The Boston Red Sox didn’t make the play-offs (and made me physically ill in the process), but that doesn’t mean I won’t find some baseball ethics to write about during October, which will cover the play-offs and World Series involving five teams from each league. Some weeks ago commenter JutGory asked about the ethics implications of the so-called juiced baseball. and I was not in a mood to think that seriously about baseball, since the Red Sox were engaged in the final throes of an epic, inexplicable, season-long choke that, among other bad things, soured my wife on the game, undoing years of careful nurturing by me. I’m OK now, and Jut was right, the juiced ball does raise ethics issues.
Early on in the 2019 season, it was obvious that the ball was different somehow. The very first month had more home runs than is normal in the spring, and the phenomenon only got more extreme as the weather got warmer. Pitchers like Houston Astros ace (and likely Cy Young winner as the AL’s best pitcher) Justin Verlander and former Cy Young winner David Price called out MLB management directly, accusing them of messing with the ball to help the hitters. Baseball’s brass denied it initially, but eventually they had to admit that something was weird about the balls.
Researchers confirmed that the 2019 ball was traveling farther when hit with the same amount of force than the balls in seasons past. The change was determined to be that the balls’ seams were flatter, less raised, than they had been before. This reduced the drag when they were flying through the air, resulting in longer distances.
How and why this happened is a mystery. Major League Baseball swears it was an accident, but nonetheless the sport is completely in in control of the manufacturing of baseballs. It owns the company that makes them. The current theory is that this was a quality control issue or, perhaps, a quirk in which eliminating a flaw in the balls made them too uniform, too exact.
Among the ball’s many specifications, the degree to which the stitches were raised had never been included. Continue reading