Commissioner Rob Manfred was prompted Tuesday to respond to comments from American League All-Star starting pitcher Justin Verlander, accusing Major League Baseball of deliberately juicing baseballs in order to goose offensive production. To no one’s great surprise, Manfred maintained once again that MLB has neither altered nor encouraged any altering of game balls.
Because this is not new, it will not likely satisfy those who believe that baseballs in 2019 have been deliberately juiced—Verlander chuckled in the dugout of Tuesday night’s All-Star game when told of Manfred’s comments, but allowed that if what Manfred said is true it at least gives the various parties a basis for working together to scale back the ongoing power surge. The more interesting part of Manfred’s statement came after the denial, when he explained that owners—in any respectable conspiracy theory they’d be the ones behind the juicing of the balls—actually aren’t in favor of more home runs. Per ESPN:
“Baseball has done nothing, given no direction for an alteration in the baseball,” Manfred told reporters Tuesday. “The flaw in logic is that baseball wants more home runs. If you sat in owners meetings and listen to people on how the game is played, that is not a sentiment among the owners for whom I work.”
If that’s true, then it is an aesthetic concern shared among owners and not a business one. As Manfred lays out later in the report, fans by and large like the dingers, and increasing the popularity of baseball has been one of Manfred’s main projects as MLB commissioner, right up there with handwaving away the slow death of the free agency market. His pace-of-play fixation, for example, arises entirely out of his studied opinion that a quicker, shorter game will be more popular with casual fans, and he personally and unilaterally railroaded in an upcoming rule change behind the justification that it accrues ultimately to the benefit of the sport’s popularity. It’s a little hard to accept that owners would be down on home runs if they had, say, data that showed that home runs make baseball more appealing to fans. And yet:
“It’s easy to get carried away with ‘you have too many home runs,’” Manfred said Monday. “Let’s not forget that our fan data suggests fans like home runs. It’s not the worst thing in the world.”
Manfred is pretty clearly trying to have it both ways, protecting against the perception that he and baseball’s owners are motivated to increase home run totals while also tamping down the growing sense that MLB needs to identify and address the source of the recent spike in home run production. Perhaps Manfred’s preferences can be sussed out between the lines: if baseball is in fact presently powerless to do anything about all these dingers, for the time being that might be one of those good problems.