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Cardinals notebook: To track history, MLB will use marked baseballs for Pujols’ 700th homer

By rule, officials at ballparks throughout the majors are unable to authenticate baseballs that leave their sight, which would be problematic for a baseball that makes history so rarely seen.

As Albert Pujols closes in on becoming the fourth big-league player to hit 700 career home runs, Major League Baseball will introduce baseballs individually and sequentially marked to be used only in his at-bats, a league official told the Post-Dispatch on Tuesday. The special baseballs assure that if the homer vanishes into the crowd at Busch Stadium or elsewhere it can be forever identified as the one, true history maker.

“About as major a milestone as this sport has ever seen,” said Michael Posner, the senior director of authentication and memorabilia for Major League Baseball. “It’s not about putting the value on something. This is a part of history that we will never forget. Authentication is about capturing that moment and recording it and 100% certainty that we know this is the ball.”

Immediately after Pujols hits No. 699, the individually marked baseballs will be put in play for each and every pitch he sees until No. 700.

The baseballs will have an “overt marking” on them that identifies the sequence in which they will be used. Umpires, handed the baseballs at the start of each at-bat, will use that number to put the balls in play, in order. Each baseball will also have a marking invisible to the eye that can only be revealed by proprietary technology, and only two people will know precisely where that marking is on each baseball, Posner said.

The league will also soon begin using similar, individually marked baseballs for Yankees slugger Aaron Judge as he nears Roger Maris’ AL single-season homer record of 61.

Each game has been assigned two authenticators, each of them with a law enforcement background, and as Pujols nears No. 700, a third authenticator will be at the ballpark assigned to all things Albert. That means there will be an official there to authenticate the bat, the jersey, the shoes — anything that Pujols wishes to have tracked or chooses to donate to the National Baseball Hall of Fame or Cardinals Hall of Fame. They will also authenticate the bases, lineup card and even dirt from the game and time of the significant home run.

This is the same process that MLB used to track Miguel Cabrera’s 3,000th hit and his 500th home run and also has utilized for iconic player’s final games in case the last swing produces a ball that leaves the sight of authenticators. In the past two decades, Major League Baseball has expanded and modernized its ability to authenticate game-used items as a way to protect against fraud — and maintain a reliable record of provenance for important pieces.

If a fan catches the ball for No. 700 and elects to keep it, MLB officials will authenticate the ball on site for that fan and return it.

Posner said it’s their policy to be “agnostic” about possession.

“This is a spot that is all about its history, and you know that in St. Louis where they talk about Stan Musial and Ozzie Smith like they will talk about Albert Pujols and Nolan Arenado,” Posner said. “Knowing where the balls are is important to us, to the game. We all know Kirk Gibson’s home run and the mythology of where it is. It’s important for us to know this is the ball that made history and where it is.”

Carlson swings toward return

Limited for the past month by a sprained left thumb, outfielder Dylan Carlson took swings against batting practice-style pitching Tuesday for the first time. He intends to accelerate his workouts this week so that he can begin a rehab assignment Friday at a minor-league affiliate. That would give him the weekend to get at-bats and make a case to join the team when it heads to San Diego on Monday.

An asset in center field for the Cardinals, Carlson tried to play through the soreness in his left thumb despite it aching when he threw a baseball. It also compromised how long he could hold the bat when swinging left-handed.

He did not have that issue swinging Tuesday.

“Rest was the big key,” Carlson said. “Luckily, that time is up, and now it’s time to get going. Testing my patience a little bit.”

Golden opportunity for Edman

Instead of defending his reign as the Gold Glove winner at second base, Tommy Edman could begin one as the first winner of a new defensive honor. Rawlings, the St. Louis-based sporting goods manufacturer, announced Tuesday that a Gold Glove Award will be given to a utility fielder for the first time since the award started in 1957.

A utility award will be presented in each league.

As he’s bopped from second base to shortstop this season, Edman has been one of the majors’ top fielders, leading with plus-20 Defensive Runs Saved, in total. But with more than 50 starts at each middle infield spot, the reigning Gold Glove winner at second did not lead at either position. Seeking to acknowledge the modern value of versatile players and teams increasingly using fielders at multiple positions, Rawlings said in a statement it wanted to add a trophy for fielders “with the superior defensive ability to play multiple positions.”

To be eligible for a Gold Glove, players had to have at least 713 innings in the field by the team’s 141st game. That was Sunday for the Cardinals. Two-time Gold Glove winner in left field, Tyler O’Neill, his season interrupted by injury, just qualified — with 749 innings.

Finalists for the Gold Glove will be announced Nov. 3.

Molina, Hudson, etc.

Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina appears to be in line to manage Puerto Rico’s national team in the 2023 World Baseball Classic, if he elects to accept a reported offer. There has been some upheaval of leadership for that team, however. Former Cardinal Eduardo Perez abruptly resigned as the team’s general manager Monday in part, according to El Nueva Dia, because he contacted candidates to manage while the federation had reached out directly to Molina. At catcher, Molina led Team Puerto Rico to a runner-up finish in the 2017 tournament. … Dakota Hudson remains on track to start one half of Saturday’s doubleheader against Cincinnati. He will be the Cardinals’ 26th man and return to Class AAA Memphis after the doubleheader. The plan is for the sinkerballer to rejoin the Cardinals on next week’s road trip.

The Cardinals' Albert Pujols studies the competition before his first plate appearance against the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022, at Busch Stadium. 

The Cardinals’ Albert Pujols studies the competition before his first plate appearance against the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022, at Busch Stadium. 

Derrick Goold

@dgoold on Twitter

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