The Axe Bat

The Axe Bat has been floating around the baseball world for a few years now. If you’re not familiar, the handle of an Axe Bat is shaped like the handle of an axe.

The idea behind this handle is that it will fit the hitter’s hand better, which thus makes it more ergonomic. The axe handle is more oval-shaped than round, allowing the hitter to get a better and more comfortable grip on the bat. Additionally, the knob of a traditional round-handled baseball bat can sometimes slide into and bang up against the palm of the hitter’s hand, while the shape of the axe handle helps prevent this. Manufacturers of the Axe Bat claim that this feature also helps the barrel of the bat to progress through the strike zone unhindered, thus allowing the batter to generate more bat speed.

The creation of the axe-shaped bat handle came from Bruce Leinert, who filed a patent application for the ‘Axe Bat’ in 2007. But the original inspiration of Leinert’s invention came from a line in a book by one of the game’s greatest hitters, The Science of Hitting by Ted Williams. According to Williams, “Swinging a bat is like swinging an axe.”

Over the years, use of the Axe Bat has spread throughout college and professional baseball, and permission from Major League Baseball for in-game use of axe-shaped handle bats came starting the 2015 season. MLB players who have adopted the new bat handle have included Mookie Betts, Dustin Pedroia, George Springer, Kurt Suzuki, and Dansby Swanson.

Players who use the Axe bat speak highly of its benefits. It takes a few swings to adjust to the differently-shaped handle, but the adjustment happens quickly. According to Mookie Betts, “I was able to take it out for BP one day, and the next day, I was using it in the game. And from that point on, I’ve used it in every at-bat.” Perhaps the first player to really use the Axe Bat in MLB was Dustin Pedroia, who stated, “It feels good in your hand. And then I read up all the studies they did on injury prevention. Supposedly, the way the grip is set it increases bat speed. Just grabbing it feels comfortable. You don’t feel like you have to turn it before you swing. I like ’em.”


Happy Father’s Day

To all the dads out there, I hope your day is relaxing and full of love.


Infographic: Average MLB ticket prices, 2020

The chart by Statista below depicts the average price of tickets to MLB games by team. I continue to be stunned by how expensive Royals games are compared to teams like the Rockies or the Mets, for example. For crying out loud, they’ve got the worst record in baseball right now!

The image below is pretty tiny, so click on the chart to get a larger version and more information directly from Statista.

Average MLB ticket price 2020 - statista


Happy Memorial Day

With thanks to all who serve.


Baseball 101: Doctoring the baseball

Doctoring the baseball is something that has existed pretty much as long as the sport itself has existed.  But what does it mean to doctor a baseball?

In short, to doctor the ball is to apply a foreign substance to the ball or otherwise alter it in order to put an unnatural spin on a pitch.  A doctored baseball, therefore, is more difficult to hit.  

The most notorious type of doctored baseball, of course, is the spitball.  As the name implies, the spitball involves applying saliva to the surface of the ball.  Other substances utilized in doctoring baseballs have included Vaseline (petroleum jelly), pine tar, sunscreen, and shaving cream.  Altering the baseball isn’t just limited to applying a substance to it, though.  Other forms of doctoring a baseball include scuffing it with sandpaper or an emery board or rubbing vigorously to create a shiny area on the ball (known as a shineball).

Doctoring baseball - Deadspin

Deadspin

Prior to being banned, doctored baseballs gave pitchers all kinds of advantages, and the practice was rampant.  In the period known as the Dead Ball Era, game balls were in short supply, which meant that dirty baseballs were commonly used throughout ballgames.  On top of this, pitchers slathered mud on balls to make them even dirtier and, thus, harder to see.  They rubbed wax, soap, or grease on them, or they would scuff or cut up a ball using sandpaper, or a tack, or anything else they could find.  As a result, pitchers could make pitches drop, fade away, or ride in on hitters all while using their same old throwing motions.  Thus, the Dead Ball Era was characterized by low-scoring games and a lack of home runs.

Then, in August 1920, Ray Chapman was killed when he was struck in the head by a spitball thrown by pitcher Carl Mays.  After the 1920 season, the use of the spitball was banned with the exception of a group of 17 existing spitballers, who were grandfathered in and permitted to throw the pitch legally until they retired.  With the league now cracking down on doctored baseballs and using clean balls throughout games, the live ball era was born.

