The baseball is an object that has evolved over time. Its main manufacturer is the Rawlings Sports Goods Company. It has transformed from being a soft ball to a rounder, hard, and small ball. A few of the raw materials have been changed and replaced with materials that are more durable, resilient, and efficient. For example, the baseball used to have a round rubber core, but now it is a cork. As the production of baseballs became a prominent process, there was more uniformity for what materials should be used and how baseballs should be made (“Baseball.”).
The purpose of this research paper is to explore how and what raw materials are used in the production, manufacturing, recycling, and waste management of baseballs. The entire life cycle of a baseball includes where the materials come from to create the baseball to when it gets recycled or disposed. By assessing the raw materials used in the life cycle of a baseball, we become more aware of how much energy is used to process the materials together and where the sources of baseball materials come from. We also begin to understand that not all of the raw materials that are used in the process of manufacturing a baseball will always be sustainable in the future if we use the materials at a faster rate than they can be renewed.
There are three main components that make up a baseball: a cork coated with layers of rubber in the center, the wool windings in the middle section, and the leather that covers the outside of the baseball (“Baseball.”). For the raw materials acquisition stage, the main raw materials associated in the production of a baseball consists of cowhide leather, latex, and wool. “Raw materials come in from Tennessee, New York, Alabama and Ohio” (Luxner).
For the manufacturing stage, there are many raw materials that are used, such as cowhide, rubber, fabric, and the cork. The leather exterior of a baseball is made from cowhide. Before 1974, the baseball exterior was made from horsehide. Rawlings Sporting Goods Company is the main producer of baseballs and it generates approximately 2.4 millions baseball every year. The company gets a majority of its cowhides from Pennsylvania, where Cargill’s beef plant is located. Holstein dairy cattle are known to be the best suited for creating baseball leather due to their hides being thinner. Their hides are also smoother compares to the hides of other cows in the United States. The white leather is produced in a tannery in Tennessee and then it is transported to factories in Costa Rica where it can be stitched on baseballs. Baseball leather needs to appear perfect, so great effort is made to minimize defects in cow hides. Waxed red thread is used to stitch the leather together. The red threads are known as seams, which are made out of cotton (Weber). Cowhides must go through examinations in order to make sure they are thick and strong enough before they receive approval for the production process (“Baseballs.”).
The center core of a baseball consists of a cork and surrounded by a rubber covering. Rubber was the main material that made up the core of a baseball. The core needs to be covered with a layer of black semi-hardened rubber and then another red rubber layer that cushions the cork. In 1910, the A.J. Reach & Company started producing baseballs that had a cork in the center covered with a hardened layer of rubber, which made the new baseball more bouncy, strong, and sturdy. Japan was a country where the U.S. got its rubber supplies from before World War II. During the war, the use of natural rubber was prohibited unless it was for the war effort. Therefore, balata, a tropical American tree, was temporarily used as a replacement for crude rubber. However, the balata was not as resilient as crude rubber. In 1944, rubber production resumed and more synthetic rubber was produced. Synthetic rubber started to become a huge development in countries such as the United States and Germany. Synthetic rubbers are made from petrochemicals. Neoprene is one of the most popular brand of synthetic rubbers and it is made from mixing acetylene and hydrochloric acid together (Woodford). In modern times, the main producers of synthetic rubber are still the U.S. and Germany, along with France and Russia. Now, rubber is a crucial material needed to manufacture a baseball (Klein).
Natural rubber is a stretchy material that is harvested from white gooey liquid known as latex. Latex is a raw material that comes from many different plants such as dandelions and tree such as the Hevea brasiliensis, which is more commonly known as the rubber tree. Latex oozes out from the stems of plants or from the bark of the rubber tree. Approximately 99% of the world uses natural rubber from the rubber tree. The rubber tree is originally from Brazil, but it was later introduced to Far East countries including Malaysia, Burma, Indonesia, China, Vietnam, and Cambodia (Woodford).
When rubber is manufactured, different types of additives are used in the mixing process to give different effects to the rubber. These additives include polymers, fillers (carbon black), vulcanisation agents, and colorants. Fillers (carbon black) are for making the rubber stronger and stiffer. To make vulcanized rubber that is needed for the baseball, the latex needs to be heated. Sulfur and vulcanising agents like tellurium and selenium are needed for the heating process, but sulfur is the most common chemical that is used (“Recycling of Rubber.”).
