This is not a story about juiced balls. Don’t hurl rocks at us or call us names in the comments.
The baseballs being used by Major League Baseball are juiced. They have been enforced and enhanced to favor hitters, which leads to more fly balls and home runs – which casual fans find exciting.
The proof is in the pudding, but some close to the majors, and even playing in it, are skeptical. Commissioner of Baseball Rob Manfred insists a juiced ball is not to credit for a record number of home runs last season. Cincinnati Reds first baseman and National League Most Valuable Player finalist Joey Votto just says it’s part of the natural evolution of the game.
Then there are pitchers, the only people on the diamond truly feeling and inspecting the ball every day. David Price said the balls are “100 percent different.” Jerry Blevins says “I’ve seen so many home runs that don’t look normal.” Marcus Stroman, Johnny Cueto, and Rich Hill landed on the disabled list in 2017 because of blisters they attributed to slicker balls scraping up against their thumbs and fingers abnormally.
No pitcher, player, executive, or fan, even, is more critical than Houston Astros right-hander and and American League Championship Series MVP Justin Verlander. Since early last season, the former Cy Young Award winner has been on the juiced balls case.
From tweeting emojis of syringes and a baseball to imply that balls were being juiced, to comparing the slickness of the baseballs used in the postseason to receipts at Starbucks, Verlander has been the most vocal personality in the major leagues regarding this epidemic.
If we need any further proof, let’s turn to the 2011 AL MVP’s Twitter explosion from Thursday night. I would be lying if I told you it wasn’t among the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.
What Verlander did, aside from being amazing and hilarious, was culturally significant. Verlander crossed the respective paths of baseball’s traditionalist players and its data-driven sabermetric fans by, essentially, being both at the same time.
The 2006 AL Rookie of the Year emphatically bridged the gap between the “I played the game, you did not” crowd and the analytics or death crowd in one fell swoop. I don’t think it was intentional, as the World Series champ just wanted to own MLB (and who amongst us does not), but Verlander paved a tollway between a conservative environment of baseball and the resident conspiracy theorist.
Maybe one tweet would have been sufficient: something for fans to sit on and contemplate while Justin and MLB discuss it behind the scenes. No, Verlander took every scrap of dignity baseball might have had here, stepped on it until it was dust, then blew it all away.
Three tweets, a couple of retweets (one authored by Atlanta Braves pitcher and social media dynamite Brandon McCarthy), and, to put a cherry on top of the madness, a beautiful rainbow-colored palette graph with an informative look at home run rates.
Like, the list of people simply cooler than Justin Verlander is an extremely brief one.
Again, a future Hall of Famer echoing the words of baseball’s hardcore fans, eternally worried about the integrity and future of our beloved game, is amazing. He somehow, for one night, became one of us, constructing an otherwise nonexistent road from MLB conservatism to MLB progression with his bare hands.
Verlander, like many of us, doesn’t care if the ball is juiced – and in his case, there’s no reason to, he’s still Justin Verlander. Having the sanctioning body consistently lie to him and his fellow players about the ball and its manufactured state is what irks him.
It’s fine if the balls are juiced as long as everyone is using the same baseballs – and as always, everyone does. A level playing field is a level playing field, and sports change rules and formats all time. We just don’t deserve to be lied to and devalued like Verlander has been.