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Japanese baseball officials admit to altering the baseball to increase offense

Jun 12, 2013, 9:24 AM EDT

NPB commissioner

Home runs and batting average have increased sharply in the NPB this season, and after months of denying that the ball had been altered in any way, Japanese baseball officials are admitting that they tinkered with it in order to “make the game more exciting” and increase offense:

Players and fans had repeatedly quizzed Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) bosses after seeing a 40 percent rise in the number of balls that were slugged out of the park so far this season.

In April NPB said the specifications of their ball — each of which bears the signature of its commissioner Ryozo Kato — “have not been changed”, a statement that was repeated several times since.

But on Tuesday NPB came clean, saying they had asked manufacturer Mizuno to “adjust” the ball to give it greater bounce off the bat and demanded the company keep quiet about the switch.

Altering baseballs is not unprecedented in baseball history, of course. In 1930 offense made the so-called Steroid Era look like 1982 or something. Half the teams scored 900 runs or more and the average hitter in the American League — just the AVERAGE ones — hit .303/.360/.448. That winter baseball deadened the balls a bit, with the AL altering the stitching and the NL doing both that and adding a cover to its balls. Offense went down significantly in 1931, more so for the NL.

1987 is widely suspected to be another year in which the ball was altered. Baseball has never admitted to doing anything, but the season was an offensive aberration and unlike other eras of changing offense it was an outlier, with the next and previous years looking pretty similar and no other explanation that makes a lick of sense.

I strongly suspect that the baseballs were altered again in the 1990s. There were multiple explanations for increased offense at that time, including double expansion, much smaller parks, smaller strike zones, different hitting approaches and, of course, performance enhancing drugs, but I’ve always thought that the baseball had something to do with it too. Not that anyone ever wants to blame anything other than steroids.

But I think this NPB story shows that it doesn’t take much for offense to increase significantly. Sometimes just a change in the ball. Which league officials are inclined to deny.

  1. rocketsteadman - Jun 12, 2013 at 9:30 AM

    *Matt Murton, 211 hits, single season hits record

    Who said Matt Murton would never get an asterisk next to his name?

    • kylewo - Jun 12, 2013 at 11:55 AM

      That was two years ago. Last year the ball was totally dead. This is for this year only we are talking about.

  2. unclemosesgreen - Jun 12, 2013 at 9:35 AM

    For shame – you PEB apologist.

    • Bryz - Jun 12, 2013 at 10:02 AM

      Pebble apologist?

      /s

      • bsbiz - Jun 12, 2013 at 10:12 AM

        Nah. The ball took greenies. Therefore it is the not-stigmatized-at-all Performance Enabled Baseball.

      • Detroit Michael - Jun 12, 2013 at 10:12 AM

        Probably “Performance-Enhancing Balls”

  3. xmatt0926x - Jun 12, 2013 at 9:36 AM

    Believe me, for anyone too young to remember, 1987 was no “suspect year”. That ball was flat out juiced. 1987 is one of the few particular seasons I remember details about from watching as a young teen. Guys like Wade Boggs were in the mid to high 20’s. I’m a Phillies fan and I remember Juan Samuel popping like 27 that season. it was a joke from day 1.

    • kopy - Jun 12, 2013 at 9:55 AM

      Hey now, be careful about cheapening the Twins’ championship that year. They only have 3* of those.

      *I’m taking back the title from when they were the Senators in 1924. If the Lakers can take credit for 5 championships in Minneapolis, the Twins have 3 World Series, dammit.

  4. paperlions - Jun 12, 2013 at 9:39 AM

    You missed the most obvious and well studied change in the baseball: mid-season 1993. Studies of baseball construction show that the new ball had replaced much of the wool (which absorbs moisture, making the ball heavier and less elastic) with synthetic fibers, which absorb no moisture, retaining their elasticity while also making the ball lighter. In addition, pills (the rubber core) of baseballs prior to 1993 bounced 1/3 less than those from ball after 1993.

    I would not be shocked at all if, eventually, we learn that baseball changed the composition of the ball again a few years ago to decrease offensive production in an attempt to convince people (including themselves) their steroid testing was working and having an effect on production, as it is widely (and erroneously) believed taking PEDs = hitting HRs.

