Players have long known it. Scientists have confirmed it. The numbers, quite clearly, bear it out. Eventually even Rob Manfred and Major League Baseball admitted it. The ball is juiced and it’s led to a massive uptick in offense.
How and why it got juiced is a tad more complicated. Major League Baseball is fully and 100% in control of the manufacturing of baseballs. They literally own the company that makes them. They say the juicing was inadvertent. A quality control issue or, looking at it another way, a function of the technology of ball-making being too good. Too exact.
At least one player, Justin Verlander, has publicly accused Major League Baseball of intentionally juicing the ball to increase offense. I have heard through the grapevine that many other players are privately discussing that, even if they’re unwilling to say it out loud. We can’t know for sure without more information, but given the history of juiced baseballs, we can’t rule it out, even with MLB’s denials. I mean, they denied the ball was different for a couple of years before finally acknowledging it, right?
Keep all of that in mind when you read Buster Olney’s column over at ESPN today in which he casts the whole juiced ball thing as . . . a problem for the Players Union:
For union chief Tony Clark and the players for whom he works, there are plenty of looming issues that must be addressed in negotiations. Anti-tanking measures. Service-time manipulation. The competitive balance tax levels. Getting players into free agency at a younger age.
But the discussion about the fate of 2019’s baseball will bear a unique set of challenges, and potential consequences.
Olney’s argument is that, if Major League Baseball ever figures out what’s wrong with the ball and how it changed, it will be union’s problem to figure out how to proceed — and it will pit pitchers against hitters as they proceed, distracting them from other matters — because the rules say you can’t change the baseball without the players agreeing to the change.
Nowhere in his argument, however, does Olney explain why, if MLB changed the baseball, either intentionally or though its own manufacturing negligence, MLB does not have to answer for it or remedy it. To read this column, you’d think that the people who literally make the baseballs are total bystanders with no responsibility in the matter. It’s just Another Problem For The Embattled Union.
Which is a pretty common trope among many national writers, by the way. Any challenge facing the game, no matter its provenance, is cast as trouble for Tony Clark and the union while MLB is either cast as being strengthened by challenge or just . . . is. You can see that play out in other contexts. Major League Baseball fired a ton of people from the head office when Manfred took over for Selig a few years ago and it was cast as a bold step forward. The head of MLBAM, Bob Bowman, was forced out amid allegations of workplace misconduct and abuse and the narrative tended to center on renewal. Meanwhile, a month or two ago a high-ranking union official was fired and the story was about “chaos in the union.”
I guess I should just expect that sort of thing by now. Most of baseball media is way more aligned with management and the league than they are with labor and they tend to see things through that lens. I must admit, however, that I never quite expected that slant to be so thorough that a problem fully created by Major League Baseball — juiced balls — would suddenly be cast as the union’s problem.