Why Do They Change Baseballs When it Hits the Dirt?

Have you ever noticed how, when a baseball hits the ground, it sometimes changes colors? The first few times I saw this happening I was baffled by the sudden color change. These changed colored balls will be switched with a new one. So, why do they change baseballs when it hits the dirt? How does this happen, and why does it occur? This article will answer these questions for you.

Why Do They Change Baseballs When it Hits the Dirt?

The earth has many small particles of dirt mixed in with the air. These air particles enter the ball and mix with the air in the ball. This simply means that your baseball has a slight amount of dirt mixed in with it, but not enough to be noticeable. But these air particles can still affect the speed and trajectory of a baseball.

Your baseball is floating inside of a bagless vacuum chamber, which also offers protection from the elements. Some of these dirt particles can act as small projectiles that will fly through the chamber, striking your baseball and creating another layer of dirt on your baseball.

Since the baseball does not have a layer of dirt on it yet, it will be likely to change colors when this small particle of dirt hits it. These particles act as tiny projectiles just like a bullet would. The difference is that they are many times smaller than the average bullet, but their impact is still the same.

When I first saw this happen I thought that someone was bleaching the baseball and switching it with another one when it hit the ground. But apparently, that isn’t happening at all.

Baseballs When it Hits the Dirt

The History Behind The Rule

A baseball hit in the dirt does not have to change its color. The color change occurs because of old baseball rules that have been around since the beginning of time. The rule is called the “Smokey Joe” rule and was never officially mentioned as such.

This rule is based on the fact that if a baseball is hit in the dirt, it will change colors once it hits the ground. There was always a belief that the colors of certain baseballs would affect how they behaved if they were hit in different colored dirt. The theory behind this phenomenon was based on past events with different colored baseballs.

In 1920, Carl Mays, who was a pitcher for the New York Yankees, soiled the ball in a grimy color that made Ray Chapman, who was a batter for the Cleveland Indians, get hit by the ball. The ball hit him on his skull and he claimed that he couldn’t see it coming as it was a very sunny day. Later on, Ray died and the MLB released rule 3.01 regarding this issue.

Rule 3.01 states that a baseball has to be a consistent color. This way when a ball is hit in the ground, it will not change its color to a different one.

The second part of this rule deals with an umpire’s judgment. When a ball rolls into foul territory and if the umpire thinks that the ball is dirty then he can call it “time” which means that the pitcher can’t throw any more balls.

These days there are technological ways to check if a baseball has been soiled or not.


Scuffing a Baseball

Scuffing a ball means that if you hit it hard enough and it makes contact with the ground, then the ball will change colors. This can be used as a form of cheating.

When a baseball is hit in the dirt, and as a result makes contact with the ground and creates a scuff on it, this causes dirt to accumulate on this area. The ball has to be scuffed before it can be thrown again or else you risk changing its color with dirt particles that are being generated by someone else’s pitch.

Pitchers experience scuffing a lot as they usually are throwing a lot of pitches and they rarely take a break. This is why they have to be careful about the scuffing of baseballs. Or, they can ask catchers for help.

As pitchers have many ways to cheat by scuffing the ball. There are some restrictions for them, such as:

  • They can’t scuff the ball when it’s in their glove
  • They cannot scuff a ball that is at their feet
  • They mustn’t use any tools to scuff a ball (i.e. pen, glasses, etc.)

Scuffing a Baseball

Frequently Asked Questions

#1 How Long Does a Baseball Last?

A baseball can last up to 6 months if it is kept in a vacuum, without being scuffed or soiled. However, most baseballs are likely to be used within 20 days.

How long does a baseball last? It depends on many factors such as quality and maintenance. If you want to know how long a certain baseball lasts for the longest time possible then your best bet is to buy an official MLB baseball. Don’t expect it to last 3 months because that’s just too long for anyone to use in the field.

#2 Do They Reuse Baseballs That Hit the Dirt?

Of course, I’ve heard rumors about reused baseballs and some people do claim that baseballs have reused that hit the dirt. They can be used for bat practicing but not for an official game.

#3 Are White Baseballs Used More Often Than Other Colors?

Partly yes, but they all have the same functionality and they all get filthy after a while of being used on a field. White ones are just a little easier to spot.

#4 Can a Baseball Be Used If It Hit the Ground?

Yes, it can absolutely be used again, as long as it wasn’t scuffed or soiled that much. The baseballs that are used on the field aren’t bleached in any way, so there is no need to worry about anything more than dirt stains. So, you should be able to use your ball for several more games even if it hits the ground when you catch a pop fly.

Final Words

To conclude, when you throw a pitch and it hits the ground, then this can cause a baseball to change its colors.

Nowadays, umpires have special ways to check if a ball has been soiled prior to throwing it. Even if the ball was thrown in the field, umpires have special equipment that can be used to check for any dirt on it. These tools are called magnetic brushes or metal detectors and they can be used for all kinds of balls from softballs to basketballs.