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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

MLB is slightly altering the construction of its baseballs in the hopes of deadening them off the bat.

Driving the news: The league sent a memo to all 30 teams outlining changes that would "center the ball within the specification range" of bounciness — a range that has always been wide enough for significant variance among balls.

Why it matters: After years of surging home run rates amid claims of a juiced ball, the notoriously tight-lipped league has finally gone public with meaningful equipment changes and the reasons behind them.

The backdrop: Five of the six highest home run rates in MLB history came in the past five seasons (the other was in 2000, at the height of the steroid era).

  • Players have questioned if juiced balls were the culprit, but MLB has repeatedly said no intentional changes were made.
  • Independent auditors have attempted to test the balls to find clues, but getting their hands on game-used equipment is easier said than done.
  • "They're very shady about things," an unnamed team employee told SI. "Everything's gotta be a secret. It's not the CIA here, right? This is baseball."

The state of play: Balls are comprised of a core made of cork and rubber; a center of four distinct layers of wound yarn; and a cover of stitched leather.

  • Changes — namely to the ball's size, weight and bounciness — can alter the way it flies off the bat.
  • Per its memo, MLB will decrease the bounciness by loosening the tension of the yarn in the center.

What to watch: There's no guarantee these changes actually de-juice the ball as intended.

  • The Korea Baseball Organization in 2018 successfully deadened its ball by similarly reducing bounciness, but also by increasing the size and weight, which increased drag and kept the ball in the park.
  • MLB's new ball, by contrast, is expected to be ~2.8 grams lighter, which could actually reduce drag and offset any change resulting from the decreased bounce.

P.S. ... In other MLB news, the league released its new health and safety protocols for the 2021 season, including mandatory contact-tracing wearables and very few exceptions to leaving the hotel while on the road.

Go deeper

Republican Sen. Sasse slams Nebraska GOP for "weird worship" of Trump after state party rebuke

Sen. Ben Sasse, (R-Neb.) Photo: Andrew Harnik - Pool/Getty Images

The Nebraska Republican Party on Saturday formally "rebuked" Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) for his vote to impeach former President Trump earlier this year, though it stopped short of a formal censure, CNN reports.

Why it matters: Sasse is the latest among a slate of Republicans who have faced some sort of punishment from their state party apparatus after voting to impeach the former president. The senator responded statement Saturday, per the Omaha World-Herald, saying "most Nebraskans don't think politics should be about the weird worship of one dude."

Cuomo barraged by fellow Dems after second harassment accusation

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo faced a barrage of criticism from fellow Democrats after The New York Times reported that the second former aide in four days had accused him of sexual harassment.

Why it matters: Cuomo had faced a revolt from legislators for his handling of nursing-home deaths from COVID. Now, the scandal is acutely personal, with obviously grave political risk.

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Fauci: Children "very likely" to get COVID vaccine at start of 2022

NIAID Director Anthony Fauci. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Children under age 12 will "very likely" be able to get vaccinated for coronavirus at the "earliest the end of the year, and very likely the first quarter of 2022," NIAID Director Anthony Fauci told "Meet the Press" Sunday.

Why it matters: Children generally aren't at risk of serious coronavirus infections, but vaccinating them will be key to protecting the adults around them and, eventually, reaching herd immunity, writes Axios' Caitlin Owens.