The conversation surrounding the possibility of “juiced” baseballs being used in Major League Baseball games is not a new one.
But lately, pitchers say all you have to do is look at the balls being used in the World Series to tell they’re different from the ones used in the regular season, and that difference has something to do with the World Series record 22 homers that have already been hit in the first five games of the 2017 Fall Classic.
That was a regular season, by the way that set a new record for home runs in Major League Baseball. In 2017, MLB players hit a total of 6,105 home runs, surpassing the previous record of 5,693, set in 2000.
Pitchers on both sides of the World Series matchup between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros have commented on the differences they feel in balls used in the regular season, versus those being used in the World Series. It’s slicker, they say, which can have a detrimental effect on off-speed pitches like the slider, which require a sure grip to throw properly.
“The World Series ball is slicker. No doubt. I’m telling you,” Astros pitcher Justin Verlander told Sports Illustrated. “We’re in here signing (World Series) balls before the game, and it’s ard to get the ink on the ball sometimes.”
Yu Darvish, of the Los Angeles Dodgers, said in the same report, “I had trouble with the ball and throwing a slider. It was slicker.”
If the slider loses movement or doesn’t slide, it becomes a fat, slow-moving object to the hitter’s eye, just waiting to be parked in the bleachers.
Lance McCullers, Astros pitcher in Game 3 and a potential Game 7 starter, told Yahoo Sports about an exercise he did with Astros pitching coach Brent Strom, where, with his back turned to Strom, he was given a ball and asked, “World Series ball or playoff ball?”
“I went 6 for 6,” McCullers told Yahoo Sports.
For the record, the MLB sent out a memo to all 30 teams earlier this season, detailing the testing procedure for MLB game balls and refuting the idea that the balls were juiced in any way.
The debate centers around scoring runs, via the home run in particular, being a driver of television ratings for baseball. The cynical inside the game (mostly pitchers) say that the league which once turned a blind eye toward steroid use needed a new way to inflate home run totals. So now the balls are juiced instead of the players, the argument goes.
Could it all be sour grapes from a bunch of pitchers who don’t enjoy turning their heads and watching balls leave the yard? It could.
But as home run totals are on the rise once again, the trend is making baseball fans wonder if the equipment their heroes are using in the World Series has more to say about who scores the game-winning run than talent alone.