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.

This photo shows a brand new baseball, a game ball that has been rubbed up by the umpires to take away the shine and slickness, and a ball that was scuffed during a game. And of course, they are sitting on the calcified clay.

- RA

14 Comments

Then why is a ball that’s been hit for like a base hit or gound out, stays in play (for the most part) it would seem to me that ball would also be “scuffed” but I rarely see a ball that has been hit thrown out.

how many balls do they go through in an average game. I was actually thinking about this last night while watching the Rainers play.

Nice explanation but a stupid waste of money in my opinion. The net effect of a light scuff on the ball can’t be all that bad and should be considered by all to be a part of the game. It’s the way baseball is played at virtually all other levels.

I think they should save up the balls through out the year and then give them out to all the kids at the end of the season as keepsakes.

What happens to all those balls? Are they used for practice or are they donated to schools?

I was thinking exactly what Dave said.

Sounds like a huge waste of money and baseballs for the already pampered players grow some balls.

That is because it wasn’t a glancing blow but hit directly. Hitting the ball directly doesn’t deform the ball as a foul ball does… ;-)

Can the tossed out balls be purchased?

why do they us it at Safco, the roof is closed when it rains.

@Dave – I once had a trivia calendar and the number of balls used in a game was one of the questions – wish I could remember the answer. The same calendar also listed the life span (in pitches) of an average baseball.
I bet a quick Google search can answer this . . .
ha – OK – the number of balls used in a 9 inning game is about 60 – 72 (per MLB) and the average lifespan of a base ball is 6 or 7 pitches.

How do I get ahold of Bob Christofferson about getting some reused “Turface” for our Grandview High School softball field? We are located in the Yakima Valley and we could probably rustle up a truck to haul it over the mountains. It is way beyond our miniscule budget to buy this product.

Leave your e-mail and we’ll try to get it to Bob. Thanks.

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