December 29, 2010
As this final week brings 2010 to a close, the five main Big League Stew staffers will take a look at the stories that captured their fancy the most.
This isn't necessarily a rundown of the biggest moments, mind you — our own Jeff Passan already did that here — just a recollection of the interesting moments that made up the year.
One fascinating story in 2010 that didn't garner an overwhelming amount of national attention involved the Colorado Rockies, their traditional use of a room-sized humidor to store and preserve baseballs intended for game play at Coors Field, and the San Francisco Giants belief that Colorado used that system to gain an unfair competitive advantage.
It may not have captivated the baseball world — which still surprises me when you consider the integrity of the game was being called into question — but it certainly qualifies as my favorite story of 2010 for two reasons.
1. It had a little bit of everything: accusations, speculation, controversy, battling announcers, gamesmanship, with the cherry on top being the obligatory Tim Lincecum F-Bomb — albeit under his breath — on live TV.
2. As a Rockies blogger, I found myself in the middle of several discussions and debates on the subject. Some were cordial, others were heated, but the bottom line is the story allowed me to interact with several Rockies fans, Giants fans, and other people around baseball that I have a good amount of respect for. I enjoyed that opportunity.
For those not completely familiar with the situation, the seeds were planted back on Aug. 24, 2009. On that evening, Colorado overcame a three-run deficit in the 14th inning — capped by an opposite field Ryan Spilborghs(notes) grand slam -- to defeat San Francisco 6-4. That loss proved to be a back breaker for Bruce Bochy's squad, while Colorado used the win as a springboard to their second wild-card berth in three seasons.
Fast forward to July 3, 2010, when the Rockies mounted another comeback against San Francisco. This time they trailed Barry Zito(notes) 7-1 in the early innings. They eventually took the lead, taking starter Ubaldo Jimenez(notes) off the hook, before dropping an 11-8 decision.
Three days later, Colorado rallied for nine runs in the ninth inning to defeat the St. Louis Cardinals. The following day, Giants broadcaster Jon Miller made an appearance on KNBR radio. During the interview, Miller suggested the Rockies could be dropping non-humidor stored baseballs into the rotation when their offense needed a boost, and encouraged the league to look into the procedure.
It started there, picked up a little steam as Colorado continued to soar at home and struggle on the road, but was on the back burner by the time San Francisco visited Colorado for a critical series in late September. That changed in the later innings of game two when Tim Lincecum(notes) was caught on camera mouthing the now infamous words, "juiced ball, [fertilizer]."
Within minutes the Twitterverse was buzzing. What did Timmy say? Were the Rockies cheating? Were the Giants trying to get into the Rockies heads? What the heck was Major League Baseball going to do about this development?
It was a crazy night.
Having now had three months to sit back and reflect, my opinions haven't really changed. I can't rule out the Rockies being guilty, but I have serious doubts they would knowingly abuse the policy put in place by MLB at that time.
You have to keep in mind, the purpose of the humidor is to keep a baseball as close to its natural state as possible when it gets into play. The bottom line is, though, when baseballs sit around for a few innings exposed to the mile-high elements, nature will take its course. Not all baseballs will be in ideal shape when used. We should work under the assumption that bad baseballs make it into the umpires bag and eventually into a pitcher's hand on occasion.
What gets me here is, even if Rockies personnel managed to drop a juiced ball in the bag, why would any pitcher throw that baseball? They all rub them up. Unless Tim Lincecum is the only pitcher capable of feeling the difference, it makes no sense to throw a baseball not up to standards.
And that's just part of what makes this story fascinating to me. There are so many layers that range from ethical to physical, mental to scientific. Where the truth lies is something we're not likely to find out unless someone on the inside needs a payday a few years down the line.
What we do know is the controversy prompted a change in policy. Beginning with Colorado's final home series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, baseballs were moved from the humidor directly to the umpire's room as opposed to the Rockies dugout. That procedure will continue in 2011 and beyond as MLB looks to satisfy and pacify all doubters.