Baseball may be a game of inches, but does it have to be monitored by IBM?
This week, 25 years ago, on July 24, 1983, I caught the George Brett pine tar baseball. Yes, I did, no lie. I sold it to the late Barry Halper, a minor owner of the Yankees who paid me $500 plus 12 tickets -- very good seats mind you -- for Yankee games that season.
To verify that the ball I caught was indeed The Pine Tar baseball, I produced the ticket stubs to show that I was sitting in the seats where the ball landed.
There was also some video that showed me in a striped shirt to verify my identity.
Well, times have certainly changed.
Holograms on baseballs
MLB and IBM announced a program called Hologram last week that, "when a fan catches a home run ball, a security guard will link up with the fan and place a unique hologram on the ball. This information will be wirelessly uploaded to MLB's IBM DB2 9 data server. This way, if the fan decides to sell the ball to a retailer, potential buyers can verify its authenticity immediately online. "
This is an actual sticker placed on all licensed merchandise to stop unscrupulous retailers from making a buck. (Only the scrupulous retailers are allowed to do that.)
All of that is a pretty big change from 1983. I don't follow baseball as closely as I used to but I've heard that some fans are now getting more than $500 for selling a significant piece of baseball memorabilia. Probably just a rumor.
For those interested in baseball history, I looked closely at the ball before handing it over and never saw any pine tar. Of course nowadays, if it did have a smudge of pine tar, the security guard would probably place the hologram sticker right over it. Such is progress.
A picture of the pine tar ball and the bat as well can be found the April 1987 issue of Smithsonian magazine. As far as I know the pine tar ball now resides in the Smithsonian.
Umpire Desktop -- more data than we need
The IBM-MLB announcement, however, talked about some other, more troubling technology now available to major league baseball. This once again brings up the issue of when does too much of a good thing, especially in high tech, become a not so good thing.