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Slippery baseballs in Cincinnati

4/6/2010

You heard about Albert Pujols hitting two home runs Monday. Yawn. Just another day at the office. Did you hear about Chris Carpenter giving up two home runs? After allowing only seven in 193 innings last year? Worry not, St. Louisans; Carpenter had an excuse. Tom Groeschen:

    Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter complained afterward that the baseballs were not prepared properly. Major League Baseball rule 3.01 (c) states that before every game, an umpire must properly rub down the required number of balls to remove the gloss of newness.

    For more than 70 years, the same substance has been applied -- Lena Blackburne Baseball Rubbing Mud.

    Carpenter said the balls at Great American Ball Park are too clean and slippery.

    “We had this issue last year and again today,” Carpenter said. “There was absolutely no question. I got balls that there was nothing wrong with.”

    Meaning, too slick.

    “[Either] they make an adjustment or look into it, (or) ultimately, somebody’s going to get hurt,” Carpenter said. “Something’s going to get away, or whatever, and end up getting somebody in the head. I hope that doesn’t happen.”

For the record, Rule 3.01 (c) does not require the umpires to rub down the baseballs. Here's what it says: "The umpire shall inspect the baseballs and ensure they are regulation baseballs and that they are properly rubbed so that the gloss is removed. The umpire shall be the sole judge of the fitness of the balls to be used in the game."

For many years, the umpires did indeed apply the Lena Blackburne Mud; usually the junior man in the crew got the assignment. At some point, though -- and yes, it's probably a union thing -- the umpires began handing off this dirty chore to team employees. Now some kid has to spend an hour before every game, rubbing up a few dozen shiny baseballs for the convenience of the pitchers. But whether it's an umpire or a kid, it's not a difficult job and anyway it's still the umpires' responsibility to make sure the gloss is taken off the balls.

If this is really a problem in Cincinnati, it should be exceptionally easy to fix. Then again, if it was a problem last season -- and Monday the St. Louis TV broadcasters said it was -- why hasn't it already been fixed? The only thing I can figure is that somebody with the Reds has told the umpires that it's not the club's job to rub the balls up, and the umpires have said it's not their job, either.

That's the most interesting explanation, anyway. The truth is probably quite mundane.*

* What's more, I can't confirm that umpires don't still rub up the baseballs. That was just a tossed-off comment by one of those St. Louis broadcasters that rang true.