The Homer Report
On May 9, baseball commissioner Rob Manfred met with some sports editors to discuss the state of the game. One of the big questions — as has often been the case in recent years — was about the baseball itself.*
*The only other sport where you hear people talk THIS much about the ball itself is golf — though golf’s hot topic has been to see how many golfers are cool with cashing large checks from the murderous Saudi Arabian regime.
The point was that the baseball seemed super-dead. Batters around the league were comparing it to rolled up socks and wiffle balls and such things. The numbers suggested they were onto something. Even though the National League had added the DH and strikeouts were actually down, the league batting average was a sickly .232. And home runs, which had been the batters’ one equalizer against the parade of 100-mph pitchers with exploding sliders, were also down — teams were hitting just .91 homers per game, the lowest total since 2014.
Manfred insisted that the baseballs were not actually dead — they were CONSISTENT. That’s a big baseball thing, that word, “consistency.” Managers want consistent batters. The big thing you want in a relief pitcher is consistency. When you see an umpire blowing ball-strike calls, you will often hear announcers and baseball people say it’s OK as long as he’s CONSISTENT, meaning equally bad for both teams.
And now, Manfred explained, the baseballs were consistent. He explained that MLB had put humidors in all 30 stadiums so that baseballs in Boston were stored at the same temperature as baseballs in Los Angeles. They had put in various mechanisms to make sure that the baseballs all went through the same exact manufacturing process.
“The change we made in ’21 was intended to — and did — have the effect of centering the baseball in the range of specifications more tightly,” Manfred said, this being more or less the most complicated and boring way of saying, “Yo, I’m telling you, the baseballs are all the same.” MLB and Manfred had been embarrassed in 2021 when it was found that they had used baseballs with two different weights during the season.
That wasn’t going to happen in 2022, Manfred assured everybody. Maybe the ball was a deader than in 2019, but also maybe that wasn’t the worst thing in the world — that year was lunacy. Heck, I just looked it up and was surprised to find that I hit 17 home runs in 2019. The point, Manfred said, was: Consistency, consistency, consistency! As long as MLB kept the baseballs exactly the same, everybody would eventually adjust and we’d get back to the timeless qualities of the game we loved.
And two days later, batters started smashing the ball out of the park like it was 2019 again.