New baseballs pop out of the box so white and shiny that they’re called pearls.
Shiny also means slippery, and for years now baseballs have been prepared for games by having a thin coat of mud applied by one of the home team clubhouse attendants.
The mud is scooped from the Delaware River by a New Jersey man and shipped to teams in a plastic tub. It’s been done that way for decades.
A muddied baseball is easier for pitchers to grip and veteran starting pitchers often let the clubbies know how much or how little mud they prefer.
On Tuesday, Major League Baseball sent a memo to teams with precise instructions on how to muddy baseballs. The process, which is done by hand, is expected to take place before every game.
MLB wants the baseball “painted” with two fingertips and rubbed up for 30-40 seconds until it reaches a certain brownish hue.
The league is hoping for as much uniformity as possible. But there are typically 96-120 baseballs used per game and each park has a different attendant in charge. There are sure to be inconsistencies.
Meanwhile, umpires are still frisking pitchers between innings to see if they’re applying sticky substances to the baseball to promote a higher spin rate.
A Massachusetts company believes it has a solution to all these problems.
Chalkless LLC, based in Wilmington, has developed a chemical coating for baseballs that improves the grip and can be applied uniformly with a machine.
The process was tested in the Arizona Fall League last year and Double A this season. The company also brought in former Expos, Red Sox, and Orioles general manager Dan Duquette to serve as a liaison with MLB.
“The actual baseball has been a problem in baseball for some time,” Duquette said. “Chalkless is working on taking the variables out of the process so players get a consistent grip and every ball is essentially the same. That’s what pitchers want.”
CEO Greg Pope and chief technical officer James Pidhurney formed Chalkless as a subsidiary of Entry Point International, a supplier of construction materials and other services to general contractors for 75 years.
The laboratory is in Boston, close to the Milton border.
“We’re not baseball fans,” Pope said. “We’re looking at this from a science perspective. That’s our approach: ‘How can we eliminate the variables with the ball?’
“Our target is to provide a uniform, consistent ball distributed across the league every day for every pitch … whether you’re in Boston, Toronto, Arizona, Florida, Texas, or California, it’s the same ball you threw the night before.”
Baseballs are hand-stitched, so there’s always some variation. But a coating, as opposed to hand-rubbed mud, would add a greater degree of standardization.
MLB already stores baseballs in humidors at every ballpark. Pidhurney said balls would be prepared in batches for each game and wouldn’t be touched by human hands until they’re given to the umpire to be put in play.
“You can have consistency of storage; you’re going to have consistency of ball preparation and you’re going to have consistency on the mound,” he said.
What they call the Baseball Pilot Project came to life last year when MLB cracked down on pitchers using Spider Tack and other forms of goop on the ball to create spin.
A former colleague suggested Chalkless could be a solution to MLB’s problem.
“That was the catalyst to reach out to some good high school athletes to try it out and get their feedback,” Pope said. “They instantly saw a difference and we reached out to Dan.”
Duquette, who is now running a consulting firm, saw the potential.
“This is what baseball has been looking for,” he said. “It shows a lot of promise.”
So, what is Chalkless? It’s primarily silica silylate, an ingredient used in skin care products.
It was originally developed for tennis players as an alternative to chalk to get a better grip on the racket. It repels water and works when applied to skin or equipment.
The company is now marketing the non-toxic product to weightlifters, golfers, gymnasts, pole vaulters, bikers, and even musicians. An 0.5-ounce bottle costs $35.99.
What you can order from Amazon is what the company is offering MLB.
The difference is Chalkless has taken the feedback from minor league pitchers — negative and positive — and worked on adjusting how the product is applied to the ball.
For Pope and Pidhurney it’s a science project, not a baseball project. They’re working through the problem by refining the process.
“Coming at it from a science perspective with a different point of view, creating something sticky was never our objective,” Pope said. “We wanted something less slippery.”
The Chalkless balls also do not change color. They remain bright white, which should help the hitter. Given MLB’s desire to get more offense into the game, that’s a bonus.
Chalkless isn’t profitable yet — “Oh, no. No. No. No,” Pope said — but an alliance with MLB obviously could help change that.
