Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Mr. Baseball

Photo cred to Jake Garcia via Twitter
Literally. We've talked so much lately about baseball coming back to Victoria, we've analyzed baseball players, baseball executives, baseball statistics but what about just, the baseball.

If you've watched Bull Durham, you'll know that there are 108 stitches in a baseball, but do you know how they got there? It wasn't a machine. In fact, MLB baseballs are all hand-sewn in Rawlings factories with questionable labour practices in Central America (see Ralph Nader vs. Bud Selig circa 2006 - but that's another story). And although the West Coast League uses Baden baseballs (whew), I think you will find this brief 5 minute video on how baseballs are made to be absolutely fascinating. Click here to watch it.

Can you believe it's not more automated? This was supposedly the first time that cameras were allowed in the factories and while they don't show the whole process, you will get the idea.

But this is not the only aspect of baseballs that is shrouded in mystery. Most people know that baseballs are "rubbed down" with mud before they make it into the field of play. But where does the mud come from? I have heard it called Mississippi Mud but that is a misnomer as the mud used for MLB baseballs comes from only one place and that is New Jersey. That said, the Lena Blackburne Rubbing Mud company does not divulge the exact location where it "harvests" hundreds of pounds of mud every year, or if they add any special ingredients to make it just perfect.

Mmmm...mud pie

How did all this rubbing get started? Back in 1938, an umpire complained to Lena Blackburne - then a third base coach for the old Philadelphia Athletics - about how hard the balls were to grip (tee hee) so Lena went out and did something about it. His mud took the shine off the ball without softening the leather (which would make it easier to tamper with) and thus began the business that has been handed down within his family right to present day.

Think that is more than you ever wanted to know about baseballs? Think again. Here are some more inane (but interesting!) facts to ponder:

  • The HarbourCats ordered 160 dozen (almost 2000) baseballs for the upcoming season
    • And they may have to order some more later in July - especially for the playoff run!!
  • 2014 West Coast League balls are Baden baseballs - same as last year
  • Estimates vary, but the MLB estimates that the average life of a baseball is around six pitches
  • And it takes about one elapsed week to make a baseball (!)
  • That's about 50 balls a game or 120,000 balls for the season
  • The switch from scarce horsehide to cowhide was made in 1974
  • Each ball must weight between five and five and a quarter ounces and be nine to nine and a quarter inches in circumference
  • It takes about 15 minutes to stitch a baseball
  • Rawlings has been the supplier of MLB baseballs since 1977, taking over from Spalding
You are welcome!

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