Inside Baseball

Things to Know About
the National Pastime

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The Baseball
What is a major league baseball made of? The covering is from the tanned hide of a Holstein cow. (Prior to 1975 the covering was made of horsehide.) Beneath the cover is a layer of cotton string, and beneath that is several hundred yards of woolen yarn. In the center is a rubber ball, known as the "pill," which is slightly smaller than a golf ball, and inside this is the cork core. The cotton and yarn are wound by machine around the pill until the ball is precisely 8.5 inches in circumference and weighs four-and-one-eighth ounces. Then the cover is sewn on by hand with 108 stitches. The cork comes from Portugal, the rubber from Asia, and the balls are assembled in Puerto Rico.
The Bat
When a youngster named Bud Hillerich used his father's lathe to fashion a new bat for Louisville Eclipse player Pete Browning in 1884, the bat-making institution known as Hillerich & Bradsby was born. These days, the Hillerich & Bradsby factory stores millions of "billets" -- a 40-inch cylinder of white ash wood -- for two years before drying, grading and sorting them by weight. Only one in ten billets is deemed good enough to produce a major league bat. Most bats are carved by a machine that can made 213 differently shaped bats. The carved bat is then branded, sanded and dipped in one of six finishes, or, for hitters who prefer bare wood, is "roasted" over an open gas flame, thus bringing out the grain. The average tree will produce 60 billets, and normally a white ash is allowed to grow for 60 years before it is cut.
There are different regulations for bats at different levels of baseball. In the majors, a bat cannot be longer than 42 inches or thicker than 2-3/4 inches at its thickest point.
Men in Blue
A four-man umpire crew works regular season MLB games. This includes the home-plate, first-base, second-base, and third-base umpire. The World Series uses a six-man crew, adding a left- and right-field ump. The home-plate umpire takes charge of the game; he calls balls and strikes, rules on foul balls short of first or third, and makes all the calls concerning the batter and baserunners who are near home plate. The first-base umpire monitors safe/out calls at first and makes deferred strike-out calls on right-handed batters. The third-base umpire performs the same function at third, with the deferred strike-out calls on left-handed batters. The second-base ump rules on the catches of batted balls, fair and foul balls, and fan interference. The left- and right-field umpires do likewise. AL umpire Nestor Chylak once said of umpiring that "it's the only occupation where a man has to be perfect on opening day and improve as the season goes along."
[Source: Karl Gelles & Robert W. Ahrens, USA Today (10.21.05]
Postseason Payoff
Each club that makes the postseason receives a percentage of the playoff gate receipts, and the players get more money from the pool the further their teams advance. The money comes from 60 % of the gate receipts from the first four World Series games and League Championship Series (LCS) games, and 60% of the gate from the first three Division Series games. Thirty-six percent of that money goes to the team winning the World Series, while 24 % goes to the team losing the World Series; another 24% is equally divided between the losing teams in each LCS and 12% is split by the four losing teams in the Division Series. The final 4% is divided equally between the four second-place teams that didn't make the playoffs. In 2004, the World Champion Boston Red Sox split $15 million, which came to $223,000 per player. The St. Louis Cardinals players each received a $163,000 full share.
[Source: The Houston Chronicle (10.21.05)]
Biggest Paycheck of Them All
In December 2000, the Texas Rangers inked a 10-year deal with Alex Rodriguez worth $252 million, the biggest in major league history. In its November 30, 2005 issue, USA Today calculated the following (based on the $114 million A-Rod had earned in five years: Rodriguez had been paid $16,492 per inning, $37,146 per at-bat, $142,145 per game, $121,925 per hit, $175,655 per strikeout, $180,665 per RBI, $184,466 per run scored, and $475,000 per home run. To discourage further contract escalation, major league owners instituted several measures -- increased revenue sharing, a payroll tax, and the debt-service rule -- in 2002. Other big contracts: Derek Jeter (NY Yankees, 2001), $189 million over ten years; Manny Ramirez (Boston Red Sox, 2001), $160 million over eight years; Todd Helton (Colorado Rockies, 2003) $141.5 million over eight years.
How Do You Figure...?
EARNED RUN AVERAGE is calculated by adding up the EARNED RUNS allowed by a pitcher, multiplying that number by nine, and dividing by INNINGS PITCHED. (If a run scores as the result of an error, then it is not considered an "earned" run.) For example, if a pitcher allows two earned runs in six innings of work, his ERA would be 3.00 (2 x 9 divided by 6).
BATTING AVERAGE is calculated by dividing a batter's HITS by his AT BATS. A player has an at-bat if he hits safely, strikes out, or hits into an out. If a player reaches base due to a walk or a hit-by-pitch, he is not considered to have had an "at bat." (However, if a player reaches base due to an error or fielder's choice, he is considered to have had an "at-bat.") For example, if a batter comes to the plate four times, gets a hit, strikes out, walks, and reaches on a fielding error, his batting average is .333, arrived at by dividing one hit by three at-bats (the base on balls is not counted).
FIELDING PERCENTAGE is calculated by adding up a fielder's PUTOUTS and ASSISTS and dividing that number by TOTAL CHANCES. (Total chances is the sum of a player's putouts, assists, and errors combined; an assist is when the fielder throws the ball to a teammate who makes a putout.) A player may field the ball and not get a putout, assist or error -- this is not considered a "chance." A player can also get more than one "chance" on a double- or triple-play.
OBP, or On Base Percentage is a measurement of how often a batter gets to first base for any reason other than a fielding error or fielder's choice. OBP is calculated by adding HITS + BASES ON BALLS + HIT BY PITCH and dividing that number by AT BATS + BASES ON BALLS + HIT BY PITCH + SACRIFICE FLIES.
A batter's SLUGGING PERCENTAGE is determined by dividing TOTAL BASES by official AT BATS. Total bases are all the bases the batter reached when he hit safely (and, so, does not include bases on balls or a base awarded because the batter was hit by a pitch.) An official bat, of course, would not be one that resulted in a walk, a sacrifice, or a hit by a pitch.