Vladimir Guererro Jr. put on a show in Cleveland on Monday during the Home Run Derby, breaking Josh Hamilton’s previously held record of 28 dingers in a single round not once, but twice, and hitting an absurd total of 91 homers over three rounds. The baseballs were being crushed off the bat of Guerrero Jr., who is admittedly a beefy baseball boy, as at least two of his moonshots hit the scoreboard at Progressive Field.
“I feel like [the baseballs] will be a little juiced today, especially for the derby, and I feel like if you just put good barrel on they’re going to fly no matter the conditions,” eventual Home Run Derby champ Pete Alonso said during an appearance on ESPN’s set prior to his first round appearance. And juiced they were.
But the concept of juicing the baseballs, which long been suspected and accepted for the HRD, has made its way into the realm of the regular season. Home runs are up 60 percent since the 2014 season, per ESPN’s Jeff Passan, and hitters are on pace to hit 6,668 home runs this season. That would top the record of 6,105 that was set in 2017. Houston Astros pitcher Justin Verlander is not thrilled with uptick in dingers, and believes it’s a conspiracy that goes all the way to the top.
Here’s what Verlander told ESPN:
“It’s a f—ing joke,” said Verlander, an eight-time All-Star who is starting his second All-Star Game on Tuesday. “Major League Baseball’s turning this game into a joke. They own Rawlings, and you’ve got Manfred up here saying it might be the way they center the pill. They own the f—ing company. If any other $40 billion company bought out a $400 million company and the product changed dramatically, it’s not a guess as to what happened. We all know what happened. Manfred the first time he came in, what’d he say? He said we want more offense. All of a sudden he comes in, the balls are juiced? It’s not coincidence. We’re not idiots.”
Asked if he believed the balls were intentionally juiced by the league, Verlander said: “Yes. 100 percent. They’ve been using juiced balls in the Home Run Derby forever. They know how to do it. It’s not coincidence. I find it really hard to believe that Major League Baseball owns Rawlings and just coincidentally the balls become juiced.”
Major League Baseball does indeed own Rawlings, purchasing the company for $395 million in 2018.
“We are particularly interested in providing even more input and direction on the production of the official ball of Major League Baseball, one of the most important on-field products to the play of our great game,” Chris Maranak, the executive vice president for strategy, technology and innovation for MLB, said at the time.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has been vague in response to allegations about juicing, only saying that this season’s baseballs have “a little less drag.”
“You have to remember that our baseball is a handmade product and there’s gonna be variation year to year,” Manfred said during an appearance on Golic and Wingo.
On Tuesday, Manfred was asked whether MLB would do anything to bring the baseballs back to normalcy. This was his response.
The mystery of the juiced baseball continues and the battle between pitchers and the league is likely only going to roll on.