The raw material used for making corks is harvested from the cork oak tree. Most of the commercial cork oak trees are grown in the western Mediterranean and the Iberian Peninsula. “Portugal's cork forests are the most productive. Accounting for 30% of the existing trees, they produce half of the world's harvested cork.” (“Cork.”) When a cork tree is around 20 years old, that means it is ready for its first harvest for corks. However, the first harvest is generally not the best quality. The harvests after the first harvest, is when the corks are higher quality due to the increase in thickness of the corks. When harvesting from a younger cork tree, approximately 35 pounds of cork can be extracted. When harvesting from an older cork tree, approximately 500 pounds of cork can be extracted (“Cork.”).
Wool yarn is a fabric that is a secondary material used during the manufacturing process of a baseball when machines are used to wrap the wool around the baseball core. In the midsection of a baseball, there are four different layers of wool and poly-cotton windings that surround the core. (Davenport) The first three layers are made of wool yarn. Wool yarn is made from different raw materials such as the wool fibers produced from sheep, goats, rabbits, and other similar species. Wool can be obtained from these animal species in regions like New Zealand, Australia, China, and Eastern Europe. Wool fibers are natural materials that is also known as the protein, keratin, that generally comes in different lengths depending on the breeding type of sheep (“Wool.”). The fourth outermost layer is a winding of a blend of poly-cotton yarn. Poly-cotton blend is mixture of polyester and cotton. Cotton is a commodity that is grown globally as a cash crop. However, it is mostly harvested from Africa, South America, and southern United States. Polyester is a synthetic material created from petrochemicals (Litherland). By weaving together the raw material of cotton and the synthetic material of polyester, a new secondary material, poly-cotton, is produced. After the four layers of yarn are wrapped together to surround the core, an adhesive is used to glue the yarns to the cowhide exterior (“Baseball.”).
Producing wool also requires water and different chemicals in order to change the extracted wool from animals into high quality wool fibers. The raw wool that is directly extracted from sheep contains several contaminants such as grease, sand, dirt, and sweat. In order to wash off the contaminants, water, alkali, soda ash, and soap are needed (“Wool.”).
For the distribution and transportation stages, mainly trucks and planes are used to transfer materials such as cowhide to factories in Costa Rica. Therefore, materials that are used during this process are jet fuel and gas. Jet fuel, also known as aviation fuel, comes from refined oil and it consists mainly of kerosene. Jet fuels are predominantly made from crude oil, which is a liquid petroleum. Jet fuels can also be derived from a natural material inside shale, fine-grained sedimentary rocks. The natural material found in shale is called kerogen (“Aviation Fuel”).
The raw material used for the production of gasoline is crude oil or petroleum. Crude oil and petroleum can be gathered from drilling underground in wells or reservoirs. Crude oil is derived from the remains of dead animals and plants on the bottom of the seafloor mixed with mud. As the remains are covered with more sediment, they form into crude oil along with the increases in pressure and temperature. Different chemicals such as octane and heptane are added into gasolines to prevent combustion (“Gasoline or petrol.”).
For the recycling of baseballs, generally all of the baseball materials can be recycled or biodegradable. These materials include the wool yarn, rubber, and leather from animals. Leathers such as the cow leather is a textile that can be recyclable and repurposed for other goods. Due to the abundance of rubber in many objects such as baseballs, recycling rubber has started to become a more prevalent process, which helps to prevent rubber from filling in landfills. Recycling rubber is important because the process is less energy intensive than generating new rubber. Furthermore, when rubber is recycled, it lowers the demand for harvesting natural rubber. The importance of recycling rubber is that it will help sustain the environment by preventing rubber tree plantations from increasing and growing into more ecosystems (“Is Rubber Recyclable?”).
Recycling rubber is a chemical process. Acid reclamation is a chemical process that requires hot sulphuric acid and heat in order to break down the rubber efficiently. Another process is known as alkali recovery, which uses alkali mixed with heat in order to reclaim and recover the vulcanized and hardened rubber (“Recycling of Rubber.”).
When leather is recycled, there are several materials that are added in the process. First it is grinded into shredded pieces and water is added to this process. After, the mix is combined with binding materials like acacia wood bark and natural rubber (“Leather.” ). As for waste management and re-use process, I was unable to find any relevant information related to baseballs.
In conclusion, a lot of the raw materials come from natural sources such as trees, plants, and animals. However, the gathering of these raw materials that are used may possibly pose severe environmental consequences because it takes a lot of energy and resources to harvest trees and feed animals. Therefore, if we are consuming and using these raw materials at a faster rate that these materials can be renewed, it is not very sustainable for the environment.