The spitball hasn’t been legally used since Burleigh Grimes retired in 1934.  That’s not to say that baseballs never get doctored today, of course.  Doctoring pitches can help extend the career of an aging pitcher, helping him to maintain am edge on the mound.  There’s an old saying that says that it’s not illegal if you don’t get caught, and that mindset can be found all over the league.  

According to the Official Baseball Rules (8.02), the rules against doctoring a baseball are as follows: 

8.02 Pitcher Rules

The pitcher shall not –

(a) (1) bring the pitching hand in contact with the mouth or lips while in the 10-foot circle (18-foot circle in Intermediate (50-70) Division/ Junior/ Senior/ Big League) surrounding the pitcher’s plate; EXCEPTION: Provided it is agreed to by both managers, the umpire, prior to the start of a game played in cold weather, may permit the pitcher to blow on his/ her hands while in the 10/ 18-foot circle.

PENALTY: For violation of this part of the rule the umpires shall immediately call a ball and warn the pitcher that repeated violation of any part of this rule can cause the pitcher to be removed from the game. However, if the pitch is made and a batter reaches first base on a hit, an error, a hit batter, or otherwise, and no other runner is put out before advancing at least one base, the play shall proceed without reference to the violation.

(2) apply a foreign substance of any kind to the ball;

(3) expectorate on the ball, either hand or the glove;

(4) rub the ball on the glove, person, or clothing;

(5) deface the ball in any manner; or

(6) deliver what is called the “shine” ball, “spit” ball, “mud” ball, or “emery” ball. The pitcher is allowed to rub off the ball between the bare hands;

PENALTY: For violation of any part of Rules 8.02( a)( 2) through (6) the umpire shall: Call the pitch a ball and warn the pitcher. If a play occurs on the violation, the manager of the offense may advise the plate umpire of acceptance of the play. (Such election must be made immediately at the end of play.)

NOTE: A pitcher may use a rosin bag for the purpose of applying rosin to the bare hand or hands. Neither the pitcher nor any other player shall dust the ball with the rosin bag; neither shall the pitcher nor any other player be permitted to apply rosin from the bag to their glove or dust any part of the uniform with the rosin bag.

(b) Intentionally delay the game by throwing the ball to players other than the catcher, when the batter is in position, except in an attempt to retire a runner, or commit an illegal pitch for the purpose of not pitching to the batter (i.e. intentional walk, etc.)

PENALTY: If, after warning by the umpire, such delaying action is repeated, the pitcher can be removed from the game.

(c) Intentionally pitch at the batter. If in the umpire’s judgment, such violation occurs, the umpire shall warn the pitcher and the manager of the defense that another such pitch will mean immediate expulsion of the pitcher. If such pitch is repeated during the game, the umpire shall eject the pitcher from the game.

 


A Field of Dreams prequel series

This is some interesting news, particularly if you are a fan of the movie, Field of Dreams. A prequel series is in the works, slated to stream through Peacock in 2023. Information about the series is pretty limited at this point, as the news about it is still pretty new.

The upcoming show will film primarily in Iowa, just like the 1989 movie did, though not on the original movie’s baseball diamond in Dyersville. So far, there is no announcement about the cast, or even if Kevin Costner will be involved in the new series in any way. However, it does look like the show is seeking out production assistants:

It is said that the story in the show itself will be the back story of what happened before Ray Kinsella decided to plow up his cornfield and put a baseball diamond there. What that means, exactly, I haven’t been able to find any additional details on. But this does look like something worth keeping an eye out for as information becomes more available.


Baseball rituals and superstitions on Friday the 13th

A lot of people get anxious on Friday the 13th, in the same way they get anxious around black cats or freak out about a broken mirror. There’s even a name to describe this apprehension of the date: paraskevidekatriaphobia (but don’t ask me to pronounce that).

Anyone who’s ever watched Major League knows that baseball players can be particularly superstitious. And while most ballplayers likely are not offering tributes to a Voodoo shrine, major league players do find more subtle ways to try to draw good fortune to their performance.

Major League (1989)

Some of the most common rituals include kissing religious necklaces, making the sign of the cross, pointing towards the sky after a home run, eating a particular meal before a game, or even not grooming (or, perhaps, grooming a particular way) on game day. When a team is behind, the rally cap has become a popular way among players and fans both to try to help their team rally to victory.

