If you ever watch the San Francisco (SF) Giants or Pittsburgh (PIT) Pirates play, you’ve probably seen a couple of home runs that made a splash in McCovey Cove or the Allegheny River.
These home runs are spectacular sights to behold and they got me thinking – do baseballs float? It would be pretty cool if there were just a ton of baseballs lying on the floor of McCovey Cove.
So, do baseballs float?
Baseballs do float but they start to sink as water enters the holes along their stitching. If you watch any home runs fly into the water in San Francisco or Pittsburgh, you’ll see the balls float initially. Someone usually jumps in the water or swims by in a kayak before the balls have a chance to sink.
Retrieving a baseball in McCovey Cove or the Allegheny River makes for a great souvenir and story. Fans didn’t always have this opportunity though, because dogs were originally used to retrieve the balls. To learn more about why baseballs floats and about the sport, we encourage you to keep reading.
Allegheny River Home Runs and Oracle Park Splash Hits
Based on the way PNC Park and Oracle Park are built, lefties are much more likely to put the ball into the water than righties. At both stadiums, the water is just over the right-field walls, allowing for balls to land directly in the water.
If you go online and watch some of these home runs, you’ll notice that the hitters are all lefties. This is because most Major League Baseball (MLB) hitters have an easier time hitting a home run by pulling it, rather than going the other way.
It also doesn’t hurt that PNC Park and Oracle Park are only 320ft and 309ft down the right-field line. Despite it only being 309 down the line in San Francisco, no right-handed hitter has ever tallied a splash hit.
Just to be clear, a splash hit is a home run that flies directly into the water. The ball can’t bounce off the walkway behind the right-field and into McCovey Cove.
In the history of Oracle Park (formerly AT&T Park / SBC Park / Pacific Bell Park), players on the San Francisco Giants have hit 81 total splash hits. Barry Bonds was the first player to send a ball into McCovey Cove and continued to do so a total of 35 times.
Brandon Belt and Pablo Sandoval are second and third in splash hits with nine and eight respectively. The Giants have a scoreboard on the right-field wall that keeps track of all the splash hits the team has tallied since Bond’s first splash hit in 2000.
Visiting teams have also hit a total of 51 splash hits, with the most memorable one being Max Muncy’s home run off Madison Bumgarner.
After hitting the home run, Bumgarner got upset and confronted Muncy because he was watching the ball instead of running the bases.
Muncy promptly responded to Bumgarner by telling him to “go get [the baseball] out of the ocean”. So in total, 132 baseballs have been hit into McCovey Cove on the fly.
This is significantly more than the mere four players who have hit baseballs straight into the Allegheny River.
What Are Baseballs Made Out Of?
Baseballs have a cushioned cork center known as the “pill”, which is wrapped in yarn and covered with white cowhide. Two pieces of cowhide usually cover the entirety of the baseball and red stitching helps keep the leather in place.
The stitching allows for drag when baseballs make contact with the air, allowing pitchers to put spin on the balls. This is how pitchers are able to throw their repertoire of pitches.
This makes the job of hitters even tougher, keeping in mind that the typical baseball is around 9” in circumference and weighs 5-51/4 ounces.
How Are Baseballs Prepared for a Game?
Major League Baseball teams have to prepare baseballs for each game by applying rubbing mud to the balls. Rubbing mud takes the shine off of the balls and offers pitchers additional grip, allowing more spin to be put on the ball.
Additionally, the darker the ball becomes, the tougher the time batters will generally have trying to pick up the ball.
Pitchers usually want as much grip as they can get because it allows them to throw their pitches more effectively and with more ease.
You could also say the additional grip is great for batters because the additional grip for pitchers means batters are less likely to get hit by pitches that getaway.
The way baseballs are prepared for MLB games could change one day so more grip is offered for pitchers.
The purpose of doing this would be to discourage pitchers from feeling like they have to doctor the ball through the use of pine tar, sunscreen, etc.
How Many Baseballs Are Used in a Game?
Throughout a nine-inning MLB game, over 100 balls are used on average. With that said, the number of baseballs used in any game can be much lower or higher.
This is because any ball that gets scuffed from being hit or from bouncing in the dirt, is most likely removed from the game. These removed balls usually become batting practice balls or are sent down to one of the home team’s minor league affiliates.
Baseballs are also usually given out by players tallying the third out of an inning. Once you add in all the foul balls that are hit in a game, you’ll see that the number of balls needed to play a game can quickly add up.
For this reason, the home team prepares 10-12 dozen baseballs with rubbing mud. If a game is quickly cycling through balls and there’s the chance of running out, the home team will prepare more balls behind the scenes.