ST. LOUIS -- Tony La Russa loves animals, all kinds. It shows. On his desk at Busch Stadium is a black statue of a dog holding a baseball in its mouth, standing more than a foot high.
The St. Louis Cardinals manager founded a shelter for abandoned and homeless pets. He's also a vegetarian because of his ethical beliefs.
La Russa took note recently when the NBA switched to a new ball, going from leather to a synthetic material.
"I'm not sure why they did it," he said this week. "I'm sure it wasn't because of the animals."
But what about big-league baseballs? They have been made from cowhide since 1974; before that, they were horsehide.
"They're not killing the cows to make balls or to make gloves," La Russa said. "The hides are byproducts.
"I would prefer that they not kill the animals for food. That's where I stand," he said. "I don't go beyond that first argument."
Rawlings supplies 720,000 balls to the majors each season. The company has thought about artificial covers, but not for use in the big leagues.
"You see them at the youth or recreational level," said Scott Siebers, Rawlings' product manager for baseball. "It's for cost reasons; it's economical for kids.
"You find it in the collectible industry, where the balls aren't really made to be used in games. They have typical vinyl covers. They feel more like plastic and are slick. But we certainly have not considered it at the big-league level. They wouldn't hold up to the rigors of game use."
Rawlings became the exclusive ball supplier to Major League Baseball in 1977.
"We pride ourselves on consistency, and cowhide works best," Siebers said.