By Ken Reed
No pro sports league’s record book is more sacred to fans than Major League Baseball’s. Baseball fans across generations can regurgitate baseball’s most popular records with ease.
That said, MLB’s record book — most notably the section with home run records — is currently under assault. The crazy home run numbers during both the regular season and postseason in Major League Baseball beg for an investigation.
Supposedly, MLB has successfully addressed the performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) issue that resulted in warped home run numbers in the McGwire-Sosa era. So, if the players aren’t juiced, are the balls?
The World Series has ended and the Houston Astros are the 2017 World Series champs. Leadoff hitter (Leadoff hitter!) George Springer was named World Series MVP for his five home runs during the series. Springer broke power records by legendary home run hitter, Reggie Jackson. I wonder how Mr. October feels about a leadoff hitter breaking his long-held World Series home run records?
Jose Altuve, all 5’5” (don’t believe that 5’6” stuff!) of him, hit seven homers during this year’s playoffs! Altuve has primarily been known as a great average hitter and base stealer, but a modern-day Harmon Killebrew? No.
Numerous pitchers in the World Series said the balls were harder and more slick. This, they claim made it harder for pitchers to grip the balls and get the normal break on curves, sliders and other off-speed pitches. Slick balls have less friction, making it harder for pitchers to pull down on the ball as they release it. The result is less spin and less break, making the pitches easier for hitters to wallop over the fence.
Maybe the balls are harder, more slick, and juiced …
“I know Mr. Manfred (MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred) said the balls haven’t changed, but I think there’s enough information out there to say that’s not true,” said the Astros’ Justin Verlander.
“I think the main complaint is that the balls seem a little bit different in the postseason, and even from the postseason to the World Series balls. They’re a little slick. You just deal with it. But I don’t think it’s the case of one pitcher saying, ‘Hey, something is different here.’ I think as a whole everybody is saying, ‘Whoa, something is a little off here.’”
Verlander could be seen rejecting and tossing out several balls that he received from the umpire during the course of the games he pitched in the World Series.
Major League Baseball had a record 6,105 home runs this season. Yes, that’s more than HR totals from any season during the steroid era. Numerous all-time home run records were obliterated this postseason as well.
This whole situation could be another case of PAAC (profit-at-all-costs) on the part of MLB’s owners and executives. Undoubtedly, fans enjoy home runs. But is turning baseball into little more than a glorified home run derby in order to boost TV ratings a point or two worth debasing a sport (and its record book) that’s been part of the American fabric for more than 150 years?
Who knows, the surge in home runs this season might be due to nothing more than hitters deciding to swing with vicious uppercuts, whiffs be damned. Or, it could be balls leaving bats faster because pitchers are throwing harder in recent years. Or, a combination of both. Maybe the new emphasis on baseball analytics is to blame. Data analysts in baseball operations departments around the league are touting “the ideal launch angle” for swings that they believe will result in more home runs.
There are a lot of theories out there, a lot of speculation. But the fact is the number of home runs jumped dramatically this season. What we saw in this year’s playoffs might’ve been exciting but it wasn’t baseball — at least in the traditional way the game’s been played for decades.
“I think the balls are juiced, 100 percent,” said Astros pitcher Dallas Keuchel.
“Major League Baseball wants to put on a show. We crushed the home run record this year. Honestly, I think the balls are juiced.”
Integrity. It’s critical for the long-term health of any sport. It’s required in order for there to be a high level of consumer confidence in any product or service.
As such, League of Fans will be launching an investigation this offseason into whether the baseballs in 2017 were juiced.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of FansPrint
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League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
A League of Fans Special Report