Well, well, well. Count Justin Verlander among those insisting that the Steroid Era juicers have nothing on the balls being launched into the stratosphere at a record pace in just about every ballpark around professional baseball.
Jon Lester decided to voice his opinion in a rather respectful yet unequivocal way earlier in the year, and Joe Maddon called the phenomenon “extraterrestrial.” The Astros starter took things a few steps further in making his feelings known to ESPN, referring to the juiced ball being used currently in MLB as “a f***ing joke.”
Having already given up 26 home runs this season, almost enough for his opponents to advance in Monday night’s Derby, Verlander has zero doubt the ball is juiced up. And in something of a departure from his previous denials, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred doesn’t disagree. Though he reiterated during Tuesday’s pre-ASG media address that MLB hasn’t intentionally juiced the balls to spur offense, Manfred has previously admitted to a slight change in manufacturing.
“We think one of the things that may be happening is they’re getting better at centering the pill, (which) creates less drag,” Manfred told reporters. “In addition to that, there’s all these man-made issues: hand-stitched, where it’s stored after it’s made, where it’s stored at the ballpark, who puts the mud on the ball, how much mud they put on the ball.
“It’s really difficult to isolate any single cause. But we do think it’s a drag issue.”
Verlander more than insinuated that MLB’s acquisition of Rawlings is a clear sign that the league has been tampering with the ball in search of more offense.
“We all know what happened,” the veteran righty seethed. “Manfred, the first time he came in, what’d he say? He said we want more offense. All of a sudden he comes in, the balls are juiced? It’s not coincidence. We’re not idiots.”
Teams are averaging 2.74 home runs per game this season and on pace to hit 500 more home runs than the current record for an MLB season (set in 2017). The Twins just bypassed the record for home runs hit by the halfway mark and are on pace to hit over 300 home runs for the season, nearly 100 more than their current team record for a season. While many around the league are pointing to the balls or launch angle as an explanation for the home run explosion, former player David Segui and BALCO founder Victor Conte believe that more than half of all current players are still taking some form of PED, per a USA Today report.
Could this be why Manfred has suddenly changed his tune and admitted that the balls are different? Does he not want another cloud of suspicion over the game, another tainted set of records, and dozens more fallen heroes? Let’s hope not. While I don’t harbor a ton of ill will for guys who took steroids during the Wild West of rampant PEDs in baseball before strict testing, I certainly don’t want Cubs getting suspended for half a season or letting down kids who look up to them for their natural ability, sportsmanship, and integrity.
Although, if it happened to some Brewers…well, some more Brewers.
Stay tuned because this issue isn’t going away anytime soon and it could get even bigger if home run totals continue at this extreme rate.