    • Jonny 5 - Jun 12, 2013 at 1:03 PM

      I would say you used the word “erroneously” in an erroneous manner above PL. Being that the guys hitting the most home runs in a given season admitted to taking steroids. Lets look at the leading single season home run hitters in order.

      1. Barry Bonds 2001 (73)
      2. Mark Mcguire 1998 (70)
      3. Sammy Sosa 1998 (66)
      4. Mark Mcguire 1995 (65)
      5. Sammy Sosa 2001 (64)
      6. Sammy Sosa 1999 (63)

      The top 6 HR seasons by any player involved admitted the use of steroids. You definitely used “erroneously” in an erroneous manner. Is it possible the ball was modified then as well? Sure it is. But you know “what else” is possible as well by looking at this list.

      • paperlions - Jun 12, 2013 at 1:08 PM

        Feel free to explain to me how EVERY players HR rate magically increased in 1993, even guys that usually hit 0-3 HRs started hitting 3 times as many. So…you think every player took steroids? And that they all suddenly did it en mass in the middle of the 1993 season?

        What every player had in common was that they were all hitting the same ball.

      • Jonny 5 - Jun 12, 2013 at 2:00 PM

        Actually that’s erroneous as well PL. You are really on a roll here, erroneous statements flying… Every player huh? If you’re counting stats figure in the expansion of MLB at the time adding 2 new teams as evidence for totals rising across the board in MLB. Also HR totals dropped to normal levels in 94. Going back up in 95 to today’s levels. Anyway, discounting the FACT that all the top 6 are admitted steroid users to fit your narrative that it’s erroneous to think steroids played a part in this is just plain wrong. They almost HAD to play at least SOME part in the rise of HR’s.

      • Bill Parker - Jun 12, 2013 at 2:07 PM

        Actually, Jonny, many more HR per game were hit in 1994 than even had been in 1993. You may (erroneously) have looked at HR totals while not remembering that there was a strike that year.

        I do think PEDs probably play *some* part in helping hitters hit home runs. I think it’s a small part, relative to the juiced ball and smaller stadiums and other factors.

      • Jonny 5 - Jun 12, 2013 at 2:15 PM

        Bill, thank you for reminding me of that. I did forget. lol @ “erroneously”

        I’d agree with you totally that there were other factors involved besides steroids. Looking at the facts that we know, I must conclude that steroid use had “some” effect on HR totals.

      • beebopthearcher - Jun 12, 2013 at 4:53 PM

        feel free to explain to me how EVERY players HR rate magically increased in 1993, even guys that usually hit 0-3 HRs started hitting 3 times as many

        First off, every player didn’t and you know it. Secondly, 1993 saw league expansion and the addition of 20 or so pitchers to the game. Thirdly, that era saw that rise in much smaller, home run friendly ballparks. Fourthly, steroids.

        Why is it a one or nothing explanation?!?! Look, I’m the first guy who’ll say Mark McGwire belongs in the hall, but I can’t sit here with a straight face and say steroids did nothing when every bit of common sense points otherwise.

    • beebopthearcher - Jun 12, 2013 at 4:46 PM

      I would not be shocked at all if, eventually, we learn that baseball changed the composition of the ball again a few years ago to decrease offensive production in an attempt to convince people (including themselves) their steroid testing was working and having an effect on production, as it is widely (and erroneously) believed taking PEDs = hitting HRs.

      This is bordering on steroids trutherism. Look, I agree that steroids weren’t the only cause of the 1990s offensive explosion. But how can people continue to deny that steroids can’t increase strength beyond the normal possibility, and that even a *slight* increase in strength can make a 390 foot flyout a 400 foot home run?

      This is complicated. This is what steroids were designed to do and have been used for for decades. Yes, someone who can’t hit isn’t going to benefit that much. Yes, someone with no power isn’t going to benefit much. Yes, steroids still mean you have to work out. BUT, to deny that steroids do anything is preposterous and I can’t understand how anyone can possibly take it seriously, much less continually make that charge despite the *numerous* posts I’ve seen on here of people linking to articles in response to you that say otherwise.

