto Star takes alook at the juice
    http://tinyurl.com/gstho

    Why the homer frenzy?
    Players are off the juice, but maybe the ball is jacked
    Apr. 24, 2006. 01:00 AM
    GARTH WOOLSEY

    So, where’s the juice? If it’s no longer in the ball players, then maybe it’s in the balls.

    Something’s going on — check out the barrage of home runs so far this April. When suspicious minds don’t know for sure what is causing the ball to jump like it’s full of lab rats they always go back to the old theory: “They” must have jacked up the balls. Again. Is that a heartbeat we hear in there?

    The evidence is hard to ignore:

    #
    Entering the weekend, the majors were well ahead of the record 2.34 home runs per game set in 2000.

    #
    Several teams, the Blue Jays included, have been setting a pace that would see them top 250 homers for the season, something achieved only three times (all in the last 10 years). Last season, the Jays averaged .84 homers per game; they went into yesterday averaging 1.68.

    #
    As everyone knows, MLB has cracked down on steroid use, the not-so-secret secret of the power surge that led to all those gaudy numbers in recent years. Maybe Bud and da boys decided they’d try to keep the numbers up by other means.

    #
    On Saturday, the Milwaukee Brewers (Bud Selig’s old team) hit five homers in one inning, the first team to turn that feat since 1966.

    #
    Grizzled old Julio Franco became the oldest man in major-league history to go yard, doing so for the New York Mets last week at the age of 47 years, 240 days. (“They don’t see my ability,” he said. “They see my age.”)

    #
    Even Barry Bonds, 41, finally got in on the barrage, hitting his first of the season on the weekend. Career No.709 broke Bonds’ longest non-injury drought to open a season in his career. He was walked, it should be noted, 19 times.

    Guys like Ken (Hawk) Harrelson, the former major-league player who now broadcasts Chicago White Sox games, certainly don’t need much pushing to jump into the murky waters of conspiracy. “You sit up here (in the booth) so long,” he tells the Chicago Tribune, “and all of a sudden you see something out of the ordinary. That doesn’t mean there’s any conspiracy (by MLB) or there’s an ulterior motive. I just think it’s a hot bunch of balls.”

    Hot balls? Others aren’t so sure that the baseballs, made under strict controls in Costa Rica, are the only source of heat, arguing that unseasonably warm weather in the more northerly ballparks has been crucially important.

    While it might be true that the hitters are adjusting to life without steroids, it is also true that pitchers were users, too. It would be naive in the extreme, however, to assume that the new anti-drug policies have eradicated all usage. Human growth hormone remains outside the testing regimen.

    There’s no question that pitching so far has often been simply horrible. Which happens in cycles, week to week, month to month and season to season. With only three weeks or so of sampling, there’s plenty of time for the statistics to level out and find their perennial norms.

    “I am not that bad a pitcher,” said Brandon Claussen, the Reds pitcher who gave up four of the five historic Brewer homers. “I am in the major leagues.” Welcome to the bomb squad.

    Back in 1993 (when, we now realize, steroids were taking hold), the ball-is-jacked theory ran rampant, prompting manufacturer Rawlings to plead innocence. “We have so much at stake,” company spokesman Steve Smith said back then. “If something materialized that we tried to change the ball at all, it would ruin the company. Our reputation is on the line.” Still is.

    The ball, of course, has changed down through the years. But as variables go, it is hardly the only one, or the most important one. As conspiracy theories go, however, the old-new juiced ball is in a league of its own. Those observers inclined to be wound too tight will always say the balls are, too.

    Should the current homer-fest trend continue, though, there has to be an explanation, or set of explanations. Keep the stethoscopes handy.