Have you noticed MLB players constantly going through baseball after baseball similar to how professional badminton players go through shuttlecocks? Well, if you have, you may be wondering what happens to the balls once the game is over.
And, why wouldnʼt you be wondering? After all, pitchers throw an estimated 8- to 10-dozen balls in a nine-inning MLB game.
To put things into perspective, there are 30 major league teams in Major League Baseball, with each playing 162 MLB games per season, resulting in 2,430 matches in total, excluding league playoffs and World Series games.
Now, letʼs assume a fair number of 120 balls are used per game. With that in mind, we are looking at 291,000 balls used by the teams, per season, excluding playoffs and World Series games.
Before I get to the matter at hand and answer the burning question, Iʼd like to mention that the players arenʼt being extravagant when they request or accept baseball changes. There are certain rules in place that force ball changes during a game.
For instance, an umpire canʼt turn a blind eye to a scuffed ball or a dirty ball. If an umpire or a catcher sees a ball that’s damaged in some way during a game, he must make the call to change it.
Now, before we discuss the three different scenarios for when an umpire is required to ask for a new ball, let me take you through a brief history of the game to educate you on how we got here (changing baseballs frequently).
How did we get to replacing dirty baseballs?
The rule to replace dirty baseballs came about because of an unfortunate incident that occurred on August 16, 1920. On that day, Ray Chapman of the Cleveland Naps (later named the Cleveland Indians) was hit on the head by a pitch during a game.
Although the hit didnʼt result in immediate death, it did eventually cause his death some 12 hours after the injury. This death, to this day, remains the only death in Major League Baseball history caused as a result of an injury sustained during a game.
Thankfully, precautions were taken to prevent the occurrence of such an incident again. The responsible authorities were able to find faults in the baseballs that were manipulated.
In search of an advantage, pitchers were found to have treated baseballs roughly. They were encouraged by their teammates and fans to spit on the balls, rub them with dirt, and cut them, leading to discoloration of the balls.
In extreme cases, the balls in play would even take on a new shape. What was the unfair advantage gained you ask?
Well, through such actions, the pitchers were able to throw pitches with abnormal spin. It was later reported that Chapman, prior to his death, was unable to see the pitch properly because of how discolored it was.
Thus, strict rules were made so that no one would intentionally discolor or damage a game ball.
Players (pitchers and catchers) found guilty of damaging the baseball intentionally or rubbing soil, dirt, special mud, rosin, sand paper, or other foreign substance on the baseball to gain an unfair advantage are suspended automatically for 10 matches.
What are the different scenarios for when an umpire is required to make a game ball change?
Umpires are required to make a baseball change when the game ball is hit out of the playing field or into the stands or spectator area into the hands of lucky fans. In essence, home runs and foul balls are always promptly replaced with a brand new baseball.
The baseballs can also be replaced when a pitcher requests an alternate ball i.e., if he is able to convince the umpires that the ball in question is unsuitable for further use.
Finally, as discussed earlier, baseballs are replaced immediately when dirty or discolored.
What does a team do with used baseballs?
Now, letʼs get to the million-dollar question—what does the MLB team do with the used baseballs?
Thankfully, the baseballs donʼt simply go to waste. However, the discarded ones donʼt get reused for MLB matches either as the dents and scuffs on the surface can negatively affect the grip of the pitcher and, thus, make the ball more unpredictable in its movement.
Instead, the discarded game balls are collected by the bat boy of the home team who then hands them over to the two authenticators, who usually sit to the left of the home dugout, to get them authenticated.
The authenticator documents each discarded baseball and primarily focuses on figuring out what happened to the ball during play. Then, upon authentication, each baseball is packaged and labeled with specific details about what happened to the particular baseball during play.
After that, they are listed on online stores or MLB shops for sale as used memorabilia with a proper serial number, thus keeping track of each baseball.
Some also eventually end up as batting practice balls or as warm-up fielding balls. They can be used for infield practice or spring training too.
There are reports that suggest that used MLB baseballs even make their way to the minor leagues.
Some game balls, just like broken bats, that were part of history-making games may even be snapped up by the team to showcase in the team’s hall of fame.
They can’t be used on pitching machines unfortunately because they arenʼt compatible because of their hard cases and tight stitches.
Now that you know that the used Major League Baseballs donʼt go to waste, you can sleep easy knowing that the multi-billion dollar organization isnʼt as extravagant as it appears to be.
All the baseballs a pitcher throws and a batter hits (whether it’s a foul ball or a ball that’s been hit into the stands) are either further used for batting practice, minor league matches, or sold as memorabilia in little souvenir stands on the main concourse behind the home plate.