      • beebopthearcher - Jun 12, 2013 at 4:50 PM

        Physics! http://baseball.physics.illinois.edu/BRJ-Steroids-v3.pdf

    • petebusarac - Aug 2, 2013 at 5:52 PM

      There’s another obvious. The 60’s and 70’s had only 2 brands of wood bats. Today there are more than 30 brands that are making top quality wooden bats allowed to be used in the game.

  5. unclemosesgreen - Jun 12, 2013 at 9:41 AM

    And then there’s the matter of the humidor.

  6. drewsylvania - Jun 12, 2013 at 9:49 AM

    Anyone else think that the drop in offense the past two years is due to altering the ball instead of PED crackdown?

    MLB will point to the past two seasons as proof that their policy is working. Which would be a pack of lies if they’ve modified the ball to produce less offense.

    • bsbiz - Jun 12, 2013 at 9:56 AM

      HOW DARE YOU DRAG ATTENTION FROM THE NO-GOOD, DIRTY, ROTTEN CHEATERS!!!!!!!!! HERESY!!!!!!!!

    • steelhammer92 - Jun 12, 2013 at 12:10 PM

      Eh.. It could be a combination of both. You really don’t have the Goliath looking guys like McGwire, Sosa, Bonds, Giambi, etc hitting moon shots regularly. While I still think PED use is prevalent in baseball, it’s probably not used to the extreme levels it was back then when players didn’t have to worry about testing or looking like genetic freaks.

  7. shwoogy1 - Jun 12, 2013 at 9:52 AM

    Sneaky Jappers.

    • unclemosesgreen - Jun 12, 2013 at 9:58 AM

      I only have so much energy. All I’m going to say is Boo. Booo – I say – Booooooo

      • kopy - Jun 12, 2013 at 10:05 AM

        The noun is wrong, but it was sneaky. American pro sports are like 0-for-the-last-20 in revealing new team logos without a leak, and these guys got everyone at NPB and Mizuno to hush up until they admitted to it on their own.

    • heyblueyoustink - Jun 12, 2013 at 10:05 AM

      Japper? I know they may have pulled you out of a capsule, so to start, the year is 2013…….

    • jcmeyer10 - Jun 12, 2013 at 10:37 AM

      Go back to creeping on Mary, Woogy.

      • shwoogy1 - Jun 12, 2013 at 6:18 PM

        Don’t get all butt hurt cunts. I have a lot of Japper friends and work for a Japper company. Trust me when I say they are very sneaky. Nice people but sneaky.

  8. moogro - Jun 12, 2013 at 11:09 AM

    truthurt

    owie!

  9. royalsfaninfargo - Jun 12, 2013 at 11:25 AM

    I give them credit for admitting it.

  10. jwbiii - Jun 12, 2013 at 2:50 PM

    The baseball manufacturing situation in NPB has always been a bit odd. Until a few years ago, NPB had no standardized baseball. Each team had their own baseballs manufactured to their own specifications. The Japanese Baseball Federation was unhappy with Japan’s performance in international tournaments and leaned on the NPB to use to use baseballs that met international specs, so the players would be accustumed to the baseballs and would fare better. NPB offense dropped by 25%. Presumably attendance dropped as well, I don’t know where to find aggregate attendance data for NPB, so this is just a guess on my part. So now they’ve juiced the ball.

  11. jksee - Jun 12, 2013 at 3:16 PM

    “and adding a cover to its balls’. Well I’m happy to learn that they aren’t going around with their balls uncovered now!

  12. schmedley69 - Jun 12, 2013 at 7:59 PM

    To me, Dale Sveum was the poster-child for the ball being juiced in 1987. He hit 25 homers that year, and only once ever reached double digits outside of that year, hitting 12 in 1997.

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/s/sveumda01.shtml

  13. txnative61 - Jun 14, 2013 at 2:11 AM

    I guess I’m really naive to assume that leagues the world over would want to maintain impeccable reputations with their fans to enhance their credentials for administrating their games fairly. I would think especially in cases such as pictured where the truth may be easily determined by simply slicing a baseball open. I just can’t understand why they don’t simply say we want a livelier game with more offense so we’re juicing the ball a bit this year. When they lie to us once, we can’t trust anything else they say. Seems really stupid to deny something you know will immediately be discovered.

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