1. “Aviation Fuel.” 20 Apr. 2012,
2. “Baseball.” How Products Are Made, www.madehow.com/Volume-1/Baseball.html.
3. “Cork.” How Products Are Made, www.madehow.com/Volume-5/Cork.html.
4. Davenport, Matt. “What's in baseballs, and can materials explain a spike in scoring?” CEN
RSS, 20 June 2017,
5. Exploratorium. “Inside Baseball: What Gives a Baseball Its Bounce?” Scientific American, 18
6. “Gasoline or petrol.” Econtrader Technology, technology.econtrader.com/gasoline.htm.
7. “Is Rubber Recyclable?” Home Guides | SF Gate,
8. Klein, Christopher. “The Rubbery History of the Baseball.” History.com, A&E Television
Networks, 28 Oct. 2015, www.history.com/news/the-rubbery-history-of-the-baseball.
9. “Leather.” Business Recycling, businessrecycling.com.au/recycle/leather.
10. Litherland, Neal. “How Is Poly Cotton Made?” Our Everyday Life, 28 Sept. 2017,
11. Luxner, Larry. “BASEBALL MAKER DEMONSTRATES IMPRESSIVE DELIVERY.”
JOC, 18 Sept. 1989,
12. “Recycling of Rubber.” Practical Action,
13. Weber, Liz. “Play ball! When it comes to baseball leather, not just any hide will do.” Play
ball! When it comes to baseball leather, not just any hide will do | Cargill, 27 July 2016,
14. Woodford, Chris. “Rubber: A simple introduction.” Explain that Stuff, 20 Aug. 2017,
15. “Wool.” How Products Are Made, www.madehow.com/Volume-1/Wool.html.
Baseball: Embodied Energy
Baseball is played throughout all ages and levels, from Little League to the MLB. It was first introduced into American history during the Civil War (1861-1865) and was known as a game called rounders, which was actually a game played by English children using a ball and cricket. However, many theories have been put forth as to where as the original game originates from, as a ball and bat games have appeared throughout history. More interestingly, from this emerged some of America’s most memorable sport heroes, e.g. Babe Ruth, Mel Ott,..etc, and what we know today as one of America’s national pastime. In early baseball history, “no two baseballs were identical” which eventually led to inconsistent games known as “Dead-Ball Era” (Rymer) until 1876, when the National Baseball League was established and a professional pitcher, A. G. Spalding lent his baseball design to be the modern standard of baseball, later applied by the Rawlings company, who become the official MLB ball supplier. As of 2005, the MLB is estimated to use nearly 900,000 balls each year, most of them given to fans or lost in game progress, it’s a rare moment for professional league balls to be thoroughly used. It’s expected every year that the numbers will increase. This essay will analyze the embodied energy used in a baseball’s lifecycle, which is the accumulated energy from its raw material acquisition, to production, and then final use to compare how it’s currently used compared to its energy costs.
Throughout historical baseball games, many materials were used and tested by ordinary players and professionals alike. Often times, the ball’s material deciding the game’s experience. So in 1876 when A.G. Spalding introduced his design, the recommended materials used in baseball were set. In present times, Rawlings has a simple list of materials and via through deals with other American companies, is able to gather the necessary ingredients to create the MLB’s ball, “MLB leaves no room for creativity in the manufacture of the balls it uses” (“Baseballs”). The raw materials of a baseball is primarily made of four things and is assembled in this order: cork, rubber, yarn (wool and synthetic), and leather. It is assumed all of the materials are sent directly to Rawlings’ factories in Costa Rica for assembly either through water, ground, and/or flight method and then received using human labor to production location. The entire transportation route from original source to the factories means a lot of energy was used since many locations were involved. Therefore each material probably required ground vehicles, ships, and/or air-freight planes, which use fuel/coal to power their engines and human drivers; Chemical, kinetic, and gravitational energy are all involved.
The cork comes from an unnamed company in Mississippi and it this paper assumes that cork acquisition is similar if not same for all companies. “Cork is composed of dead cells that accumulate on the outer surface of the cork oak tree” (“Cork”). First, machine harvesters are used to cut off cork layers on the tree, they act like big knives, so a swinging action is used meaning kinetic and electrical energy (which may be assumed throughout paper from another primary source and through a energy source converted into energy) is expended by the machine which includes the human operator. Next, chemical energy takes place as the cork planks are left out to cure through several months. The final process uses human labor and machine to prepare cork for different final production methods, depending on its purpose. The most common energy used in the latter are kinetic and chemical such as when the workers move the planks around and treat them with water and chemicals, and machines cutting the planks again.
