How Many Baseballs Are Rubbed Up For A Game?

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Preparing baseballs by rubbing them up is not only traditional, but practical! Whether you’re a professional or amateur player, or you’re simply hoping to prepare a game for some more athletic friends, the question should be answered: how many baseballs are rubbed up for a game?

According to research done on professional standards by The Detroit News, an average of 156 baseballs are rubbed up in preparation for a single game played by the United States’ Major League Baseball organization. 

That sure is a lot of baseballs! In this article, we’ll make sure you know everything you need to know about how many baseballs should be rubbed up for a game, starting with what it means to rub a baseball, how many should be prepped, and a few more frequently asked questions on the subject.

What Does It Mean to Rub Up A Baseball?

rubbed up baseball

It might be strange to come across the mention of mud when learning how to prep equipment for a baseball game. It’s true! Whether it’s little league or the majors, baseballs must be rubbed pretty thoroughly in mud before a batter is up.

Rubbing up all baseballs is actually in the Major League Baseball rules. This practice, although strange to an outside observer, is well known among baseball players. Rubbing up baseballs has one main point: to strengthen the grip of the pitcher.

Baseballs are made of cork and rubber on the inside, but on the outside they are wrapped in a type of leather that is made from either a cow or a horse, if not synthetic. Baseballs that are used often may have natural wear and tear on this leather, but brand new baseballs are known to be covered in a kind of gloss.

This gloss is perfectly natural, but it does lessen the pitcher’s grip on the ball. In a game as strategic and active as baseball, any modicum of control that the pitcher has to give up can change the outcome of the game. So, if a baseball is too slippery, it can very simply wind up making the whole game seem unfair.

Rubbing mud on a baseball is typically done by an umpire (in fact, the MLB states that only the umpire can be held responsible for how “ready” the baseballs are before a game.) When it is accomplished correctly, the ball should have a rough, textured surface instead of a smooth, glossy one.

The History of Rubbing Up Baseballs

So, how did this whole process of rubbing baseballs with dirt to prepare them for a game even get started? Well, allegedly, it all started with a chat between an umpire and a baseball coach named Lena Blackburne.

Lena Blackburne was the third-base coach for the Philly Athletics. He was informed by an umpire that, although many pitches liked to rough up their baseballs with mud before a game, the kind of mud they used was too damaging to baseball leather.

Lena Blackburne started looking for a better option and found it near the Delaware River. He began packaging and selling the mud, and eventually, Lena Blackburn’s rubbing mud was the most popular brand in baseball for prepping the balls.

Eventually, the company that sold the mud was passed down to a man named Bintliff, and now Bintliff’s mud is the preferred substance of the MLB.

It is only about as thick as whipped cream, and only a small amount is needed to get rid of that new-ball shine pitchers hate so much.

On a more somber note, pitchers used to be known for using all kinds of substances, even in the MLB, to give them control over the ball. It was common to see a pitcher spitting on or intentionally misshaping the baseball so they could be sure of throwing the perfect curve ball.

The problem was, this not only gave them an edge, but it discolored and disfigured the baseball. One player, Ray Chapman, was killed in the year 1920 by a pitch, causing experts to believe he couldn’t see the ball because of it’s discoloration by pitchers. For this reason, regulations are much stricter, and rubbing up baseballs in mud are the best method of control.

Do Umpires Still Rub Up Baseballs?

Nowadays, the MLB is still encouraging umpires everywhere to rough up the baseballs before every game. However, they don’t necessarily dictate what mud should be used. There are even talks of abandoning the process of mudding altogether in favor of manufacturing baseballs that have more “tack” and less gloss in the first place.

Baseball pitchers don’t always trust the mud rub, alone, to create a rough enough surface for them to control the ball’s trajectory.

For example, in 2006, it was very evident that pitcher Kenny Rogers was using a type of pine tar to increase his hold on the baseball. Other pitches have used Vaseline or K-Y jelly to augment how much control they have over the ball. 

Though sometimes this is considered cheating, it is only punished if the umpire is asked to check the pitcher for these substances. Many coaches don’t take advantage of this because they want their own pitchers to be able to use similar substances without being punished.

All in all, though it is traditionally popular to have the baseballs rubbed up by the umpires, the advent of new baseball manufacturing practices and pitcher’s haphazard level of control may mean that rubbing mud is on it’s way out!

How To Rub Up A Baseball

If you’re hoping to prepare baseballs like the pros do, you’ll need to know exactly how to rub up a baseball yourself! Check out this list of steps for rubbing up a baseball:

  1. Purchase Baseball Rubbing Mud – If you’re hoping to keep the leather of your baseball intact and get that professional feeling, there’s no better option than Lena Blackburne’s product. It is typically $25 for a small tub, which will be plenty for several games’ worth of baseballs.
  2. Scoop Out Mud – The official way to do this is to simply take two fingers and dig out a dollop of mud, enough to cover both fingertips. Too much will actually prevent you from getting down to the surface of the ball and rubbing off the gloss, and too little will keep you from having an even spread of roughness for your pitcher.
  3. Cover the Entire Ball in Mud – In the interest of fairness, you’ll need to make sure that the mud covers the whole surface of each baseball evenly.
  4. Rub the Ball – This is the fun part! Using both hands, rub the baseball in a thorough motion between them. This should be done for no longer than 40 seconds per baseball.

After following these steps, you’ll have a baseball rubbed in the same way that the pros do it in Major League Baseball!

How Many Baseballs Are Prepared For Each Game?

According to official averages, about 84 to 120 baseballs are actually used in one Major League Baseball game. This means that 30 teams use 1,550 of these spheres in a day. Some baseballs are lost in the scuffle of fans trying to catch balls in the stands, and the number can be added to whenever the game adds innings.

Remember that a baseball used in official game only stays in play for about seven pitches at most.

The Major League Baseball organization prepares thirteen dozen baseballs per game. Having 156 mudded up may seem like overkill when only 120 are typically needed, but it is always better to be overprepared than caught off guard, even in baseball!

What Happens To All The Baseballs Used In An MLB Game?

If there are so many baseballs purchased, rubbed up in mud, and used per inning, then where do they all go at the end of game day? 

It’s an interesting question, especially for those who don’t get to achieve their dream of catching a flyball from the stands. 

At least in the case of Major League Baseball games, the discarded balls that finish their use do not get put back in the game. This is because umpires are required to check and see if a baseball has a scuff mark or is encumbered by too much dirt. If that is the case, a new ball has to be introduced; remember, any little detail may determine who wins the game!

The question is, where do the balls deemed unfit for use or “used up” go?

The baseballs that are used in an MLB game generally meet one of a few fates:

  • Winding up in the stands and going home with a fan
  • Taken to Major League Batting Practices
  • Signed and given away to fans

In Conclusion

In conclusion, the number of baseballs used in an MLB baseball game may be 120 on average, but about thirteen dozen are rubbed up in preparation for each game. Rubbing up the baseballs with New Jersey mud is preferable because it not only preserves the leather of the equipment, but gives pitches a rough, controllable ball to use during each game.