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Big league logistics for MLB’s supply chain

October 12, 2018 Matt Vermeulen

Since we covered the World Cup’s supply chain, we might as well give America’s pastime a run around the bases. Despite its global name, The World Series features teams solely from North America (Sorry Canadians, your Blue Jays didn’t get close this year). But all the critical parts of the World series—including the balls, bats, and hot dogs—come from around the globe.

So what goes into the supply chain of the World Series to make it a successful event every year? It takes worldwide supplies and logistics to serve baseball’s adoring public.

The Baseballs

Remember trying to scrounge up a few baseballs to play catch in the neighborhood? Or maybe you just loved The Sandlot: the kids in that movie went through tremendous energy to avoid losing just one baseball. Major League Baseball doesn’t have that problem. Two teams use over a hundred baseballs on average per game, and that number goes up for the high stakes play of the World Series.

Even though a single baseball might only be used once or twice in a game, the process that goes into making each one is labor intensive. There’s only one factory sanctioned to make official MLB baseballs, and it’s located in Turrialba, Costa Rica. Maybe a procurement risk nightmare to have only one supplier, but since 1990, Rawlings’ factory in Costa Rica has been churning out around 2.4 million baseballs a year (each one hand-stitched) to meet MLB’s demand, and employing around 400 people.

Causing more human and supply chain anxiety, the local volcano in Turrialba has been more active since the beginning of October. And the same questions of labor practices plague this factory as does the soccer ball factory that provides World Cup soccer balls: overworked employees and poor pay.

Each baseball is truly global: a baseball has a cork center harvested primarily in Portugal, covered in rubber from Malaysia, spun with New Zealand wool yarn, and finished in cowhide cured from Tennessee Holstein Cattle.

How about the bats?

Unlike the baseballs, there’s no one factory that produces the baseball bats for Major League players. The most common woods used for bats are ash, maple, and hickory. The famous baseball brand, Louisville Slugger, sources their wood “from forests in Pennsylvania and New York.” And while still not sanctioned for use in MLB, wood from the guayaibi tree in South America is trending overall in baseball.

Baseball bat supply shows that risk management and collaboration are key for solving supply chain problems. In 2008, poor supplier wood manufacturing caused over one bat a game to shatter, creating hazardous conditions for fans and players. The woodgrain slope turned out to be the culprit, and to address the problem, MLB created new manufacturing rules for their suppliers to follow. Starting in 2009, bat-breaking dramatically decreased because of the new rules and enforcement, further proving how buyers can be a positive force in the supply chain.

But you’re all here for the hotdogs anyway

So Americans love hot dogs, and there’s no better place to eat them than at a baseball game. The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council (NHDSC) estimates that baseball fans will consume more than 19 million hot dogs and 4.6 million sausages by the end of the 2018 MLB season.

And if the Dodgers make it to the World Series this year, their fans will have a few extra games to consume more hot dogs. Dodger fans lead the league in hot dog consumption: eating over 3 million during the course of the baseball season. And they pay the most, spending $6.50 for each hot dog at Dodger Stadium.

Most of those hot dogs are made from imported beef. Surprising, as America is known for their vast herds of cattle. But it turns out America’s cows are just too fatty for hamburgers and hotdogs. So several billion pounds a year of beef comes from Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, and Central and South American countries to feed America’s hot dog appetite.

Finally, how do they get those championship hats so fast?

Turns out there’s a supply chain strategy for that. It’s called postponement. A manufacturer will get a shipment of unfinished goods to a distribution center, keep them there until they can determine demand, and then rapidly finalize and customize the product and ship it out to customers. In our case, a hat manufacturer will do this right when they know who will be playing in the World Series. So whether it’s the Dodgers, Brewers, Astros (ugh), or Red Sox (double ugh), they’ll have a shipment of hats ready to go soon after they raise the World Series trophy.

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About the Author

Matt Vermeulen

Matt Vermeulen writes about B2B commerce for Tradeshift. Whether he's writing about Accounts Payable best practices or debunking AI myths, Matt enjoys making complex topics easy to understand and fun to read.

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