The location of where Rawlings obtains its rubber is not disclosed. It is also probable that the rubber is synthetic given: “Synthetic rubber was being mass-produced in the States by 1944, and there was plenty of it for baseballs” (Rymer), increasing demand for natural rubber may also contribute to this probability. However the processes between natural and synthetic are different, whereas the latter is mostly chemical reactions happening in a lab, natural rubber is almost exclusively obtained in South America, home to the main rubber tree: Hevea brasiliensis. Natural rubber acquisition requires human labor throughout its process. Although both processes use chemical energy, natural rubber is less dependent on it and more on humans tapping and collecting sap, kinetic energy, whereas synthetic is vice versa.
The yarn again comes from an unnamed company in Vermont but another source also points to New Zealand as the yarn source. Although four types of yarn are used in the baseball, with the first three being wool and the last one a poly material, the energy expended to make them is generally same. “Yarn consists of several strands of material twisted together. Each strand is, in turn, made of fibers, all shorter than the piece of yarn that they form. These short fibers are spun into longer filaments to make the yarn” (“Yarn”). Yarn is usually made from sheep’s wool, and mostly expands kinetic and electrical energy in form of human labor using machines. Present yarn production is quite automized compared to the past, rarely requiring human labor but it still requires worker to set up the raw materials into the machinery. The raw materials go through several machines, each one spinning and combing the strings into yarn. Most of the energy in this production is electrical and kinetic most of which produced by the engines in the machine and their movements.
The final material is cowhide turned leather. To acquire their signature white balls, Rawlings currently uses Tennessee Tanning Company’s leather from Holstein cowhide. Base off standard tanning procedures and pictures from the company’s website, it seems most steps involve chemically altering the hide. “The conventional tanning process takes the hide through as many as 15 steps—from soaking, liming, and pickling to tanning, dyeing, and fatliquoring…” (Short). The purpose of each step is to break the natural bonds in hide, and a lot of chemical energy is expended in order to break those bonds. While many chemical products are used, tanning is also a heavy labor job, as workers have wash and dry hide multiple times before the final product is finished. This procedure is mostly uses chemical and kinetic energy. During this part of the research process, I had messaged the company to find more about their basic shipping methods and received this reply about the inquiry: “proprietary information we cannot share” (TN Tanning).
As noted before, trucks, ships, and freight-planes are mostly used to transport the materials to Rawlings’ factories “in the town of Turrialba in central Costa Rica” (Josephs). Once materials are gathered and prepared by workers, it takes about a week to create the baseballs, which includes production and drying time. Production is split into three main parts and quality checks are done after production.
The first part is making the pill, the baseball’s inner cork sphere surrounded by black and then red rubber. This part requires a machine in order meet the precise measurements set by the MLB. Afterwards, the pills are transferred to a drum machine and coated with rubber cement. After the pill is the center, which is essentially a yarn encased pill done in four layers. Once again a spinning machine is used, this time to tightly wound yarn around the pill. After the four layers are finished, human labor is reintroduced and is essential in sewing the leather onto the center. This finale process has not been automated yet, although inventors have tried, it is hard because sewing requires human sense of pressure. Most of the manufacturing process involved machines, given MLB’s incline to uniformity, but the final part is labor intensive. Most energies used in this process are electrical, kinetic, and a little bit of chemical (chemical adhesives are used on the pill). It’s shocking to discover how much hand work goes into one baseball, with its 108 stitches as humanly perfect distributed around the ball and then see a professional player lose it after one successful home run.
Quality checks are done by pitching machines that act like mini cannons, firing randomly selected balls from each shipment. The balls are fired at a wall made of northern white ash, the official wood used for MLB bats. These machines are most likely powered by electricity since they are portable and relatively small. I did not find where the balls were being tested, nor other quality checkers involving massive energy use. However, before games, the umpire(s) will expand labor to rub the balls with a special clay in addition to checking the balls’ uniformity.
After Costa Rica, one location which the balls are shipped to is Miami, Florida. It’s most likely that the packaged balls are trucked to a freight plane then flown to various location as many retailers feature the Rawlings’ signature ball in their catalog. A google search of “MLB baseball” alone showed multiple places to purchase the ball. This process costs human labor, vehicle fuel, aviation fuel, which all contain potential energy and become kinetic (once the transporter moves, all the human labor involved), chemical (burning the diesel), and distribution and transportation of the market ready balls. We can also include energy used by Rawlings and other retailers when they advertise and/or sell the ball online. With wide distribution and each respective purchased ball shipped costing some energy, this contributes a significant amount of to the baseball’s embodied energy.
