One of the many expenses that go into each Major League Baseball game that the casual fan may overlook is the cost of the baseballs used.
It may come as a shock, but the average MLB game uses about 120 balls. If the game runs into extra innings, the count is even higher.
Who Supplies Baseballs for Each Game?
The home team is responsible for the supply of baseballs used for all the games played in their park. This makes practical and economic sense because if the visiting team had to provide, they would have to haul balls around with their other equipment.
How Many Baseballs are Prepared for Each Game?
While there is no way to know how many balls will be used in a game, the specific number of balls used is ten dozen to twelve dozen.
Each team should prepare upwards of about 150 balls per game, with unused balls available to be used in the next game.
How are Baseballs Prepared for Use in a Game?
Brand new baseballs are shiny and very smooth, making gripping them difficult. This is particularly the case for pitchers whose grip is vital in throwing each type of pitch effectively.
Originally players rubbed balls with a mixture of water and dirt from the field to make the balls easier to grip. Various other materials were used over time, including shoe polish and chewing tobacco.
However, these foreign substances tended to damage the balls by creating scuff marks.
Around the time of World War II, rubbing mud was introduced in baseball. The thick consistency made it ideal for creating a better grip on the ball without leaving a stain or damaging its surface.
Team employees prepare about 120 to 144 balls by rubbing them up. Each ball must comply with the rules of baseball. After the balls are rubbed up, they are put into tote bags or buckets and are ready for gameplay.
What is the Cost of an Official Baseball?
The cost of a baseball varies over time, but the best estimate is about $10 per ball. While this may sound cheap, over the long run, these costs add up.
Considering the average of ten to twelve dozen balls used per game, that amounts to between $1,200 and $1,440 dollars per game.
This price doesn’t even include the balls used for fielding and batting practice before each game. In addition, some balls are used strictly for autographs.
It’s estimated that MLB teams use about 900,000 balls per season. Add in the number of balls used in the postseason, and the total cost is a whopping $10,000,000 per season on baseballs alone.
Why Are So Many Baseballs Used?
Without paying close attention to a game, you may not realize that new baseballs are put into play quite frequently.
Each baseball is in play about five or six pitches before it is thrown out or otherwise forced out of the game. Try counting the number of balls used, and you will be astonished at the rate at which new balls are put into play.
There are several reasons why so many balls are used in each game. These are:
Removed by Rule
By the rules of baseball, a ball must be removed from a game under certain circumstances.
If a ball leaves the field of play, usually with a foul ball or a home run, it cannot be put back into play. This is ideal for the fans who want to go home with a free souvenir if they are fortunate enough to catch one of these balls that leave the field of play.
If a pitcher requests a new baseball, he gets a new ball, and the other ball is removed from the game. Pitchers might request a new ball because the feel of the stitches on the seams or the ball itself isn’t comfortable enough for him to make his next pitch.
If an umpire determines upon inspection that a ball is scuffed, discolored, or not fit for play for whatever reason, he must remove the ball from the game.
Removed by a Player
Sometimes players will look at a ball and simply throw it aside after catching it. This is typically done by a catcher, who will request a new ball from the umpire. Generally, the umpire will never question this decision and will remove a ball from his ball bag and put it into play.
When a batter swings and foul tips the ball, it could scuff the surface. This may make the ball more difficult for the pitcher to grab. If so, the catcher can request a new ball and will toss the other ball aside.
Pitches sometimes hit the dirt in front of or off to the side of the home plate. In this case, the ball might also become scuffed, and the catcher may choose to throw it out of play.
At times, a fielder who catches the ball for the final out of the inning may choose to throw the ball into the stands for a souvenir for a fan. This is done instead of carrying the ball back to the dugout, in which case the ball is out of play anyway, so why not treat a fan to a souvenir?
Balls That Never Find Their Way into Game Action
Generally speaking, there are three categories of baseball that never find their way into the game.
Particularly in this era of baseball, pitchers rarely complete the games they start. Therefore, bullpens are used heavily. Every time a pitcher warms up in the bullpen, they use the same game-prepared balls as those that are used in the game.
Batting Practice Baseballs
It’s customary before each and every game that teams take part in batting practice. Some players that are in slumps might take extra batting practice.
The balls used for batting practice could be new balls or used balls. It’s not uncommon for a team to go through as many as 200 balls during a single batting practice session.
Teams have scheduled events throughout the season where balls are autographed by players for the fans. This is also done before games or after games.
There are a set number of balls set aside for autographs, although the exact number is purely a guess and varies from team to team.
What Happens to the Balls That are Thrown Out During a Game?
Most casual fans probably don’t realize that balls that are thrown out of a game are marked in such a way, so they are never accidentally used again ever in a game.
But these balls are still quality and can be used for batting and fielding practice before the game the following day and throughout the homestand. The balls that remain are generally sent to the minor league affiliates for use in practice but won’t ever be used in a game, even at the minor league level.
Balls of this nature could also be sold to collectors as game-used balls. However, balls that represent a milestone in a player’s career will be saved for the player.
When you wonder how many baseballs are used in an MLB game, you must take into consideration all those used in the game and those used by players prior to the game.
Batting practice, fielding practice, bullpen use all add up to the total number of baseballs needed for an MLB game.
The number of balls rubbed up for use during the game can be upwards of 150, but when factoring in all the balls needed by a team during a single day, it could reach three 400 to 500.
Consider that there are 2,430 games with 30 teams total over the course of an MLB season. Therefore, approximately 350,000 balls could be needed for gameplay and double game-related balls for other activities.
In the end, nearly a million balls will be used over the entire MLB season. This does not include the playoffs and World Series.
MLB spends around $10,000,000 per year on baseballs, helping keep its distributor Rawlings rolling in the dough.