In an average MLB game, seven to ten dozen balls get used and abused.
Baseball has been called America’s pastime for about as long as it’s been played, but at no small cost to the balls that fly across the field each game.
Have you ever wondered how many baseballs are used in a game? In this article, we will discuss how many balls are used in an average game, and why!
Let’s do the math. There are thirty teams in major league baseball, or the MLB. Each of the MLB teams plays 162 games in the regular MLB season, and there are up to 43 games in the postseason, leading up to the World Series games.
That makes 2,473 games. If 7 dozen balls are used in just one game, that calls for 207,732 baseballs over the season; at 10 dozen balls used in a single game, that calls for 296,760 baseballs over the MLB season.
This means that over 4 seasons, there are roughly a million baseballs needed in MLB games.
In short, one baseball lasts for at most two to three pitches. Currently, each nine inning game (we’re not even going to worry about the games that have extra innings) has an average of 150 pitches.
After its two or three pitches, the ball is retired and dispersed in ways we will get into later — if it’s still in one piece, that is.
One baseball costs roughly six bucks to make. After all that adding and multiplying, we can figure that the league spends close to $1,780,000 just on the sheer number of baseballs throughout the season.
Why Are So Many Baseballs Used Each Game?
Now $1,780,000 is not much compared to the biggest expenses (ie., the contracts of top players), but it’s still a pretty large number. You may be wondering: if baseballs cost so much for the MLB, why don’t they just let the ball play a good eight to ten pitches instead of just two or three?
In a word: safety.
There are numerous cases in historical major league baseball games of tragedy striking the teams — and by striking, we mean a baseball striking a player’s head and subsequently leading to serious injury or even death. The tragedy of batter Ray Chapman specifically led to the introduction of helmets for players at bat.
One of the biggest reasons why baseballs flying towards the batter’s head at ninety-plus miles an hour was so hazardous was due to a simple fact: in the early days of baseball, the ball itself was extremely difficult to see.
The Dead-Ball Era
The earlier years of baseball are called the dead-ball era because, on average, the number of hits for every team was very low. That was because balls were used and abused during games until they looked like a darkened stone you’d find in the stomach of a yak, or something.
Over so many plays it became hard to see them as they flew toward home plate at break-neck speed.
Not only did the balls look like this because of serious over-use, but also because the pitchers on every team would deliberately add to the ball’s biology in an attempt to tilt the baseball game in their favor. This, of course, was a totally legal play according to the average umpire in the dead-ball era.
Pitchers would cover the already nasty ball with everything from chewing tobacco to pine tar in an attempt to make the official baseballs even more difficult to see as they pitched it.
As you can imagine, these pitcher-friendly allowances by the umpire have since become very illegal. Thus, the sky-high turnover rate of bright white, easy-to-see balls began and has stuck around ever since.
How are Baseballs Taken Out of a Game?
There are a multitude of reasons why any given MLB baseball can come to the end of its professional career. Most of these reasons have to do with the ball being damaged in some way or even scuffed up, the ball being hit out of play into the stands, or if the pitcher requests a brand new ball for whatever reason he may have.
The equipment manager on each team is responsible for supplying more baseballs throughout the game and making sure that the major league baseballs don’t get overused.
What Happens When a Baseball is Discarded?
Even if it is just scuffed up and not necessarily damaged, just a few pitches are allowed before used baseballs are removed from the playing field and sent to one of a handful of various destinations. Meanwhile, a new baseball takes its place.
One common fate for retired baseballs is ending up in the bin for batting practice. Though the standards of the ball’s quality are high during an MLB game, they can be useful a while longer as a valuable tool to help keep the batter’s hitting sharp in between games, or in pre-game practice.
An old MLB baseball can be also used as a practice ball for relief pitchers warming up to be put into the game.
Another popular destination for retired balls is to be shipped straight down to the team’s minor league operation. Minor league baseball doesn’t have the same “one scuff and you’re out” strictness that MLB has for their baseballs, so many MLB retired balls are sent off to get chucked and wacked by minor league players.
Go Home with a Fan
As I’m sure you already know, it is a highlight for every baseball fan to catch a souvenir ball that makes it into the stands during a game. If there is the baseball equivalent to retiring in splendor, this is it.
Usually, balls that fly into the spectator area are foul balls or balls from home runs. Or fielders will toss third-out balls to eager fans.
Once you catch a foul ball, it belongs to you, and you can do with it whatever you please. If you catch a home run, even better!
To the Dump!
Last but not least, we have the ultimate destination for retired baseballs: the trash. Balls are sent to the landfill only as a last resort.
Stray balls that get lost in the stadium may be sent to the trash when they’re eventually found by the grounds-keeping staff.
Not all balls get to go to ball heaven, we’re sorry to say. If the thing is far too damaged to be valuable for any of the above uses, its final pitch is into the dumpster.
Major League Baseball remains one of the oldest and most popular sports leagues in the world, and the ball that the game is played with should not be taken for granted. It may seem, after reading about the brief lifespan of an individual baseball, that each one isn’t all that important in the grand scheme of things.
We like to believe that the ball makes the game, even if a slight scuff on its white leather surface is cause enough to send it off to early retirement.