During a winning streak, some players will refuse to wash their hats, helmets, or uniforms — and some fans will do the same. Some players will abstain from sex on game day, or, in the spirit of Bull Durham, during a winning streak. If a particular bat or glove is deemed “lucky,” it will become a popular item among the players of a team.

And, of course, if a no-hitter or a perfect game is in progress, nobody should ever, ever talk about it.

Wade Boggs was known as a particularly superstitious player, even nicknamed the “Chicken Man,” due to his routine of eating copious amounts of chicken every day. According to Boggs:

It started in ’77. I had a Minor League budget and a growing family to feed. Chicken was cheap and I really felt better eating lighter food rather than a lot of heavy meat and gravy. Then I noticed my batting average going up. Ever since I’ve been a `chicketarian.’

Sporting News

In addition, Boggs would write the Hebrew symbol for life, “Chai,” in the batter’s box before every at-bat, and he also made sure to take 117 ground balls (some places report the number was 150) during every practice. Something about Boggs’s routine definitely worked for him, considering his five batting titles, 12 All-Star Games, and induction into the Hall of Fame.

Other famous players with superstitious rituals included Joe DiMaggio, who would always run from the outfield and touch second base before going into the dugout. Pitcher Tim Wakefield would eat a pound of spaghetti before any game he started, and Justin Verlander is said to eat tacos before every start. Mark McGwire used to wear the same cup from his high school playing days — at least, until it was stolen.

There’s not much information specific to Friday the 13th superstitions among baseball players, but no doubt, they exist. When the upcoming date was brought up with Phillies manager Pete Mackanin on Thursday, May 12th, 2016, Mackanin responded, “I wish you didn’t tell me that.”


Happy Mother’s Day!

A very Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms of ballplayers, of wanna-be ballplayers, and even of those who couldn’t care less about baseball. Regardless of anyone’s views on the game, there’s no denying that moms are the glue that keep our world from completely falling to pieces.


Storing baseballs in humidors

Offense is down throughout Major League Baseball this season. For the first time since 2015, there was less than one home run hit per team, per game, for the month of April:

2022: 0.91

2021: 1.14

2019: 1.31

2018: 1.09

2017: 1.17

2016: 1.05

2015: 0.91

A number of factors are responsible for the reduction in home runs, and one of those factors involves how baseballs are being stored. During the 2021 season, 10 teams around the league stored their baseballs in humidors. This season, in 2022, all 30 teams are storing their baseballs in humidors.

Humidors are climate-controlled chambers that emulate the boxes used to preserve cigars. Humidors ensure baseballs are stored at average humidity. In places like Colorado and Arizona, where the parks are notoriously hitter-friendly, humidors prevent baseballs from drying out. This practice, therefore, helps pitchers, since dry baseballs have more bounce and can fly farther off the bat.

One would think the opposite effect would be true in the more humid ballparks, like Miami or Tampa Bay — that keeping the balls relatively dry would provide an advantage to the hitter. However, physics indicates that this is not the case. True, the dryer baseball would come off the bat at a faster rate. However, that lighter, dryer baseball would be flying into comparatively thick, humid air, which increases air resistance and slows the ball down.

The effect of humidors can be seen when comparing offensive numbers from 2021 to 2022 for teams that previously had humidors versus those for whom the humidor is a new addition this year.

image-2

espn.com

Offensive numbers in the ballparks that already had humidors in 2021 look similar this season. However, in places where the humidor is debuting, offense is noticeably down around the league.

It does make sense that all 30 parks should be playing with the same baseballs, stored in similar conditions, as that can help preserve a more even playing field and reduce the varying effects of certain parks. This change could also be construed as a concession to pitchers, as humidors can make baseballs easier to grip.

Notably, the use of humidors isn’t the only change to the league’s baseballs this year. In response to the high home runs rates in recent seasons, tension was loosened on the first of three wool windings within the ball itself. Rawlings’ research prior to the start of the season estimated the adjustment would reduce the ball’s bounciness and also reduce the ball’s weight by 2.8 grams without changing its size. These changes were designed to lose one to two feet of distance on balls hit more than 375 feet.

It’s hard to tell with any definitiveness which of these factors is impacting offense more. It will be interesting to see how the season progresses, and whether offensive numbers remain consistently down through October.

rockies-baseball-humidor

Colorado Rockies humidor (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)


Happy Star Wars Day!

May the Fourth be with you and with your favorite ballclub. Hope all your teams win today, I do.