In June of last year, when Major League Baseball and Seidler Equity Partners bought Rawlings, the company that makes MLB’s balls, the move was heralded as a wondrous bit of corporate synergizing, and important to baseball’s very future.
Remember two key lines from Maria Armental’s story in The Wall Street Journal just a year and a half ago:
“The deal gives MLB a chance to provide ‘even more input and direction on the production’ of the league’s official ball, said Chris Marinak, MLB’s executive vice president for strategy, technology and innovation.”
“‘MLB has entrusted Rawlings to protect the integrity of the game,’ [Rawlings executive VP Mike] Thompson said. ‘It’s [the ball] code-red critical.’”
Input and direction. Code-red critical.
Fast forward through a season with a record 6,776 home runs and speculation about the ball being juiced, and come to Wednesday, when MLB released the results of an MLB-commissioned study into whether MLB or MLB-owned Rawlings mucked around with the balls.
Surprise! “MLB’s Research On Ball Controversy Absolves Manufacturer Rawlings” was the headline that resulted. The Associated Press didn’t mention until the third-to-last paragraph of its story that “MLB owns a minority stake in Rawlings, and Peter Seidler, the San Diego Padres general partner, has chief oversight of the equity firm that owns a majority share.” Neither CBS Sports nor the New York Post mentioned the corporate connection at all in their coverage.
“We have never been asked to juice or dejuice a baseball,” Rawlings CEO Michael Zlaket said at the press conference to announce the study findings. Well, glad that’s all sorted, then!
Ultimately, so long as both teams in a game are playing with the same baseballs, the height of the seams and the drag variance have the same effect on the game as a prevailing 40 mile-an-hour wind. Of course, in a world with legal sports gambling, it matters to consumers, and information about the ball is not going to be publicly available the way that weather forecasts are. Further, given the importance baseball puts on its statistics and history, consistency of the ball does matter – the entire history of the game before 1920 is considered different because the ball was different, and all records from 1987 are shaded by that year’s juiced ball controversy.
But as much as it doesn’t pass the smell test that after decades of supplying baseballs, Rawlings would just suddenly have a bunch of manufacturing inconsistencies resulting in historic home runs rates, what is there to do about it? And as far as nefarious plans by MLB go, “more dingers” isn’t really up there with “actively trying to kill the sport in pursuit of a few extra dollars.” It’s just kind of insulting everyone’s intelligence to not at least come up with some line like, “new manufacturing techniques led to different seam heights than in past years” instead of commissioning a study that clears the league and the league-owned sporting goods company of having done anything at all.
Then again, what’s even the point of consolidating power if you can’t use it to pay for a study that says you’re doing awesome?