Papa Bomba is not worried about attempts to deaden baseballs.
"That's gonna be for every hitter," Twins designated hitter Nelson Cruz said. "If they were gonna keep it only for myself, yeah, I'd be worried, but that's everybody. I'll be good."
Well, Major League Baseball has been worried.
A report this week revealed details of memo sent to all MLB clubs about how baseballs to be used this season were manufactured. A study by an independent lab found that the 2021 balls travel one to two feet shorter on hits longer than 375 feet.
It's MLB's attempt to slow down the proliferation of home runs in recent seasons, 2019 in particular. That's when a record 6,776 home runs were blasted. It's also the year the Twins invented the Bomba Squad as they set a major league record with 307 home runs, including a team-high 41 from Cruz.
In 2019, 1.39 home runs were hit each game. That rate dipped to 1.28 last year in a season shortened to 60 games because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but that didn't stop the league from looking at how baseballs were made for 2021.
When the Twins set a home run record, something must be wrong. Or so it seems.
"I think the recent information, as we've learned from the league and got a memo on it the other day as has been reported, a lot of conversation around consistency associated with that," Twins President of Baseball Operations Derek Falvey said. "So I don't have any specific comments on it now. I think we're still trying to learn a little bit more about that. But I wouldn't say it's any direct reflection of the Bomba Squad."
In addition to slightly altering the ball, five teams will store their baseballs in a humidor this season, bringing the number of teams doing so to 10.
Cruz, who will be 41 on July 1, spoke with reporters Wednesday as the club officially announced his new one-year, $13 million contract, the end of a negotiation that took longer than anticipated. Free agency moved slowly this past offseason as teams emerged from a season of declining revenue. MLB had plenty on its plate as it moved to reorganize the minor league system and then negotiated with the players association about how to proceed with the 2021 season.
There was a chance that the universal DH would be used in 2021, so Cruz and his agent, Bryce Dixon, waited to see if he would have more teams interested in him.
"It was difficult," Cruz said. "I was in a similar situation in 2014 when I signed with the Orioles. I signed after spring training started. At least I had a better idea this time of where I was going to go and what the future looked like. I had some idea. It was difficult. You want to get that done early so you can focus on getting ready for the season and spring training. But at the end of the day, like Derek said, we did what we were expecting to do after the season was over last year."
Cruz said he had a few teams interested in him, including some in the National League. But the Twins stayed in touch with Dixon throughout the process, with both sides understanding how the process had to play out.
"At the end, I knew where I wanted to be regardless of my decision," Cruz said. "They all knew I wanted to come back. I understood it was a business. I'd been through this process before. I understood the whole situation and what the teams were trying to do and what I was trying to do as a player. So it was a good process because of the relationship we had and the love that we felt for each other, on both sides."
Cruz returns to a Twins club that has won back-to-back American League Central titles but was knocked out in the first round of the playoffs each year. There will be a new shortstop in Andrelton Simmons. The left fielder will be new — likely top prospect Alex Kirilloff. J.A. Happ will join the rotation. An extra closer has been signed in Alex Colome, whom Cruz helped recruit to the Twins. Some other arms in the bullpen will be different.
Will it be enough to help Cruz and the Twins repeat as division champs and make a run in the postseason? Cruz is confident the team can have a special season, regardless of how bouncy the baseball will be.
"At the end of the day, it's about wins and losses, you know?" Cruz said. "The numbers will be there once we complete the season, so I don't worry about that. I worry about staying healthy and winning games."