Sports | October 31, 2017 10:56 am

Does MLB Have a Juiced Ball PR Problem?

As home runs and ratings spike, fans are wondering how juiced balls really affect the game.

Baseball has a juicing problem, but it has nothing to do with the players this time.

There have been an astonishing 22 home runs hit in this year’s World Series, more than any other Fall Classic in the history of the sport, and that has players and coaches alike openly debating the integrity of the game’s baseballs for this tilt between the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers. Star pitchers like Lance McCullers Jr. and Justin Verlander are publicly saying the baseballs have been altered to make them slicker and harder to grip for pitchers, leaving room for error that can turn a decent slider into a home run smash.

There are a number of possible reasons for the spike in home runs that coincide with doctored baseballs, including changing swing habits and different aerodynamics, but the PR problem for MLB is real as players openly undermine the integrity of the game on its biggest stage.

However, even as MLB offers up its own analysis from a physicist who says the balls have not been changed recently, the real question is this: do the fans care?

Players, specifically pitchers, have been outspoken about the issue, but it appears juiced balls may be helping the league way more than hurting the players’ feelings. The home run slugfest on Sunday night in Game 5 outdrew the NFL on NBC by 36 percent, giving Fox its best audience since Super Bowl LI. Social media has exploded for every World Series game, and the home runs are the topic du jour each time a player mashes a baseball hundreds of feet into the stands. 

The type of attention baseball is receiving right now hasn’t been this pronounced since the home run uptick during the infamous “Steroid Era,” and it appears the game is as popular as it’s been since the late 1990s.

The MLB could be lying about the alteration of its baseballs for this World Series, and the players have every right to be upset if it is. But if the viewers keep watching and the players keep playing, will it really matter that much in the end?