The MLB collaborates with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to be ecofriendly in its operation. The NRDC is “an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 2 million members and online activists” (“Get Started”) whose focus is on protecting natural resources, public health, and the environment. However, other than this organization, neither MLB or Rawlings takes special measures to recycle the baseball. At the end of games, baseballs will be either lost, in the hands of a fan, “recycled into batting practice ball”, or “sometimes ship them down to the minor league system” but ultimately “in the major leagues, baseballs are discarded without any thought given to it” (foxsports). Real recycling may happen when the baseballs hit the landfill, which expands energy as trucks have to move it around and cranes further move it in the landfill. However, no research is available yet as to if the balls are or can be broken down to be recycled and then reused.
As of March 2015, MLB alone commissions 2.4 million balls from Rawlings, before its Costa Rican factory foreclosure later that year in September. However, this is only because Rawlings have moved to El Salvador where “[it’s] is more cost-effective, with a higher manufacturing volume” (Rico). Although this change may be better for production costs in terms of money, Rawlings probably doesn’t want to address how their baseballs are used in the MLB, where the “life span of a baseball is indeed more than two pitches, though not by much” (foxsport). When reviewing the baseball’s life cycle through analyzing its embodied energy, the sport doesn’t seem sustainable for the amount of energy and effort its costs.
1. “Baseball in America: A History” Fact Monster.
© 2000–2017 Sandbox Networks, Inc., publishing as Fact Monster.
6 Mar. 2018 <https://www.factmonster.com/sports/baseball/baseball-america-history/>.
2. “History of Baseball.” WBSC, www.wbsc.org/baseball/history-of-baseball/.
3. Rymer, Zachary D. “The Evolution of the Baseball From the Dead-Ball Era Through Today.” Bleacher Report, Bleacher Report, 12 Apr. 2017, bleacherreport.com/articles/1676509-the-evolution-of-the-baseball-from-the-dead-ball-era-through-today.
4. Roth, Mark. “MLB: The true life story of baseballs.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 22 May 2005, old.post-gazette.com/pg/05142/508138.stm.
5. “Baseball.” How Products Are Made, www.madehow.com/Volume-1/Baseball.html.
6. “Cork.” How Products Are Made, www.madehow.com/Volume-5/Cork.html.
7. “Yarn.” How Products Are Made, wwww.madehow.com/Volume-3/Yarn.html.
8. Gent, Alan N. “Rubber.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., 23 May 2016, www.britannica.com/science/rubber-chemical-compound.
9. “Baseballs.” WHAT'S THAT STUFF? - Baseballs, 29 Mar. 1999, pubs.acs.org/cen/whatstuff/stuff/7713scit3.html.
10. Short, Patricia. “What's that stuff? Leather.” CEN RSS, cen.acs.org/articles/85/i28/Leather.html.
11. Josephs, Leslie. “Made in Costa Rica: U.S. Major League baseballs.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 9 Mar. 2010, www.reuters.com/article/us-costarica-baseballs/made-in-costa-rica-u-s-major-league-baseballs-idUSTRE62831Z20100309.
12. TN Tanning. “Re: Form Submission.” Received by Jiaqi Huang, 13 Mar. 2018.
13. “Energy Use for Transportation.” Energy Use for Transportation - Energy Explained, Your Guide To Understanding Energy - Energy Information Administration, U.S. Department of Energy, www.eia.gov/energyexplained/?page=us_energy_transportation.
14. “Get Started.” MLB, mlb.greensports.org/.
15. “Major League Baseballs Dirty Little Secret.” Now I Know, nowiknow.com/major-league-baseballs-dirty-little-secret/.
16. Rico. “Rawlings Announced Closure of Costa Rica Plant, 200 Lay Offs.” Q Costa Rica, 24 Sept. 2017, qcostarica.com/rawlings-announced-closure-of-costa-rica-plant-200-lay-offs/.
17. Foxsports. “Major league baseballs have a short shelf-Life.” FOX Sports, 30 June 2012, www.foxsports.com/other/story/major-league-baseballs-have-a-short-shelf-life-062912.
Baseball: Waste Management
Baseball is a classic all-American sport, so it is no wonder that millions of baseballs are manufactured and sold each year. However, each individual baseball has its own lifecycle that often extends far beyond how long we use and own them. These lifecycles factor in the waste that baseballs create which has an impact on our environment. In order to be responsible consumers, it is important that we understand the lifecycle of a baseball and what kind of waste one baseball can create – more specifically, a Rawlings baseball can create.
