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Elephant Rumblings: MLB issues ‘muddying’ guidelines for ball uniformity

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Los Angeles Angels v Oakland Athletics Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Happy Wednesday, Athletics Nation!

Over the past year, MLB has been cracking down on pitchers’ use of foreign substances on baseballs for a better grip. In a complementary move, the league is now issuing new rules on “muddying” baseballs to improve their grip—a decades old practice—in order to give them a more consistent feel from game to game.

The league issued a memo to all 30 teams yesterday per Jesse Rogers at ESPN, and the new guidelines requiring all teams to use exactly the same muddying technique take effect today. The league gathered feedback from players over the past two months prior to issuing the new guidelines.

The memo specifies that a very precise “painting” technique that takes 30-40 seconds must be used on each ball. In addition to prescribing this uniform muddying technique, the league will now require the balls to be prepared on game day only; in the past, clubhouse attendants would generally muddy balls days before each game with canned Delaware River mud.

The memo also instructs teams to handle and store balls in a uniform manner:

  • All baseballs for a given game must be muddied within a three hour window.
  • After muddying, the balls must be placed back in their Rawlings box and put in the humidor.
  • No more than eight dozen game balls may be placed in a ball bag, which must be cleaned thoroughly before each use.
  • All game balls must be stored in humidors for at least 14 days before muddying.

Despite stricter enforcement of the prohibition on grip-enhancing substances like Spider Tack, substantially fewer home runs have been hit in the big leagues so far in 2022 compared to recent years. This has been attributed to the completed phase-in of a less lively ball as well as more widespread humidor use. But as the summer wears on and the weather heats up, we may see a shift in this trend.

Time will tell just how impactful the league’s tinkering with baseballs and how they are stored and treated will prove to be in the longer run.

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