If you’ve ever been to a major league baseball game, you might’ve found yourself wondering about the costs that go into putting on such a big event.
From hiring the stadium to purchasing hot dogs for the vendors, these events don’t come cheap, and of course, there is no expense spared when it comes to purchasing one of the most essential elements – the baseballs.
Would you believe that in an average MLB nine-inning game they go through an astonishing 120 balls? If a game goes into extra innings, they’ll use even more.
Who supplies the baseballs for each game?
The home team is responsible for supplying the many baseballs used for all the games played in its park. This is practical because otherwise, teams would have to lug balls around with their equipment as they traveled from stadium to stadium throughout the baseball season.
How many baseballs are prepared for one game?
The number of baseballs used per MLB game can vary, but will typically be a minimum of 120 balls to 144 balls. If there are any unused balls left over after a game, they are set aside for use during the next one.
How are balls prepared for a game?
Brand new baseballs are hard and round and have very smooth leather surfaces with a bright sheen. It is very difficult to grip a brand-new baseball, especially for a pitcher whose effectiveness depends on gripping and throwing the ball in a very specific manner that is determined by the type of pitch that they intend to throw.
In the earliest days of the sport, players tried to make baseballs easier to grip by rubbing them with a mixture of water and soil from the field where they were playing. Over time they tried other materials, ranging from tobacco juice to shoe polish, but oftentimes they wound up damaging or scuffing the leather casing on the balls.
Around 1940, baseball introduced special rubbing mud that was characterized as very fine and with the consistency that some likened to thick pudding. It was the perfect solution for roughing up the leather surface of the baseball without damaging it or staining it.
Before every major league and minor league professional baseball game, the umpires or assigned team employees who are supervised by an umpire “rub up” between ten and twelve dozen balls so that they are easier to grip and in compliance with baseball rules.
The many baseballs that have been prepared are then placed in buckets or totes for use during the ballgame.
How much do baseballs cost?
Costs vary from year to year, but it is safe to estimate that each baseball costs around $10.00.
This might not sound like a lot, but when you consider how many baseballs are used per game, that comes to well over $1,200 each time. And that’s just for the balls used in play. On top of this, many baseballs are used in fielding and batting practice before each game and some balls are set aside for autographs.
Major league baseball teams use more than 900,000 baseballs per season and then you have to add to that total the number of baseballs used during the playoffs and championship games. It is estimated professional baseball goes through about 10,000,000 in baseballs every year.
Why do they go through so many baseballs?
When you try to figure out how many balls are used in a baseball game, you will be surprised to learn that the typical baseball stays in one game for only 5 or 6 pitches before it is discarded or otherwise forced out. When you attend a game or watch one on television, you notice, but seldom count the number of balls that leave the game.
There are three main ways that a baseball game chews through such a large number of baseballs:
Balls may be removed by rule
The rules dictate that under some circumstances it is mandatory that a ball is removed from a contest and that it cannot be returned to play:
- When a baseball leaves the field of play, usually in the case of foul balls or a home run, it cannot be returned and put in play. That is why foul balls and home runs can be fantastic souvenirs for fans who are lucky enough to catch one. The fan gets to keep the ball and take it home because it is of no use to the team.
- When a pitcher requests a new baseball, he gets it and the ball that had been used is tossed out of the game.
- When an umpire determines that a baseball is scuffed, discolored, or declares that it is otherwise unfit for play in any way, he must remove it from the game.
Balls may be removed by discretion
When you watch a game, you will notice that oftentimes a player – usually the catcher – will simply toss a ball aside after catching it and then request a new one from the umpire, who without question pulls a new ball from a ball bag that he wears on his waist.
This usually happens for one of two reasons:
- The batter swung at the pitch but failed to strike it squarely, instead barely grazing it with his bat. This can scuff the surface of the ball, thus making it more difficult for the pitcher to get a proper grip. The catcher decides to throw the ball out of the game.
- The pitcher throws a pitch that hits the ground in front of or next to the home plate. Again, the ball’s surface can be damaged and therefore the catcher usually chooses to take the ball out of play.
Another discretionary reason that a baseball may be removed from a game is when a player in the field decides to toss the ball into the seats to the delight of a lucky fan. This frequently occurs at the end of an inning when the player who caught the ball that represented the final out decides to thrill the fans rather than carrying the ball into his dugout.
Balls that never get into the game
There are three categories of balls that may or may not be game-ready, depending on their use:
Starting pitchers – the pitcher who is on the mound at the beginning of the game in the first inning – seldom pitch the entire game. Each team has a handful of relief pitchers who take over if the starting pitcher is ineffective or simply runs out of gas.
Relief pitchers can’t just jump into the game and start pitching. They need to warm up, stretch their muscles, and ensure that they are mastering their pitches by practicing in the bullpen under the watchful eye of a coach. Otherwise, they would risk injury.
The balls used in the bullpen are game-prepared balls so that they have the same feel as the ball that they’ll be throwing once they enter the game.
Before each game, teams take some time to warm up with hitting and fielding practice. On game day, a baseball team can go through as many as 14 or 15 dozen baseballs while practicing. These can be new or used balls.
Professional baseball teams set aside a number of balls for players to autograph for fawning fans. This can happen spontaneously before or after a game, or at orchestrated events.
What happens to all the balls that they throw out of a game?
Every baseball that is removed from a game is marked so that it will not be mistakenly used in a game again.
The many baseballs used for batting and fielding practice before the next day’s game are typically these marked balls. Afterward, they are usually shipped to one of the major league baseball team’s minor league affiliates for use in their practices.
When you ponder how many balls are used in a baseball game, you have to consider the ones that are used in the actual game as well as the many baseballs that are used by players while preparing for the game.
While the number of balls rubbed up for each nine-inning game may total between 120-144, the fact is that as many as three times that number may be used by a baseball team on each game day.
The regular major league baseball season involves 2,430 contests involving 30 teams, which, all uses considered, can require more than 350,000 game balls and at least twice as many game-related balls. More baseballs are then required for the Playoffs and the World Series, which can add several dozen additional games.