Remember when the NBA tried new basketballs and the reaction was so overwhelmingly negative that the league went back to the old balls mid-season? If you fall into the Venn diagram of baseball and basketball fans, you probably remember this story, but if you are a pure baseball player, what happened was that the ball bounced less, it strangely cut into the players’ hands and was more slippery when wet was than its predecessor.
It was a broad experiment that luckily went the way of the NBA short sleeve fad. The reason I’m bringing it up is because the reaction to these new baseballs has been just as negative. My colleague Sam Fels recently wrote about the balls being deflated againand the Mets took offense over safety concerns after three batters went down in a game against the Cardinals Tuesday night.
New York pitcher Chris Bassitt, who took a line drive to the face, spoke about how much everyone hates the new balls and basically accused the MLB of negligence.
He doesn’t specifically say what’s wrong with them, so allow me. Apparently, combined with the crackdown on illegal substances, the new balls are much harder to grab, to the point where fastballs are getting away from pitchers. Pete Alonso has been hit in the head twice this season, including again on Tuesday night.
The Mets in general have been hit from courts more than any other team this season. Opponents may get angry that the Mets seem good and glare at them in defiance, but when players and managers are more annoyed with the balls than the guys who hurl them, there’s a problem .
Buck Showalter and catcher James McCann were similarly critical of the new equipment, with McCann suggesting the league is working with players to find a solution (Per United States today).
“Sit down with the players and see what the players want,” McCann said. “Don’t take opinions from people who aren’t on the mound trying to throw it. Don’t talk to someone who isn’t trying to stay in the box when a guy is throwing 100 mph and has no feel for the ball. That’s the answer: talk to the players and see what the best result is.”
While that’s a good idea, it’s mid-season so there’s not much downtime to do research and development to dial in wear rate and seam height. The reason I approached the NBA is because they just went back to old ball when it was clear the rollout was a failure. Baseball doesn’t have a single old ball, they have at least a handful of old balls (hehe) so it’s hard to decipher which one to bring back.
Max Scherzer said he felt like throwing a cue ball after a particularly cold night in San Francisco on April 19. And a new experiment is not unusual for Scherzer, who last year said NBC Sports that there have been several variants in recent seasons.
“The ball has changed for me in the last five years. So who knows what the ball will be. They say it’s getting deader, there’s been times it’s been livelier, who knows. It’s something we all have to deal with, so mistakes are always made, I think. Whether it’s a home run or not, you’re still paying for it. You need to be current and concerned about what you’re doing with baseball, how you’re delivering baseball, and what the nature of baseball is.
See, that makes sense: when serving a meatball, worry about not making mistakes and live with the result. When it’s about more than how far a ball flies and entering play territory with pitches moving at over 100 miles per hour, a change is needed. Each option is better than the current one, so pretty much take your pick and play with it for the rest of this season.
There are a lot of archaic rules in baseball, but perhaps the most outrageous is that there is no standard for the ball. We talk about them in epochs like the 3-point line or the forward pass. This is the one aspect that should be a constant.
Imagine if the NFL were like this, we needed more verticality and implemented one of those Nerf footballs with the tails on them. Everyone would rightly lose their shit. There was a report that the Midway through the season, MLB switched balls last year. The League doesn’t know what they want; His desires change more than a child going through Toys R’ Us and are often dictated by an 8-year-old’s logic.
I agree with McCann’s idea that players and the league should work together to find a logical standard. (I also agree with his stance on foreign substances. If the MLB insists on this unpredictable ball, at least allow pitchers to use products naturally found in baseball, like sunscreen and rosin, for better control.)
Bring a group of experienced pitchers, batters and catchers and give them a variety of choices and let them pick their favorite. Nobody has a better sense of what a home run should or shouldn’t be, or how much spin is borderline criminal, than players.
The debate over which ball is the best ball is an argument usually reserved for a group of people trying to discern which basketball is ideal for a pickup game — and they can after a few dribbles and a few jumps find winners. I know baseball is a whole different subject, but if eight strangers can decide that the lightly used Spalding is the best choice and still play a game in under an hour, then a bunch of people get paid to find out What baseball is ideal can do in less than 150 years.