Before starting any game of baseball a baseball needs to be supplied. For Major League Baseball the official supplier of baseballs is Rawlings. Rawlings has been the official Major League Baseball supplier since 1977, however the company itself has been in business since 1887. Rawlings opened its first factory in St.Louis, Mo and later moved its production to Haiti then the beautiful lands of Turrialba, Costa Rica. Minor League baseballs are also produced in China according to journalist Ron Cervenka. It should also be noted that China is the main producer or baseballs world wide, producing approximately 80 percent of baseballs (Broderick). It is unknown how much of that 80 percent is attributed to Rawlings factory in China. This also means that there is another 20 percent left unaccounted for by my research and it is unknown how big of a percentage Rawlings contributes overall to baseball production. However, according to journalist Leslie Josephs, Rawlings factory in Costa Rica produces approximately 2.4 million baseballs a year for the MLB (Major League Baseball). Now, this is a lot of information based on approximations, but it is important to quantify the amount of baseballs being produced in order to better understand the overall waste created by a single baseball. As I have mentioned, 2.4 million baseballs are produced by Rawlings factory in Costa Rica, however there is no further information on what percentage that 2.4 million is of the remaining 20 percent of baseballs not being produced by Rawlings. It should also be noted that, each company producing baseballs are more than likely using the same materials, so when looking at the waste created by the materials, the amount of waste is much larger than the waste created by Rawlings themselves.
To make a baseball, cork, rubber, wool yarn, cotton yarn, polyester yarn, cowhide, latex adhesive. Some companies use rubber cement but for Rawlings, latex adhesive is preferred. Sports Illustrated for kids provided great information on the production process of a Rawlings baseball- this will be a good place to start before digging further into each individual material used to make a baseball. According to Sports Illustrated Kids, Holstein cows provide the leather used to make the “casing” for a baseball. How It’s Made specifies that two “casings” are used for one baseball. This leather is sent to Tennessee Tanning Company where the leather is treated with chemicals to make it a “bright white”. After the leather has been treated it is then sent to the Rawlings factory in Costa Rica. The very center of a baseball is called a “pill” and is composed of three layers: a cork center, a black rubber layer, then a red rubber layer. The pill is then coated in latex adhesive to allow the yarn to stick. The “pill” is wrapped by five different layers of yarn. The wool used to make the yarn comes from New Zealand sheep. The “pill” is first wrapped in 121 yards of four-ply blue-gray yarn. The blue-gray yarn is then wrapped in 45 yards of fine white poly-wool yarn, followed by 53 yards of three-ply blue- gray yarn, and then finished with a layer of 150 yards of fine white poly-cotton blend yarn. At this point in production the ball is now referred to as a “center” which is then coated in another layer of latex adhesive. The leather “casings” are then fitted onto the ball and 108 stitches of red yarn are hand stitched to secure it all together. The baseball is then placed in a machine that rolls the ball around to compress everything. The ball then spends the night in an air conditioned room before being stamped by a three headed stamp machine. The baseball is then shipped back to the United States and is sent to a secret location in Delware, New Jersey where it is rubbed with a special mud to remove any gloss – this will improve the grip of the baseball. Now according to Sports Illustrated Kids around 120 baseballs are used per Major League baseball game, and each individual ball only has a life span of about 6-7 pitches. Keeping this in mind, according to How It’s Made, it takes about one full week for one baseball to be made, this is a lot of time and energy being put into a baseball where its tossed out after a few pitches. It is important to note that baseballs that do not meet the MLB standards are sold to the general public and these baseballs often last a bit longer, although my research was not able to find an exact lifespan. As someone who grew up playing baseball, typically the baseball would last about a year or so. Now that we have a basic understanding of how the baseball is made, lets look a little more closely at each material used along this process.
