How Many Balls Are Used In Every MLB Game?

If you’ve ever dreamed of getting your hands on a ball that was actually used in a Major League Baseball game, then the chances might be higher than you realized!

Every single MLB game goes through a huge amount of balls, so there are plenty to go around!

How Many Balls Are Used In Every MLB Game

An average MLB game uses between 90 and 120 balls, and at least 156 balls have to be prepared before the match.

Over the course of a year, including post season and practice, major league baseball goes through around 900,000 balls.

So, if you want to get your hands on a ball used by a major league team, you have almost 1 million chances!

Why Does The MLB Use So Many Baseballs?

120 balls for a nine inning game is a pretty impressive average. Each half inning starts with a new ball, which accounts for some, and of course, the foul balls, home runs, and balls thrown to the crowd add a few extra. But how exactly do we get to 120 balls per game?

Partly, it’s because there are many rules determining when a ball is no longer fit for purpose (and even light scuffing can get a fresh ball out of play). And it’s also partly due to the preference of the pitcher.

The fussier the pitcher, the more balls you’ll go through in a game.

Of course, 120 is the upper end of the general spectrum, and some games only use a meager 90 balls to get through nine innings!

Rules For Removing Baseballs

There are a lot of rules surrounding when a ball needs to be removed, and these have come to really define the game of baseball. Balls must not be damaged, as this can alter their performance.

Interestingly, this wasn’t always the case. Up until the 1920s, a ball would often be kept in the game, no matter how scuffed and dirty it became.

This meant as the innings progressed, the flight of the ball changed, and the game became more tactical.

However, the rules changed in the 1920s, and the ball had to be clean to be played. This removed the erratic nature of dirty baseballs, leading to the power-hitters and home runs of the modern game.

Once the ball has gone out of play, it has to be removed from the game completely. Foul balls and home run balls can’t be used, which is why lucky fans are able to keep their catches.

If a ball is scuffed or dirty, it can alter the trajectory, so it has to be removed. This means most of the time, once a ball has been hit, it’s tossed out.

If it hits the dirt, the ball will probably need to be removed. The umpire might inspect the ball before throwing it away.

And if a player wants the ball gone, then the ball tends to be gone. This leads to the second reason why each game goes through so many…

Players Removing Baseballs

It isn’t just the rules and umpires that determine when a baseball is out of use, the player’s have a say in it as well.

If they notice an issue with a ball, even before the game has started, they can request a new one, and toss out the old one.

Sometimes a pitcher just won’t like the feel of a ball, even before it’s had a chance to be in the game.

It might be too slick, or the stitching isn’t quite right, or it just doesn’t feel good. Some pitchers are pickier than others, and can really increase the number of balls that get discarded.

These requests are almost never denied by the umpire, which is probably something to be grateful for. No one wants the game to stop while the players stand and argue about the veracity of a ball.

How Many Balls Are Used In Every MLB Game

Baseballs That Aren’t Played

So, you can start to see why a single game of baseball might use over 120 balls. But this is only part of the story. There are also the balls that never make it into play.

Baseballs 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, and they use the balls that are prepared for the game. Once handled, they can’t be used.

Baseballs 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 tossed away because the vibes were off).

Sometimes a team will use new balls for batting practice, and once used, they aren’t entered back into the game.

With a team potentially using upwards of 200 balls per batting session – teams in a slump sometimes take extra practice – that’s a lot of baseballs out of play.

Baseballs Used For Autographs

Many kids (and adults) have a ball autographed by a baseball hero that they’ll treasure.

Often, a team will set aside a number of balls to use for these autographs. Sometimes it will be balls that have been used in the game, and sometimes they’re fresh from the packet.

How Much Does MLB Spend On Balls Every Year?

Let us assume that 120 balls are used in every game of an MLB season. With 2430 games in each season, and 120 balls a game, that’s a massive 291,600 balls used every year.

Add in the postseason, when more balls tend to be used per game as the umpire gets picky, and that number is doubled, so we have 583,200 balls a year.

Let’s add in the same amount again for extra innings and practice balls, and we have 874,800 balls, which we’ll round up to 900,000, for ease.

All balls used in MLB are manufactured by Rawlings, to exacting 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 are used.

As we estimated around 900,000 balls 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.

These balls aren’t simply thrown in the trash, and sent to a landfill. Instead, they tend to be used as practice balls.

Leftover and used balls are often sent to the team’s minor league affiliates, and they’ll use the balls in practice. However, even in the minors, the used balls can’t go into play.

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 movement of the ball. Which is why they get replaced so frequently in a game!

How Many Balls Are Used In Every MLB Game

Which Team Brings The Baseballs?

We’ve hopefully established that before each game, you need to have a fair amount of balls waiting to be used. So, you might be wondering where those balls come from.

It’s the responsibility of the home team to provide the balls 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?

Well, this means that the matter of “which team brings the balls?” is purely logistical. Wherever a major league team goes, they know the exact quality of the balls they’ll be provided with.

How Many Baseballs Are Prepared Before The Game?

You might imagine that when it comes to a game of baseball, 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 have to 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 takes away 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 fabric, doesn’t discolor badly, and improves the grip!

Conclusion

During the course of 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, are making around $10,000,000 from ball sales to one customer alone!

Matt Crouch