Tuesday, July 16, 2019

FenwayNation International Editor: "The Great Home Run Ball Conspiracy"

by Mark Lawrence, International Editor

When folks first started squawking about juiced balls earlier this season, I reacted the same way I usually do when these goofy baseball conspiracy theories get started. I just called it nonsense and waved it away. But after yelling at the TV in disbelief when the Dodgers launched their 6th home run at Fenway over the weekend series, I began to think there may be something to it, after all. Hell, even as I tap out this diatribe, A.J. Pollock, popped-up – that’s right, popped up – a home run in the top of the first at Fenway. Oh, puh-lease!   

Justin Verlander, the Tabby’s best hurler since Hal Newhouser, got a little heated recently when discussing the possibility of juiced balls being in play this season: “Did they do it again? I don't flippin’ know,” said Justin - except he didn’t say ‘flipping’. “The balls don't lie. This game's been around for 125-odd years. We've had the dead-ball era. Now, we're past the live-ball era, we're in a different generation.”  

As you’d expect, Commissioner Rob ‘Game Changer’ Manfred has repeatedly denied that anyone had futzed with the ball prior to the start of the 2019 Campaign – and initially, this correspondent was inclined to accept him at his word. But this ongoing spate of improbable homers, jacks, dingers and johnsons seemed just too unusual to be true. Or to even be regarded as a statistical anomaly. So, I decided to do some research via the auspices of that well-credentialed website, Baseball Almanac, and guess what I found, sportsfans?

If you take the home run totals from 2000 to 2018 and run ‘em through a spreadsheet, like I did, you’ll find some pretty interesting numbers. For the first 15 years of this century, our old pal Bud Selig was sitting in the Commissioner’s swivel chair. Of those 15 years, only 5 of them had increases in home run totals on each previous year – the other years all showed drop-offs. Increased total years? 33%.

In January of 2015, Manfred took over from Bud and - perhaps coincidentally – things changed. Actually, scratch that - things changed significantly. There was a 17% increase in home runs from 2014 to 2015 and a 14% increase the following year. 2017 saw a mere 9% increase while last year, homers fell by the same percentage. Increased total years? 75%. In the past 15 years before Manfred got the top gig, the biggest increase was a mere 8%!  Taken as a whole, Selig’s home run tally from 2000 to 2014 inclusive was 75,094 – which represents an average of 5,006 a year. In Manfred’s regime so far (from 2015 to 2018), the total is 22,209, an average of 5,552 per annum.  This represents an annual average increase in home runs of 11%. Bud’s time this century didn’t even come close to producing an average increase: too many of those years – 67% of ‘em – showed negative tallies! Of course, you can sit there if you want, harrumphing about lies, damn lies and statistics, but still…

The funniest thing I’ve heard in recent weeks was Rob’s assertion that the ball – because of some esoteric improvement to the manufacturing process which allows the core to be more perfectly centred or something – has reduced flight drag on the ball to the extent that the orb now flies like Captain Marvel - Further, Higher and Faster than ever before!  But more recently, he had this to say:

"Baseball has done nothing and given no direction for an alteration in the baseball," Manfred said. "As a matter of fact, we commissioned an independent study to make clear that there has been no intentional alteration of the manufacturing process."  (emphasis mine)

Aww c’mon, Rob – I know you don’t think much of us fans, but really! We’re not that stupid. Coupla questions for ya, pal: Who manufactures official Major League Baseballs? A little outfit called Rawlings.  And who owns them?

A slightly bigger outfit called Major League Baseball. Cue the X-Files theme, sportsfans. And watch the skies – for the long ball.