As home runs skyrocketed over the last half decade, Major League Baseball attempted to quell the surge by deadening its baseballs for the 2021 season.
The league instructed Rawlings — the exclusive supplier of game balls for over 40 years — to loosen the tension on the first of three wool windings within the ball, which reduced its weight without changing its size.
While MLB planned to move forward with only the lighter ball this year, a new study by astrophysicist Meredith Wills found that the heavier game balls from previous seasons were secretly used as well.
MLB disputed the notion that it didn’t inform its clubs of the change of plans, but confirmed two different baseballs were deployed throughout the 2021 season, via Bradford William Davis of Business Insider:
In a statement, MLB confirmed Wills’ findings: It did indeed use two different balls last season. “Every baseball used in a 2021 MLB game, without exception, met existing specifications and performed as expected,” the league said. But after approving the shift to the new “re-centered” ball for 2021, it said, COVID-19 forced Rawlings to backtrack and use older balls to cover for production delays. “Rawlings manufactures Major League balls on a rolling basis at its factory in Costa Rica,” it said. “Generally, balls are produced 6-12 months prior to being used in a game. Because Rawlings was forced to reduce capacity at its manufacturing facility due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the supply of re-centered baseballs was not sufficient to cover the entirety of the 2021 season. To address this issue, Rawlings incorporated excess inventory into its shipments to Clubs to provide a full complement of baseballs for the 2021 season.”
Wills found that every ball produced by Rawlings after January 2021 had the older, heavier center. That would contradict the league’s assertion that pandemic-related production delays hampered its original plan of only using the lighter balls.
Rawlings first began shifting production to the new balls in October 2019 before switching back to making the old ones in January 2020, and then did so again in October 2020.
The latest controversy surrounding MLB comes at a time in which no progress is being made in collective bargaining agreement negotiations with the players’ union.
The two sides are expected to resume talks early next year, and there will likely be some urgency to strike a new deal before pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training.