Blame it on the Dirt – The Tale of Scuffed Baseballs
While watching the average Major League Baseball game, we routinely see a pitch hit the dirt and the baseball is automatically tossed out of the game by the umpire – and sometimes tossed out of the game directly by the players – without even looking for a scuff mark.
In the “old days”, if a ball hit the dirt, the umpire would turn it over in his hands, taking a long look for scuff marks. Sometimes the ball would be tossed out of the game. But just as often, the ball was put right back into play or the umpire would put it in his pocket for use later in the game.
Why the difference? It’s the dirt, according to head groundskeeper Bob Christofferson. Around 20-25 years ago, big league teams started using a thin layer of a substance called “calcified clay” to cover the basic clay/dirt infield. This substance provides a superior playing surface because it absorbs water and holds it through a complete game.
Today all 30 ML teams use the calcified clay on the dirt areas (infield, baselines, mound and plate), and the calcified clay scuffs the ball enough to be removed from the game about 99.9% of the time.
There are three main suppliers of calcified clay in Major League ballparks. Bob uses the brand name “Turface” at Safeco Field. In fact, he says about 20 tons of the substance is used each season, and about half is re-used at high school ballfields around western Washington, donated by Bob and the Mariners.