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Moneyball

The World Series is in full swing, powered by the hidden labor of Costa Rican workers.

New York Yankees vs. Washington Senators, date unknown

  1. Eighty-five balls were used in game one, compared to between 90 and 120 usually used over the course of a game.
  2. The number of baseballs used in any particular game has steadily risen over the past half century. Over the past few years, the MLB has used roughly 900,000 balls in 2,430 regular season games.
  3. As the number of foul balls and home runs increases, along with the removal of fines for outfielders handing baseballs to fans, a new average lifespan for a major league baseball has appeared: eight days. This includes the time served as both batting practice, and in pitching machines.
  4. Rawlings manufactures their baseballs in a small factory in Costa Rica, offering workers $1.88 hourly — $1.21 in wages and $0.67 in retirement and health benefits.
  5. This amounts to roughly $4,600 a year. Many of the factory workers are unskilled and see baseball stitching as an alternative to being a farmhand.
  6. The more experienced stitchers are capable of stitching 30 to 35 baseballs in a day.
  7. A forty-eight hour work week implies 9.6 hours of work a day, meaning each hour the experienced worker can create 3.43 baseballs.
  8. At $1.88 an hour, this means each baseball has a labor tag of 54¢ a ball.
  9. The same amount of labor, under the United States federal minimum wage, would be $2.11.
  10. Rawlings sells the World Series baseball to the public for $30.
  11. And the largest consumer of the product is Major League Baseball itself, a conglomerate made up of thirty teams, whose average and median values are $1 billion and $802 million, respectively.
  12. The baseballs used in game one of the World Series cost the MLB $45.
  13. If Rawlings quadrupled this price for the MLB, to account exclusively for labor — to roughly equal the cost of labor in the United States and Costa Rica — the price would be $9,945.
  14. Standing-room-only tickets to last Friday’s game in San Francisco started at $493 in secondary markets.
  15. At that price, twenty-one attendants of the game would cover the cost of fair-labor baseballs.

This analysis is limited based on publicly available data. It ignores all manner of things wrong with the sport, from the move to luxury and premium seating at the expense of affordable seats, to the growing use of public funds to build private stadiums.

This also says nothing about the average life of a major league baseball — two plays, in a game, eight days altogether — before getting shipped to the minor league systems. One might imagine that if we are so intent on minimizing cost, we might give more plays to baseballs, vaguely reminiscent of the old “Sandlot” games.

However, the value of a baseball is so minimal that each team’s owner could take turns paying the less than $10,000 a game for fair-labor baseballs, and still enjoy a grand time within their 1 percent social circles.