You might be surprised at just how many baseballs two teams go through in a single nine-inning game.
We’re not just talking about a handful of balls, either. Every single half-inning starts off with a brand-new ball – that’s 18 balls all on its own. Every time a ball touches the dirt (or the ground anywhere, for that matter) it’s usually swapped out, too. Pitchers, catchers, and umps can all have balls tossed and swapped out pretty much on demand.
By the end of the game, it’s not at all uncommon for teams to chew through dozens and dozens of baseballs.
We dig a little deeper into just how many balls get used in a nine-inning game below.
How Many Baseballs are Used in a 9-Inning Game?
While there’s no hard and fast rule for exactly how many baseballs get used in a standard nine inning game (or how many get used when the game goes into extras), as a general rule of thumb about 120 baseballs get used in your average MLB game.
Yes, you read that correctly.
On average each team is going to “consume” about 60 balls all on their own – and that means both teams are going to account for running through 10 dozen baseballs night in and night out.
Obviously, some teams are going to get through games with fewer baseballs pulled out of their Rawlings boxes than others. But the MLB office themselves estimate that teams crack out about 8 to 10 dozen baseballs every game (and have plenty available in reserve, too).
Who Provides the Balls for Each Game?
While Major League Baseball has a contract with Rawlings to provide every single baseball that makes its way onto a major league field – including during the actual game itself, during warm-ups before the game, during betting practice, or even during ceremonial first pitches – it’s the home team’s responsibility to actually have baseballs ready to rock and roll for both teams.
This makes a lot of sense when you think about it.
If both teams were responsible for bringing their own baseballs you’d have a visiting team having to tote around a mountain of balls with them for every series. Extended road trips away from home would mean a ton of baseballs would have to be along for the ride, too.
With the home team handling all the balls it means that these baseballs are also acclimated to that specific stadium and those conditions.
The Colorado Rockies are known to have balls that sort of sky right out of the stadium unless they are kept inside of a special humidor just because of the altitude that the stadium is built.
Now almost all teams have a humidor to try and “level the playing field”, so to speak – but it remains the responsibility of the home team to provide balls for the game.
How Are Balls Prepped for Game Day?
Believe it or not, brand-new baseballs are about the last thing that anybody on a baseball diamond wants to handle.
Every single player – from the pitcher to each individual hitter and everyone in between – prefers that brand-new baseballs are roughed up a little bit.
New baseballs have an almost foolishly slick surface on them. We are talking super smooth, close to glasslike.
This might seem like a good thing on the surface (after all, you don’t want professional athletes tossing around worn out baseballs) until you realize just how difficult to control these balls are when brand-new.
No, brand-new baseballs fresh from Rawlings need to get roughed up a little bit. They need to get scuffed, they need to get “seasoned”, and that bright white shine needs to be dialed down a little bit.
In the early days of the game, every team would be responsible for doctoring the ball up the way they liked it.
This (to the surprise of absolutely no one) led to some pretty creative things being done to baseballs in order to get them to twist, twirl, dip, and dive after the pitch was thrown. Tobacco juice, shoe polish, pine pitch, spit, emory boards, and sandpaper were all applied to brand-new baseballs just the way that a pitcher liked them set up.
Around the 1940s, though, baseball started to clamp down a bit on this stuff.
History shows that the third base coach for the then Philadelphia Athletics (now Oakland Athletics) complained in the late 1930s about the poor quality and lack of consistency in American League baseballs.
Lena Blackburne (the coaching question) started to hunt for high-quality mud that could be used to prep baseballs, stumbling on a secret supply in New Jersey. He started using the mud to prep balls for the Athletics and before the middle of 1940 every team in the American League was using – and buying – this same mud.
Blackburne left the Athletics to start up a baseball mud company (true story) and by the 1950s every team in the majors was using this mud.
It’s the same mud, harvested from the same secret location in New Jersey, being used to prep balls across the major leagues today, too.
Yes, that means that Major League Baseball has its own official mud supplier!
How Much Do MLB Baseballs Cost?
The Rawlings folks (the official supplier for baseballs to the Major Leagues) are pretty tightlipped about how much they sell each baseball to the MLB for, but it’s not difficult to come up with some pretty close ballpark estimates.
Baseballs (official baseballs) deemed not quite good enough for MLB play are sold to fans all over the world for right around $15-$20.
It stands to reason, then, that the MLB is picking these baseballs up at a considerable discount – especially since each team will go through nearly a million baseballs a year.
As a general rule of thumb, let’s figure that each baseball is sold to the MLB for around $10 or so.
Now, that might not seem like much for a league that brings in billions of dollars every year.
But it does mean that in every single game about $1200 worth of baseballs is used. Night after night, for 162 games a year.
And if a team is using a million baseballs a year (a rough average) that means they’re spending $10 million in baseball’s alone. Multiply that across 30 teams in the league and you’re looking at $300 million just for baseballs!
What About Foul Balls or Leftover Balls?
Foul balls (as well as homerun balls) that make their way into the stands are gone for good and the property of whatever lucky fan manages to get their hands on them.
This includes special baseballs, like record-breaking home-run balls.
More often than not, the player that hits a milestone ball into the stands usually sends a clubhouse attendant to try and track that fan down in an effort to barter (or buy) the ball back.
It isn’t at all unusual for these players to offer all kinds of signed memorabilia – including game bats, jerseys, hats, etc. – or even fork over cold hard cash to get balls of specific importance.
At the same time, the fan that has the ball is under absolutely no obligation whatsoever to give the ball back for any reason (or for any amount of money or gear). On the flipside, there’s been plenty of stories of fans returning special balls to players just because they know how much they mean to them.
Leftover balls usually find themselves used up in warm ups or batting practice.
Clubs can also sell any leftover balls in their own souvenir shops. These usually do pretty well and can go for anywhere between $20 and $30 (and sometimes even more).
What About Special Event/Occasion Baseballs?
Special event and occasion baseballs – like All-Star game baseballs, playoff baseballs, World Series baseballs, or record-breaking homerun/hit baseballs – are often marked up uniquely.
Not only do these balls usually have obvious distinct markings on them (letting everyone know that they are in fact special baseballs), but many of them also have ultraviolet “tags” put on the balls as well.
This is used to authenticate baseballs that might find their way onto the secondary and collector market.
When controversial superstar Alex Rodriguez hit his 600th homerun, for example, the balls were all marked with ultraviolet tags in the lead up to that milestone. When the ball inevitably left the yard and landed in a fan’s hands they were able to prove that it was legitimately linked to that game specifically.
It sounds kind of crazy to say that baseball teams are going to use about 120 baseballs between them during a single nine inning game, but that’s what history tells us.
Sometimes two teams are going to be able to get through nine innings using a lot less than 120 baseballs, sometimes getting down as low as 80 baseballs. Sometimes, though, teams really start to slug it out – or fire a ton of fall balls into the stands – and they chew through 150 or more baseballs.
Like a lot of everything else about this great game, you have to sort of play this by ear.
You never know what’s going to happen from one at-bat to the next and you never know exactly how many baseballs two teams are going to need to get through the final out at the bottom of the ninth.