Why Are Baseballs Changed So Often?
Baseballs are changed very often in professional baseball games. You may notice the umpire providing a new ball between pitches if you look closely. It is understandable to assume that switching so often is excessive. This article will explain that baseballs are replaced so often in the modern game due to safety concerns.
Origin of Replacement Baseballs
In baseball’s early days, pitchers would try to enhance their ability to throw deceptive pitches by spitting on, rubbing dirt onto, or scuffing baseballs between pitches. This led to the ball becoming quite discolored and misshapen later in the game, making it harder for batters to see and judge the pitches.
Additional wear and tear from fielding and hitting the ball also added to this effect. At times, pitchers would often resort to more unorthodox methods to scuff the ball, including bending the eyelets in the glove, hiding an emery board, or having the catcher ground the ball in the dirt between plays.
Ray Chapman Incident
In 1920, Ray Chapman of the Cleveland Naps (today’s Cleveland Guardians) was struck in the head by a pitch. This resulted in his death twelve hours later, and this is the only casualty recorded from an injury during play in professional baseball. This was a tragedy that rocked the baseball world. Many believed that the discolored nature of the baseball later in the game contributed to Chapman’s inability to avoid the pitch, combined with the added spin brought by its misshapenness.
The MLB subsequently instituted a rule prohibiting the intentional disfiguration of baseballs. This extends to situations where the ball has become disfigured in the course of play. Umpires are required to replace the baseball anytime it becomes discolored or otherwise unfit for play.
The league has also specified behaviors the pitcher may not engage in, as they are often associated with intentionally scuffing or otherwise tampering with the ball. These include spitting on the hands, ball, or glove; possessing foreign substances; rubbing the ball on the glove or uniform; and throwing a “spitball.” The level of distinction undertaken by the MLB indicates the seriousness with which they approach scuffing and other means of disfiguring the ball to gain a pitching advantage.
Replacement of Baseballs
Baseballs in Major League Baseball (MLB) games are replaced every three to seven pitches on average. This results in an average of 84-120 balls being used per game. Pitchers may call for a replacement ball at any time, at their discretion. Common reasons for putting a new baseball into play include the ball becoming scuffed during play or the ball being grounded in the dirt and therefore having a dissatisfactory grip. Balls hit out of play via home runs or foul hits are also left out of play, and a new ball is then used.