That authentic World Series baseball might not be so authentic after all.
Some baseballs marketed and sold as official 2019 postseason and World Series balls did not meet the requirements to qualify as an official, on-field ball, according to a report in The Athletic that quotes the COO of Rawlings, the company that manufactures the balls.
The report stems from research conducted by Meredith Wills, an astrophysicist who has studied MLB’s ball construction extensively. As part of her research, Wills purchased a batch of “official” 2019 postseason and World Series balls directly from Rawlings. The balls all came with markings that indicated they were the same balls used on the field during the playoffs. But Wills’ research concluded that, based on their construction, most of these balls were not pulled from 2019 production batches, according to The Athletic. Rawlings confirmed that it’s common for balls from a previous year’s batch to be stamped and sold in a later year, the report says.
Further, an email conservation between Wills and Rawlings COO Dennis Sollberger revealed that none of the officially marked balls was likely to meet the specifications for an on-field ball, raising questions of whether the marketing of these balls rises to fraud.
“(T)he balls that you procured are not balls that would be used on field,” Sollberger wrote to Wills.
However, Sollberger told Wills that “all of our production is set to produce game level balls” and that “every ball produced has the same leather, same core, same stitching, etc.
“Our sole effort is to assure that only the best balls make it on field. As such; with the grading protocol developed in conjunction with MLB balls are categorized as on field, commercial, or practice,” he wrote.
While one sports marketing expert interviewed by The Athletic used the world “fraudulent” to describe Rawlings’ methods, other sources indicated that while Rawlings’ marketing of these balls as authentic might upset fans who thought they’d purchased a legitimate postseason ball, it could be hard to prove actual fraud.
“Fraud and deceptive marketing are not the same thing,” Susan Grant, director of consumer protection and privacy at the Consumer Federation of America, told The Athletic. “To allege fraud requires a higher level of proof that somebody intended to, for instance, take money from people and not give them what they thought they were getting or anything at all.”
While Grant said she was hesitant to call this an instance of fraud, she still finds it “troubling” and said it could be of interest to state attorneys general or other law enforcement.
“It’s not just a matter of inartful wording,” she said in The Athletic’s report. “You’re sort of purposely putting what sounds like misleading labels on these things.”
An MLB spokesman referred questions about Rawlings’ commercial operations to the company, The Athletic reported.