MLB used two different baseballs over the course of the season unbeknownst to the players, according to Business Insider's Bradford William Davis.
In a statement to Davis, the league acknowledged using balls with slightly different weights in the center, which affected how far each ball would travel. The league cited the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic for the situation:
"Generally, balls are produced 6-12 months prior to being used in a game. Because Rawlings was forced to reduce capacity at its manufacturing facility due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the supply of re-centered baseballs was not sufficient to cover the entirety of the 2021 season. To address this issue, Rawlings incorporated excess inventory into its shipments to Clubs to provide a full complement of baseballs for the 2021 season."
Davis cited a study from astrophysicist Meredith Wills in which she examined hundreds of baseballs from 15 different stadiums.
Wills found that MLB followed its plan to bring a new, lighter ball into circulation with the intention of cutting down the number of home runs. However, Wills also discovered some baseballs adhered to the old measurements and were heavier.
Bradford William Davis @BWDBWDBWD
Dr. Meredith Wills, a <a href="https://twitter.com/sabr?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@sabr</a> award winning physicist analyzed over 100 MLB baseballs across 15 parks and made at 2 different weights. MLB told teams the lighter balls were deader and met new performance standards. So the heavy balls (lol) were quite the find. <a href="https://t.co/779HD4z1vA">pic.twitter.com/779HD4z1vA</a>
Davis went on to explain how MLB's justification didn't necessarily hold water.
Rawlings began making the new ball in October 2019, well before MLB's official announcement about the change. And the company went back to producing the old ball in January 2020, a time before the pandemic brought the world to a standstill.
Baseball is unlike most sports in that the trajectory of the ball after the point of contact determines so much of the action on the field. Making slight tweaks to the ball, especially if the players are unaware, presents obvious issues.
Davis spoke to a pitcher in the National League who hit on another possible problem for MLB. The mere perception of subterfuge opens the door for any number of theories about willful manipulation on the part of the league:
"'You know, send a bouncier baseball, lighter baseball — whichever flies more — to a primetime series,' he told me, listing off marquee matchups like Yankees-Red Sox and Mets-Phillies. 'Then,' he suggested, send more dead baseballs to 'Texas versus Seattle. Or, you know, Detroit versus Kansas City. No one's going to bat an eye.'
On the other hand, he speculates, the league could flip that approach around and send high-octane balls to low-profile games and 'produce more offense,' which might 'put more seats in the stands. Just continue to bring up fan engagement.'"
New York Mets star Pete Alonso said in June one thought among MLB players was that the league was altering the ball with free agency in mind:
Tim Healey @timbhealey
Wait, what? Is that something players talk about?<br><br>"Oh, no, that’s a fact. Yes, guys have talked about it," Pete Alonso said, citing the 2019 pitchers (juiced ball) and this year's hitters (deadened ball). "It’s not a coincidence. It definitely is something that they did."
Regardless of whether that's true, Davis' report will embolden those who share Alonso's opinion or have a similar level of suspicion toward league officials.
The timing of the story couldn't be much worse, either, with the collective bargaining agreement between MLB and the MLB Players Association due to expire at 11:59 p.m. ET on Wednesday.
This is bound to be a topic of discussion at the negotiating table.