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