In the bottom of the seventh inning of Game 6 of the World Series, Joc Pederson lofted a 97-mph fastball toward left field. The sound off the bat was indicative of a moderately deep flyout to left, one which looks like it could have the distance for a split second before succumbing to the forces of gravity and landing in a glove.
Pederson, someone who knows what a home run feels like off the bat, didn’t appear to think the ball would clear the fence off the bat — he held his stance in the batter’s box for a couple brief seconds before scampering towards first base when he realized how much the ball was carrying. He knew something strange was occurring. He hadn’t made great contact, but the baseball kept flying. About 390 feet later, Pederson had his third home run of the World Series and the Dodgers had a 3-1 lead.
Pederson’s long ball was a drop in the bucket of the record amount of home runs this season, both in the regular season and the World Series. In the new era of three true outcomes, baseballs are flying out of the park at a mind-numbing rate, and this frequency has been on full display on the game’s grandest stage.
There’s something unnatural about all these home runs, especially in the World Series, in which weak contact yields a round-tripper. Yasiel Puig and Carlos Correa had home runs during Game 5 which, even with the short porch that is the Crawford Boxes, were extremely suspect.
The conclusion? The balls are juiced, or at least engineered to fly exceptionally well through the night sky. One needn’t be a baseball savant to come to that train of thought, especially after Game 5 reduced Minute Maid Park to a Little League stadium. Now, almost any ball hit in the air has a chance of exiting the ballpark — a phenomenon which is great news for hitters, but absolutely abhorrent for pitchers.
Pitchers on both team agree that the balls have changed. Lance McCullers Jr. in particular provided a great summary of the issue, comparing the difference to writing with a pencil everyday then using a pen. For pitchers, baseballs are an instrument they’ve used every day of their professional lives, and it’s impossible to not notice. It’s nearly impossible to disagree that a change has occurred.
The thought process of the higher-ups in Major League Baseball who decided to enact this not-so-subtle change is obvious. Baseball’s ratings, while on the rise, still pale in comparison to that of basketball and football, and the best way to draw the casual observer in is through a mass influx of home runs — one of the single most exciting offensive outcomes in all of sports. That combination of the crack of the bat, the anticipation as the ball flies through the air and the ball’s ultimate arrival into the bleachers can get even the most unenthusiastic of viewers up off their seats.
Baseball’s mass influx of dingers may result in an increased viewership, but a bump up in the amount of eyeballs comes at a cost. In making the switch, commissioner Rob Manfred and the executives who have put this plan of action into motion are relaying a clear message: The amount of money and viewers the postseason rakes in matters more than the pitchers who participate.
Pitchers cannot grip the ball as tightly as they wish, nor can they get the same amount of spin. Read: Pitchers have less control and less movement, and are therefore less effective. It’s why we’ve seen someone like Brandon Morrow ran into the ground this World Series — starting and relieving cores have lost their effectiveness, and those who still have some degree of usefulness are thus being milked for all that they’re worth.
The sudden spike in the home run may be the key to introducing a new audience to a sport which many non-fans consider unbelievably boring, but this comes at the expense of polarizing the group of die-hards who were here in the first place. The more that ordinary flyballs somehow sneak out of a ballpark, the more that doubt forms. Was that home run based on skill? Or was it based on external factors?
Games 2 and 5 were instant classics, but they were also the Dodgers and Astros’ best attempts to break the silly little game — the closest thing two World Series games have gotten to in-game dinger derbys. Any ball which eclipsed the 15-foot mark had a 50-50 chance of leaving the park. Batters may as well have been given aluminum bats, and the pitchers baseball-sized golf balls.
Baseball is a beautiful sport, and the World Series featured two juggernauts. The theatrics were fun, but the sport need not devolve into a shell of its former self.
Justice delos Santos is an assistant sports editor. Contact him at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @jdelossantos510.