Seattle, WA

Opinion: Slickball Is The New Baseball

Justin Upton was hit in the head by a pitched baseball, prompting a plethora of questions.Keith Allison, Hanover, MD, Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 2.0

By Ben Abel

Watching the Seattle Mariners and Los Angeles Angels game last Friday night, I was looking forward to seeing a few innings of baseball. 

What I hadn’t expected, and how could I, was the play that occurred in the fifth inning when Angels pitcher Michael Lorenzen hit the Mariners’ Justin Upton in the head with the baseball. 

A Hit Batsman To The Extreme

Having watched the hit happen, I was stunned having never seen that in a live or games on television. You could actually hear the knock of the baseball on the helmet. Upton lay on the field for several moments flanked by Mariners manager Scott Servais and two Mariners trainers.

Now to be sure, Lorenzen defended himself for what happened to him telling the Orange County Register that “I don’t know what Major League Baseball is playing with these baseballs, but that fully slipped out of my hand. It’s just crazy, man. As a kid you think Major League Baseball is the greatest thing ever, and you get here and you realize, what are they doing? All of a sudden they’re going to change the baseballs. I know [Kevin] Gausman had an issue in Toronto. So it’s a league-wide thing. These baseballs are slick. They did get someone hurt. So that’s on Major League Baseball for sure. I don’t know what’s going on. These baseballs are straight out of the package.”

Interesting, right, as you think perhaps Lorenzen should have accepted responsibility for what he had done and that it was his fault for hitting Upton but if the above-mentioned pitchers had noted it and Robbie Ray, the Mariners pitcher, made a similar complaint in the same game where he threw seven no-hit innings.

Something is afoot here, right? This isn’t just a coincidence? It isn’t. 

The balls being used in the game were scuffed — for lack of a better term — and I would never have known this but it makes sense. It’s done by someone, and it’s not going to be the same every time because well people aren’t perfect and it’s not an exact science. 

Imagine the anger of fans being raised if Major League Baseball (MLB) announced the presence of scuffing machines or scuffers at games. 

The point is here though is how slickball has become part of baseball and why.

Is It Manfred’s Fault?

Ray said that baseballs felt different in Seattle at the beginning vs. midway through the game and that he wondered if they have actually run out of scuffed balls during games. 

The MLB did say in 2022 that they would only use balls in games that were made after 2021 and that the deadened balls in 2021 and associated production issues have been resolved.

The interesting thing is that the MLB has also been quite obvious in its crackdown on the doctoring of baseballs by pitchers. Have they decided with or without telling fans and more importantly the teams in the league that they are using the baseballs now as a way to further stop the use of sticky substances? 

That’s hard to say without evidence to back it up and the recent Deadspin article I read said that “Hit batsmen are down to their lowest mark since 2018. Wild pitches are down to their lowest mark since 2014. All these numbers point to better control for pitchers, so why are pitchers saying it’s an epidemic that needs to be fixed?

It’s very hard to find evidence for such claims unless someone or some organization sits down and actually sifts through all the evidence, testimony and accusations given by players and by observers of baseball. 

I think social media may explode with laughter if there is an official inquiry by the league about baseball but Slickball is here and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere soon. 

Ben Abel has been an avid sports fan since the 1980s. He has contributed to Sports Betting Dime and the IBWAA Newsletter and has written about hockey, baseball, and football as well as other sports. He lives in Vancouver, Canada. Contact him on Twitter @lebaneb or via email at

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