If you’ve watched a Major League Baseball game and wondered how many balls are used during the game, we’ve got answers. Many…and there are plenty to go around.
An average MLB game uses between 90 to 120 balls, and at least 156 must be prepared before the first pitch.
Over the course of a 162-game regular season, plus the post-season and spring training, MLB teams use roughly 900,000 balls.
Why Does The MLB Use So Many Baseballs?
Frankly, using 120 balls for a nine-inning game seems like a large amount. Yet the reasons for how many balls are used can add up. Let’s do the math. A new ball is used at the start of each half-inning (that’s 18). If the batter hits foul balls or home runs, a new ball is used (could be as high as 10 for one at-bat). If the pitcher throws a ball in the dirt, a new ball is usually substituted into the game (3 per inning?). Players many times throw balls into the crowd (10 per game). Pitchers may not like the “feel” of the ball and request a new one (5 per game).
Balls must not be damaged as this can alter their performance. The standard for the condition of the game ball is super high (even light scuffing can get a ball tossed out of the game). These rules have changed the personality of the game. Why have these rules developed? In short, it’s about creating a more exciting baseball game. The rules transformed the game from a pitching-dominated league to a hitter’s paradise. The types of balls used in the early days of the MLB were shabby and in rough shape. An entire game could be played with one ball. Scuffed-up balls are a pitcher’s secret weapon because they produce more unpredictable movement during pitches. These balls also fly off the bat less successfully because the scuffs cause drag in the air. So as the game progressed through the years, fans wanted more excitement from the game. And a pristine baseball produces harder, longer, more exciting hits (less drag). In other words…a new baseball is more likely to be hit, and hit further…more home runs!
Rules For Removing Baseballs
So in the 1920s, the league created new rules and began changing out the balls more frequently leading to the power hitters and home runs of the modern game. This has become known as the “live ball” era.
Baseballs That Aren’t Played
So, you can start to see why a single game of baseball might use over 120 balls. But wait, we have not accounted for how many balls never make it into the game.
Balls Used In The Bullpen
The starting pitcher won’t always see a game through to the end, and other pitchers will step in. And they don’t just come in fresh from the bullpen.
They’ll spend their waiting time practicing handling and tossing, balls that are prepared for the game. Once handled, they can’t be used.
Balls Used In Batting Practice
Before the game starts, both teams take part in batting practice.
The rules for batting practice balls aren’t as tight as the actual game balls, and many teams will practice with pre-used balls (including those the pitchers previously tossed away because the vibes were off). Sometimes a team will use new balls for batting practice. Once used, they are not eligible to be game balls.
Balls Used For Autographs
Many kids (and adults) go to an MLB game and get a have a ball autographed by a baseball hero that they’ll treasure. A team will set aside several balls to use for these autographs. Sometimes it will be used in games. Sometimes they’re fresh from the box.
How Much Does MLB Spend On Balls Every Year?
Let us assume that 120 baseballs are used in every game of an MLB season. With 2,430 games in each season and 120 a game, that’s a massive 291,600 used every year.
Add in the postseason, when more tend to be used per game as the umpire gets picky, and that number is doubled, so we have 583,200 a year.
Let’s add in the same amount again for extra innings and practice balls, and we have 874,800, which we’ll round up to 900,000 for ease.
All balls used in MLB are manufactured by Rawlings to exact specifications. Rawlings has the contract for all MLB games to ensure that no teams have an equipment advantage.
It costs roughly $10 per baseball from Rawlings, which means for each game, roughly $1200 worth of baseballs is used.
As we estimated, around 900,000 are used by the MLB every year; that’s $9,000,000 spent on baseballs!
What Happens To Used Baseballs?
When a ball is tossed out of the game, it can’t be used again in the course of any game. Even if the only reason for discarding it was that the pitcher didn’t like the stitching, that ball still can’t be used.
The balls are actually marked once they’re thrown out to ensure they never accidentally sneak their way back onto the field. And they aren’t simply thrown in the trash and sent to landfills. Instead, they tend to be used for practice.
Leftover and used balls are often sent to the team’s minor-league affiliates. They use them in practice. However, even in the minors, used baseballs can’t be used in games.
And, of course, some of the game balls are taken home by the crowd. Lucky crowd members who catch a home run can keep that ball, and sometimes the used balls are signed by players.
Occasionally a player will even keep a used ball for themselves! This mostly happens with milestone balls.
Balls that are too badly damaged will be thrown away, as even a small dent can completely affect the ball’s movement. Which is why they get replaced so frequently in a game!
Which Team Brings The Baseballs?
It’s the responsibility of the home team to provide the baseballs for each game. That way, the visiting team won’t have to carry balls back and forth. It’s just easier to make it the responsibility of the home team.
Remember how we mentioned that Rawlings is responsible for all the MLB balls? Wherever a major league team goes, they know the exact quality of the balls they’ll be playing with.
How Many Balls Are Prepared Before The Game?
You might imagine that when it comes to a baseball game, each team has a big storage locker filled with balls, and they can keep grabbing extras as the game progresses.
But this isn’t possible because baseballs have to be prepared before they can be used in a game, and the preparation procedures are very exacting.
If a fussy pitcher means a team runs out of prepared balls, you can’t just use a new one straight from the packet. At least 13 dozen balls must be prepared before a game, which makes at least 156 baseballs ready to go.
And How Are The Baseballs Prepared?
Fresh, unprepared baseballs are very shiny and slick, which makes them hard for the pitcher to grasp.
The preparation procedure removes that sleek coating, giving a better grip for a more effective pitch.
Baseballs are prepared with a combination of mud and water, which is rubbed across the entire surface of the ball to remove the gloss.
To ensure consistency, MLB dictates when the mud can be applied, what to do with the balls once they’ve been muddied, and how many balls are allowed in a bag at one time.
And it isn’t just any old mud you can use! All the mud applied to MLB balls comes from a secret stretch of the Delaware River and is sourced by just one man.
MLB buys this mud by the bucketful because the creamy substance is just right for de-glossing a baseball. It soaks into the leather, doesn’t discolor badly, and improves the grip!
During a single game of baseball, around 120 balls might come into play.
Over a season, this means 291,600 balls are used. Factor in the postseason, plus all the practice balls, and that’s around 900,000 balls used in major league baseball every single year.
That means Rawlings, who provide all the balls to MLB, is making around $10,000,000 from ball sales to one customer alone!
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