It is also in competition with Dow, which is working on its own coating.
MLB is not committed to using a new process. Sources said the league is hopeful the new instructions on muddying baseballs will make a difference. If not, it’s open to other solutions.
“I’m encouraged by the progress Chalkless has made,” Duquette said. “This is a chance for MLB to have a ball that is superior to the ball they have now.”
TAKING A CHANCE
Anti-vax Red Sox could pay high price
The Red Sox gave Tanner Houck the opportunity of a lifetime when they made him their closer this month.
Houck is now a more prominent member of the team and on a path to a bigger contract. Closers do far better than setup men in arbitration and over time can land a life-changing deal.
Just ask Matt Barnes, who signed for $18.75 million last year before he lost the job. Every dime of that is guaranteed.
Houck could have repaid the team’s trust by getting vaccinated in time for this coming week’s important series in Toronto. But he did not and will be put on the unpaid restricted list for the second time this season. That will make seven games he decided to skip.
Jarren Duran, who has played well subbing for Kiké Hernández in center field, also won’t be available.
He told MassLive, “I’m still doing my research.”
So Duran is running home after games and spending time in the lab? Please.
Many fans are angry based on the feedback that came in the last few days. The Sox are competing for a playoff spot and need their best players on the field.
Understand: The Sox are powerless here. A team cannot force a player to get vaccinated or punish him for declining. That’s part of the collective bargaining agreement.
Alex Cora would be foolish to publicly criticize Houck, Duran, or any other anti-vaxxer. Why create a clubhouse rift with players you need to perform well?
Chaim Bloom told the Globe the Sox “strongly” advocate for vaccines. That has worked in some cases, but not all.
Sam Kennedy or John Henry should speak out. Make it clear that this isn’t acceptable.
Let’s give it a try:
“The Red Sox believe in science and the role vaccines played in protecting the health of people around the world. We’re disappointed in the decision Tanner and Jarren made despite the information we provided to them. We encourage all our employees and fans to be up to date with their vaccines.”
Follow that up by donating their lost salaries to provide medical care for people in need.
Houck does not have a medical reason to decline. He said in spring training that his family doesn’t believe in vaccines. The same is true for Duran.
That’s not a surprise. Vaccines somehow became a political issue rife with mistruths spread by conspiracy theorists. The Sox are not the only team missing players in Canada this season.
There were several Sox players who weren’t vaccinated last season who got the shot this year because loyalty to their teammates meant more to them than hearsay.
The penultimate series of the season will be in Toronto, three games that could decide if the Sox make the playoffs.
It’s hard to imagine Houck, Duran — or Chris Sale if he is healthy enough to pitch — being selfish enough to miss such crucial games. How could they look their teammates in the face?
Houck’s stance has cost him roughly $31,000. It could cost him a lot more if John Schreiber, Garrett Whitlock, or somebody else takes his job and runs with it.
A few other observations on the Red Sox:
▪ Rob Refsnyder had 0.7 WAR through 10 games. That’s more than Hernández (0.3), and Jackie Bradley Jr., Bobby Dalbec, and Alex Verdugo, who are all on the negative side as calculated by Baseball-Reference.com.
Refsnyder has given the Sox good at-bats and above-average defense. Will it last? The odds are against it. He’s a 31-year-old playing for his sixth team in the last six years. But Refsnyder has given the Sox a lift at a time they needed one.
▪ Michael Wacha has an interesting connection to Albert Pujols.
The two were never teammates in St. Louis. Pujols left the Cardinals for the Angels as a free agent after the 2011 season. Under the compensation rules at the time, the Cardinals received a first-round pick from the Angels.
They used that pick, No. 19, to take Wacha out of Texas A&M. He was in the majors by 2013.
Wacha was worth 10.0 WAR to the Cardinals over seven years. Pujols was worth 10.7 to the Angels in 10 seasons.
Pujols was 0 for 1 with a walk against Wacha when they faced each other in 2019.
Wacha was on the field this past week when the Sox paid tribute to Pujols.
“It was an honor,’’ Wacha said. “He is such an icon in St. Louis and I had a little part of that story.”
