Friday, February 09, 2007

MLB Announces Baseball New Storage Standards

Major League Baseball announced today, that it would adopt a uniform standard for the storage of baseballs at a constant temperature and humidity index. Yahoo News AP wire excerpt:

NEW YORK - Baseballs will keep their cool this summer. The commissioner's office is telling teams for the first time that balls must be stored at a uniform temperature after they are delivered from the manufacturer.

The specifications that Rawlings recommends are a 70 degree temperature and 50 percent humidity," baseball senior vice president Joe Garagiola Jr. said Friday.

"We have contacted all 30 of the clubs, and they have all confirmed to us that they will all be storing their baseballs in a temperature-controlled facility. We're not going to have humidors everyplace, but every place will be temperature controlled, and so I think there will be a very high degree of uniformity."

The decision was made following debate generated by the Colorado Rockies
use of a humidor at Coors Field. The ballpark ranked first in the major leagues in scoring in its first eight seasons, starting in 1995, but dropped to second in three of the last four years behind Arlington's Ameriquest Field (2003), Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park (2005) and Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium (2006).

Colorado said in 2002 that it had installed the humidor. The Coors Field scoring average, which peaked at 15.0 runs per game in 1996, dropped to 10.7 last season, the lowest ever, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

In recent years, fluctuations in home runs and scoring have led to greater scrutiny of baseballs. Since 2000, the commissioner's office has arranged annual tests at UMass-Lowell Baseball Research Center.

Ever since 1998, when Roger Maris's single-season record of 61 home runs was topped by both Mark McGwire's 70, and Sammy Sosa's 66, there has been talk that the balls were juiced. That, combined with a second round of expansion in four years (1993 - Colorado Rockies and Florida Marlins, and 1997 - Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays) saw offensive production soar. Of course, the steroid factor is also part of the mix, but what is going on here is an attempt to keep clubs from messing with the baseballs.

It makes sense, if you play for the Atlanta Braves, Los Angeles Dodgers or New York Mets, to keep the balls in a cool, dark place. Those three parks are dream places for pitchers, so doing this will keep the ball from traveling if a hitter gets a hold of one on the sweet spot. Conversely, it makes just as much sense for clubs like the Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies and Texas Rangers to keep the balls resilient, since these parks are hitting havens. What I don't understand is why, after all the criticism of Colorado as a joke for pitchers, that baseball would not allow the Rockies to continue to keep balls in a cooler environment. After all, as the excerpt shows, after having done this for the past few years, total run production has dropped to something approaching the high end of normal. I'd think baseball would want to continue that trend.

A few years ago, I think Rob Neyer of ESPN proposed a "Colorado Only" baseball with raised seams so that pitches like curves and sliders would actually break in the higher altitude. That proposal was never going to be accepted, but I see nothing wrong with what the Rockies have done in their attempt to normalize offensive output. What is the alternative? Make Coors Field even more spacious so that you need outfielders who are track stars to catch up to pitchers mistakes? Anyway, we'll see how this plays out, but I'd be willing to bet that run production will increase in Colorado next season, and we will be back to calling baseball in Coors Field a joke once again.

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