Are Today’s Home Run Hitters Just Carpetbaggers—A Synthetic Discovery
Don’t worry. Don didn’t didn’t get rug burns researching this article.
The May 2001 edition of Discover magazine has a fascinating article by
Curtis Rist in it that just might explain why so many home runs have
been hit in the past eight years.
The article, entitled "Foul Ball?," will take a bit of the steam
out of conspiracy theorists, who believe that the owners have covered up a juicing
of the baseball in order to jack up offense. (One of the leading proponents
of this theory, Eric Walker, whose fascinating albeit occasionally over-florid
volume The Sinister First Baseman is something of an unknown classic
in hyperliterate sabermetric circles, calls this phenonmenon the "Silly
Rist’s article puts a completely different spin on the "silliness"
inherent in the recent home run explosion. It turns out that the changing contents
of carpet fibers may be a significant factor all this.
Oddly, criminologist Dennis Hilliard, director of the crime lab at the
University of Rhode Island, is the key man in this discovery. With admirable
forensic zeal, Hilliard and his team of analysts compared the components of
baseballs from six different years (1963, 1970, 1989, 1995 and 2000) to determine
the differences in them.
The result was that the synthetic fiber content of the 2000 baseball
was close to 22%, which is significantly higher than the major league guideline
(15% plus or minus 3%).
What’s the difference in having more synthetic materials used as part of the
baseball’s inner windings? As Hilliard’s colleague Linda Welters explains
in the article, it’s all about the susceptibility of the ball to moisture.
Wool absorbs moisture (we’re talking about moisture from the air) quite readily,
and humidity can tend to deaden a ball by relaxing the tension and reducing
fiber elasticity. Polyester, on the other hand, cannot absorb water.
Where does the carpet fiber come into this? It has to do with the components
used in the yarn wound into major league baseballs. The Paul Dubin Company
of Centerville, Massachusetts has been producing this yarn for Major League
Baseball since 1976; the fibers used to create this yarn is recovered waste
from carpet manufacturers.
Welters surmises that the decline in all-wool carpets has caused the rise in
the percentage of synthetic fibers in the yarn.
And the rise in the percentage of fibers in the yarn may account for a good
portion of the increase in homers per game over the past decade (1.58 in 1990;
2.34 in 2000).
Paul Dubin, in a statement that will leave conspiracy theorists with something
to believe in, denies the accuracy of the crime lab’s findings. If such is actually
the case, however, it’s clear that the change in the baseball was essentially
Of course, there are other factors that could still account for some of the
surge in homers. (We’ve discussed some of those recently, and reader Scott
Robinson wrote a paper for his college English class on this topic partially
as a result of our discussion here. By the way, Scott, how did you do on that
paper? If my recollection is correct, Scott concluded that the baseball was
the primary culprit in the home run explosion.) Separating these out in a way
that quanitifies each is impossible, of course?but it would be ironic to think
that much of the change we’ve seen could be due to a change in something we
A final note: scoring is down in the big leagues so far this year (about 11%),
but home runs are down only marginally (through May 11th, 2.31 homers were being
hit per game). I’ll leave it to you number-crunchers out there to come up with
estimates as to how much more offense could be lopped off as a result of returning
the synthetic content of the baseball to its proper specifications, but it’s
clear that there’s still some more room for shrinkage.
Thanks to my father, Donald Malcolm, Sr., for bringing the preceding
material to my attention.
Posted: May 22, 2001 at 05:00 AM | 2 comment(s)
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