Holstein cows are more commonly known as “Dairy Cows” and there are approximately nine million Holstein cows in the United States alone (Holstein Association USA). Roughly ninety million pounds of manure is produced by dairy cows a year according to Yale Environment 306. The website provides great information about manure issues caused by dairy farms and the site states that although manure can be used as a fertilizer, the farms often use the manure as fertilizer, they often have much more manure than they need. As a result, the left over manure is stored in lagoons. Another issue raised by the amount of manure produced by Holstein cows is that there are often issues with spillage where drinking water is contaminated and the manure also creates a nitrogen issue where the levels of nitrogen found in water makes it unsafe to drink. As stated by Yale Environment 360 “In excess, manure’s nutrients — largely nitrogen and phosphorus — can create problems. Too much in surface water can create algae blooms that result in hypoxic or oxygen-deprived dead zones According to the EPA, excess nutrients from agriculture, including chemical fertilizers and dairy manure, are a major source of water pollution across the US”. This is only part of the issue according to the site, they go on to explain that in agricultural areas where there is heavy use of fertilizer, the drinking water also runs the risk of containing any pathogens, antibiotics, and hormones that the cows may possess. In addition, dairy cows contribute to green house gasses which has contributed to global warming. According to the Journal of Dairy Science “Methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes substantially to global warming, accounts for approximately 52% of the greenhouse gas emissions in both developing and developed countries (FAO, 2010). Enteric CH4composes 17% of global methane and is therefore the single largest source of anthropogenic CH4 (Knapp et al., 2014). Agriculture is considered to be the major producer of anthropogenic CH4, and most CH4 is naturally emitted by dairy cows during the microbial fermentation of feed components (Gerber et al., 2013)”. Now, there is a lot to be said about the environmental impact of dairy cows, however, the main reason that this is being mentioned is because the main source of cowhide that Rawlings uses comes from Holstein cows and they receive the cowhide from many different farms across the Midwest and even from some areas in Canada according to Ohio State University. Based on what information I was able to find; it is unclear how much cowhide is used by Rawlings.
Another main component of the baseball is wool which is acquired from New Zealand Sheep. The same issue regarding waste and emissions is also seen with sheep so there is no need to re explain that issue. According to Sheep 101, one sheep can produce anywhere between two pounds to thirty pounds of wool. Now when searching for information on how much yarn can be made from one pound of wool, there are mixed answers due to the fact that yarn can yield different weights. However, I was able to find from Weavolution, that five pounds of wool can produce about 2500 yards of three- ply yarn, which is about 500 yards of yarn per pound. Based on the findings from Sports Illustrated Kids, it takes about 400 yards of yarn to produce one baseball. It should be noted that the weights of the yarn are all different so this number is by no means exact or correct, it is just an estimate. It was also found that 120 baseballs are used per MLB game, which means that 48,000 yards of yarn or 9,600 pounds of wool - 320 sheep - is wasted each game. This is assuming that the 320 sheep are all producing the maximum of thirty pounds of wool. That is a lot of waste considering that wool/yarn can be used to make other textiles. Cotton based yarn is also used to make baseballs and the wool and cotton yarn is assumed to be produced by factories – no solid evidence was found on this however since Rawlings is a factory, it is a safe assumption that all yarn produced is mass produced. With this assumption in mind the factories producing the yarn will also be contributing to emissions.
Moving on to the rubber and cork cores of the baseball. According to Minyanville, Rawlings imports their baseball cores from Muscle Shoals Rubber Company in Batesville, Mississippi. Rubber and cork are both naturally sourced material and can be acquired from the Hevea brasiliensis, also known as the “Rubber Tree”. Rubber is derived from a milky substance called latex. Latex can be acquired by making a “V” cut into the tree and letting the latex seep out and be collected by a cup (Woodford). From here, to make the actual rubber that is widely used, the latex is then mixed with formic acid which causes it to coagulate. Rubber sheets are then made and shipped off. Since rubber is in high demand, the recycling and reuse of rubber is very common according to HomeGuides. The recycling of rubber is more energy efficient that the actual production of rubber. Cork on the other hand is natural and does not cause any deforestation. According to Catavino, cork comes from Oak trees and much like how sheep a shorn, the oak tree is also shaved. This process does not hurt the tree. The cork trees require little rain or nutrition which makes them slightly better for the environment. Cork is the least harmful material used when it comes to the production of a baseball.
For the most part this is the basic break down of all the materials used in manufacturing a baseball, with a general idea of how the material is manufactured while keeping in mind the environmental impact. In general, the materials involved in making a baseball can be recycled and are biodegradable. There was no specific information on how a baseball as a whole can be recycles, but it can be assumed that once the stitching is removed, gaining access to the individual materials is fairly simple. Once the baseball has been taken apart, recycling or reuse of the material can be done. Although the materials can be recycled or repurposed, the acquisition of these materials still requires transportation to and from the Rawlings factory, and even in this step do we see waste and emissions.
