If you’ve ever attended an MLB game in person and paid close attention, you’ve probably noticed that players go through plenty of baseballs during just one game.
Every couple of pitches, especially if the ball touches the dirt, the catcher will hand the ball over to the umpire to get rid of it.
The next pitch is thrown using the brand-new ball.
Plus, at every game, some balls will end up out of play, after a home run or as a result of a foul ball. None of these balls are used at an MLB game again.
Over the course of just one game, used balls quickly pile up and their number commonly goes well over 100.
With a number of discarded balls this huge, you’re probably wondering what does MLB do with used baseballs.
Below, I’ll explain what happens with these balls and where do they end up.
So, let’s dive in!
What Does MLB Do With Used Baseballs?
Of course, all these balls don’t end up in the trash. That wouldn’t be practical, smart, or cost-effective.
Even though they have been used and will never be employed as game-balls again, these baseballs still have value and the league is well aware of that.
Needless to say, some balls do get lost, but that’s only the small percentage that is the acceptable cost for the league.
For others, the league manages to find a new purpose and give them a second life.
A portion of the discarded ball will get hit by a bat again, as they are repurposed for batting or fielding practice before the next game, or during the whole homestand.
As balls are typically not used more than for a few pitches during the game, they’re usually still in good condition, so it would be a waste just to throw them out.
Plus, not using brand-new balls for practice is practical for both financial and environmental reasons.
The balls that remain functional will commonly get shipped to the Minor League affiliate of an MLB team.
However, even at a Minor League level, they will still be used only for practices and not in the actual games.
Sold As Memorabilia
Game-used baseballs that don’t end up at practice have a more interesting destiny. They get authenticated and sold to fans and collectors as memorabilia.
In the MLB, it’s the duty of every home team to collect and authenticate baseballs that have been discarded.
Depending on the play they were used for, game-used balls can vary in value. Regular game balls, used in most regular season games, usually go for around $20-25.
Nevertheless, baseballs that were a part of a more significant moment or play are much more expensive.
Commonly, these are the balls from the postseason game-winning home run, balls used in a perfect game, or those that were a part of a milestone achievement for a certain player.
At times, these balls can reach incredible values, well over $1 million.
The most expensive game ball ever sold was the one Mark McGwire hit for his 70th home run.
The Process Of Game Ball Authentication
To make sure that balls sold as memorabilia are genuine and not fakes, the league has established a very rigorous process of establishing their authenticity.
Once the ball has been discarded for whatever reason, it’s tossed to a home dugout or taken away by a batboy.
Then, it’s handed to the authenticator, typically while the game is still in progress.
He’s responsible for game balls and his job is to keep track of every baseball used and document what happened during the play.
The authenticator notes the game date, pitch count at the moment the ball was discarded, and the name of the batter at the home plate at the time.
In addition, the team officer sticks an MLB hologram to the ball. This ensures that the ball can’t be tampered with.
Each ball is assigned a serial number, registered in the MLB software, and entered into the Gameday app.
How Can You Get A Game-Used Baseball?
When the balls are authenticated by the team officials, the next step is to label and package them.
Once they’re entered into the online database, they’re ready to be sold to collectors and fans.
Commonly, they’re available for purchase the day after the game, both at the merchandise store at the stadium and online.
In some cases, it’s even possible to buy a game-used ball while the game in question is still in progress.
Other game memorabilia, such as broken bats or game-worn jerseys, go through a similar process.
Game-used balls that are really special, meaning that they have been used in a significant play, are usually shipped off to MLB offices in New York.
There, the league organizes auctions where these valuable balls are sold to big-time collectors.
Where Else Can Game-Used Baseballs End Up?
As I explained, most game-used baseballs are either used for practices or sold to fans and collectors.
However, a smaller number of balls can have a different destiny. Some balls are kept by players.
This usually happens when a certain player makes a play that’s significant to him and wants to have a lasting memory of that moment.
It can be the first or milestone home run, double play, strikeout, or any other moment important to the player.
Of course, a number of balls will always end up with the fans in the stands. This happens after a home run or foul ball.
Fans often seek seats that are in the sections of the stadium where these balls are likely to end up and wear gloves hoping to catch them.
In addition, a ball can be given to fans by a player to show his appreciation for the support.
With the same baseball commonly used only for a few pitches, most of them see the game for only a few minutes.
This happens for various reasons, but mostly because the ball hits the dirt and is no longer considered safe or fair to play with.
Every year, the MLB teams go through thousands of balls used at their games.
As they, of course, are not free, the league has found ways to put them to use even though they can’t be used at actual games anymore, giving them a second purpose as practice balls or memorabilia for the fans.