Cheating, Humidor, Tim Lincecum

Rocky Mountain Hijinx

Q: Are the Rockies cheating? Does it matter? Should they stop?

A: Don’t know, not really and, if applicable, yes.

The rumors took root nationally in July, when Giants broadcaster Jon Miller asserted that whispers around the league said the Rockies selectively delivered baseballs to the umpires at Coors Field—balls from the humidor when the opposition was hitting, dry balls when the Rockies were at the plate.

(The team took to storing game balls in a humidor several years back to help them retain moisture. As is evidenced by the early years of baseball in the altitude of Denver, dry baseballs travel a very, very long way when hit.)

The story got new legs over the weekend, when Tim Lincecum, on the mound in the opener of a crucial three-game set between the Giants and the Rockies, got a new ball from plate umpire Laz Diaz, rubbed it up, then tossed it back while uttering a phrase that could clearly be seen on the TV broadcast: “Fucking juiced balls. It’s bullshit.”

If that’s what the Rockies are doing, it’s just baseball.

It’s the same theory behind select home bullpens being much nicer than their counterparts on the visitors’ side, with perfectly sloped mounds as opposed to misshapen inclines that hinder the preparation process.

It’s why a grounds crew will occasionally manicure a field to suit the home team’s strength, be it speed (bake the ground in front of the plate to facilitate high chops), lack of speed (water the basepaths into mush, to slow down the opposition), bunting ability (Ashburn’s Ridge in Philadelphia sloped the baseline slightly inward, to help Richie Ashburn’s offerings stay fair) or preference of the starting pitcher (mounds can be slightly raised or lowered, depending on the stature of the guys using them).

Heck, just a few years back, the story broke about the Twins manipulating the air conditioning at the Metrodome to blow in when opponents batted, and out when Minnesota was up.

If the Rockies are, indeed, cheating, they wouldn’t even be the first team to use a humidor to its benefit—although the 1967 Chicago White Sox did the reverse of what the Rockies are accused of. Because they had good pitching and an awful offense (they scored almost 200 runs fewer the league-leading Boston), the White Sox took to storing game balls in a humidified room, adding as much as a half ounce of water weight to each one. This hindered visiting hitters, but didn’t much affect the White Sox, who couldn’t hit, anyway.

There’s no reason to condemn Colorado for trying, but if they are cheating, there’s plenty of reason to put a stop to it—which is precisely what MLB did, ordering umpires to intervene in the process that delivers balls from the humidor to the field. (Up until now, it was handled entirely by Rockies employees.)

Which pretty much settles the score. Most cheating in baseball is fine, but if you get caught, you have to stop. Based on the 10-9 score the day after Lincecum’s “juiced balls” performance, it would appear that they have.

Which is all anybody could ask. Now play ball.

– Jason

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8 thoughts on “Rocky Mountain Hijinx

  1. I have some problems with your article:

    First the easy one:
    The fact that the score was 10-9 the next day is meaningless. Just like the fact that the Rockies got just 3 hits in the next game after that.

    Second:
    “It’s why a grounds crew will occasionally manicure a field to suit the home team’s strength…”
    I don’t think this is comparable to the issue of juiced balls. The teams play on the same field. So there is nothing “unfair” as long as the field is in some reasonable condition even if the grounds crew manicures it to suit the home team. However, if one team hits _differently_ conditioned baseballs then the other that is not “fair.”

    1. No question: there are differences. When the Indians moved their fences in or out depending on who they were playing on a given day (a practice that’s since been outlawed), both teams were affected equally. Still, it gave the Indians an advantage to put the powerful Yankees (among others) at a disadvantage.

      Colorado using different balls for different teams is another level of cheating, but in the end it’s all teams trying to give themselves a subtle advantage. Any number of distinctions can be drawn, but that’s the one that likely got MLB to intervene.

      For what it’s worth, Heath Bell apparently tweeted his agreement that the Rockies cheat. It’s getting more and more interesting.

  2. hehe, I saw that tweet of his as well. I predict 2 things. He will find himself in hot water over that tweet and he will give up tweeting altogether. I hope he gets asked the question because I wonder if he really meant it. He seems like a Twitter “newb” (see link below). I wonder if he even realized that everyone can see his @ replies.
    http://twitter.com/HeathBell21/status/25692397738

      1. Great stuff. His exact comment: “I dint say that the Rockies are cheating and if there is a guy out there that is saying that. That’s a bad man get a life.”

        Click here to see the entire string. (For what it’s worth, one of his primary inquisitors is old pal Mychael Urban, of CSN Bay Area.)

      2. He deleted all related tweets (smart move). They are still on my phone though. Here’s the last one:
        “Gaslamp ball guys. Why don’t to talk to me. I’m done no more intell you say what really happen.”

        That’s letter for letter what he wrote (from his mobile phone I’m guessing).

      3. If that’s valid, his backtracking is clearly team-inspired. It’s clearly an order from the top down, and is part of the reason that no team (save for the Giants, last week) has yet called out the Rockies on the practice, despite widespread speculation.

        Cheating happens in baseball, but teams are apparently reluctant to get into an institutional-level pissing match over it.

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