Based on the informational video done by Sports Illustrated Kids on Rawlings baseball, the majority of their materials require shipping via ship primarily. Cowhides are transported from Tennessee and to Rawlings factory in Costa Rica which requires some sort of fuel use. The baseballs themselves are also shipped from Costa Rica and back to the United States. To put it simply, there is a significant amount of fuel used and there was no information found that would provide exactly how much fuel is used by Rawlings, however, there is information on what kind of effects fuel has on the environment. According to the Environmental Protection Agency “When oil and gas are extracted, water that had been trapped in the geologic formation is brought to the surface. This “produced water” can carry with it naturally-occurring dissolved solids, heavy metals, hydrocarbons, and radioactive materials in concentrations that make it unsuitable for human consumption and difficult to dispose of safely”. Oil and gas drilling also results in methane gas emissions which as mentioned before is a huge contributor to green house gasses which has lead to global warming. Ships also contribute to carbon dioxide emissions and also contribute to ballast water discharge which can harm the marine environment (UK Marine). Ballast water discharge contains materials from plants, animals, various viruses and bacteria. The discharge can introduce non-native and invasive exotic species that can cause ecological damage to marine ecosystems. The discharge can also lead to human health issues. For the most part I was unable to find all the transportation details of the Rawlings company aside from shipment via ships, which I am assuming is the main transportation method used by the company.
When it comes to a consumerist economy such as our own, it is hard to keep track of all the different materials being used to produced various products. It is even harder to do so when most of the materials are coming from places that are no where near where we live. A baseball is a fairly simply product – at least so it seems – but even with its minimal required materials, it still creates a large amount of waste and emissions. It is also important to note that in all this research there is still a lot of missing information regarding the overall impact a baseball has on the environment. In order to be a more responsible consumer it is encouraged to research brands and products before they are purchased. If all consumers can manage to be more informed about what it is they are consuming then there is a greater chance for accountability, change, and progression towards a better and more sustainable future.
“As Dairy Farms Grow Bigger, New Concerns About Pollution.” Yale E360,
Blaskey, Sarah. “Costa Rica's Major League Concern.” The Tico Times Costa Rica, Tico Times, 12
Nov. 2014, www.ticotimes.net/2014/11/12/costa-ricas-major-league-concern.
Buglar, Beth, et al., directors. How an Official MLB Baseball Is Made. YouTube, Sports Illustrated
Kids, 29 June 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=ddWRAcbg7Fk.
Broderick, Evelyn. “What Materials Are Baseballs Made of?” LIVESTRONG.COM,
Cervenka, Ron. “Rawlings Puts the Ball in Baseball.” Think Blue LA, 17 Oct. 2012,
“Environmental Impacts of Ballast Water Sourced from Ports and Harbours .” Environmental
Impacts of Ballast Water Sourced from Ports and Harbours,
“First Spinning Class Question.” First Spinning Class Question | Weavolution,
Henry, Dr.Beverly. “Environmental Impacts of Wool Textiles.” IWTO, International Wool Textile
Organisation, 2016, www.iwto.org/news/environmental-impacts-wool-textiles.
“The Hidden Costs of Fossil Fuels.” Union of Concerned Scientists, www.ucsusa.org/clean-
Holstein 101, Holstein Association USA, www.holsteinusa.com/holstein_breed/holstein101.html.
“How Its Made: Baseballs.” YouTube, Science Channel, 22 Mar. 2011,
“Is Rubber Recyclable?” Home Guides | SF Gate, homeguides.sfgate.com/rubber-recyclable-
Josephs, Leslie. “Made in Costa Rica: U.S. Major League Baseballs.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 9
“Part 1: The Real Cork – Where Does Cork Come from?” Food and Wine Tours in Portugal and
Spain, 23 Feb. 2018, catavino.net/part-1-the-real-cork-where-does-cork-come-from/.
“Predicting Methane Emissions of Lactating Danish Holstein Cows Using Fourier Transform Mid-
Infrared Spectroscopy of Milk.” Journal of Dairy Science, Elsevier, 13 Sept. 2017,
“Rawlings Baseball Gloves - Raw Materials.” Rawlings Baseball Gloves,
Rohrlich, Justin. “Not Made in the USA: Rawlings.” Minyanville, Minyanville, 25 Sept. 2009,
“Rubber: A Simple Introduction.” Explain That Stuff, 20 Aug. 2017,
Sheep 101: Wool Production, www.sheep101.info/wool.html.
Taylor, LaVonne. “History of the Rawlings Baseball.” LIVESTRONG.COM, Leaf Group, 11 Sept.
Weiner, Tim. “Low-Wage Costa Ricans Make Baseballs for Millionaires.” The New York Times, The
New York Times, 24 Jan. 2004, www.nytimes.com/2004/01/25/world/low-wage-costa-