Cain made most of his opportunity
The record shows Lorenzo Cain was designated for assignment by the Brewers and released. But that doesn’t tell much of the story.
Cain, 36, gained so much respect during his six seasons in Milwaukee that the team waited until the day after he reached 10 years of service time before making the move. That guaranteed him significantly more pension benefits in retirement.
Cain leaves the game — the expectation is he will retire — as a two-time All-Star, a Gold Glove winner, and a World Series champion with the 2015 Royals. He was MVP of the ALCS that season.
Beyond the hardware, Cain was a good teammate who worked hard to get the most out of his talent.
It’s remarkable considering Cain didn’t start playing baseball until his sophomore year of high school. He was a 17th-round draft pick out of a junior college in 2004 by the Brewers, who traded him to the Royals in 2010.
“If you had told me I was going to play 10 years in the big leagues, I would have thought you were just messing around with me,” Cain told reporters. “I wouldn’t have thought that was possible.”
Here’s something you don’t often read: Make it a point to watch a Pirates game. Shortstop Oneil Cruz, a 23-year-old rookie from the Dominican Republic, was called up on Monday. Cruz, who is 6 feet 7 inches, made a throw that night clocked at 96.7 miles per hour to get an out at first base. It was the fastest in the majors for an infielder this season. Going back to last season, when he played two games, Cruz had 10 RBIs and three extra-base hits in his first six games. Can a player that tall stay at shortstop? Pirates GM Ben Cherington believes so … Shohei Ohtani homered twice and drove in eight runs on Tuesday. Then he struck out 13 in eight shutout innings on Wednesday … The Giants know pitching. Many teams backed off Carlos Rodón during free agency, worried about the shoulder fatigue that limited him to 24 starts last season. But he has 2.70 ERA for San Francisco and made every start … The Royals are actively seeking a buyer for Andrew Benintendi, who will be a free agent after the season … David Robertson, whom the Cubs are sure to trade, had his first career at-bat on Wednesday. He saw six pitches but struck out facing infielder Diego Castillo in a 10-1 victory against the Pirates. Robertson needed 696 games to get a plate appearance. The old record was 687 games by Mariano Rivera … Yadier Molina did not accompany the Cardinals to Boston last weekend after being placed on the injured list with inflammation in his right knee. Molina considered catching Adam Wainwright in the first game of the series before going on the IL but his knee hurt too much. Molina and Wainwright have been batterymates 316 times, nine shy of breaking the record set by Detroit’s Mickey Lolich and Bill Freehan from 1963-75 … As a minor league manager, Cardinals manager Oli Marmol spent two offseasons in Boston working for a wealthy family as a trainer for their high school-aged son. He had an apartment in the North End one of the years. “Boston is probably one of my favorite cities I’ve ever been to,” Marmol said … Yankees manager Aaron Boone has a good sense of when to give Aaron Judge a day off. Judge was off April 30 and May 16 and homered twice the next day each time. He was out of the lineup on Tuesday outside of a pinch-hitting appearance and homered twice on Wednesday. Yankees GM Brian Cashman also showed some good sense by making a deal with Judge before going into an arbitration hearing on Friday. Typically, teams won’t budge once the sides exchange figures unless the player agrees to a multiyear deal. Now comes the much harder task of signing Judge to a long-term deal … Righthander Jerad Eickhoff allowed 10 earned runs over 3⅓ innings for the Mets last July 27 and didn’t pitch in the majors the rest of the year. He signed with the Pirates prior to this season and made his season debut on Wednesday against the Cubs. This time, he allowed 10 earned runs over 4⅓ innings. Eickhoff is the first pitcher in history to allow at least 10 runs in consecutive outings over two separate seasons … Fame is Fleeting Dept.: Angels rookie Reid Detmers threw a no-hitter against the Rays on May 10. He is 0-2 with a 5.67 ERA since and on Wednesday was optioned to Triple A Salt Lake … Happy birthday to Mike Myers, who is 53. The side-arming lefthander was in the majors from 1995-2007 and pitched in 90 games for the Red Sox from 2004-05. Myers appeared in five games for the Sox during the ‘04 postseason. Myers has worked for the MLB Players Association since 2009.