It’s Not The Heat, It’s The Humidity

Since my boys are playing a series in Colorado this weekend, I thought it might be a good time to discuss how the balls are treated in that park – the baseballs, that is (sorry – the 10-year-old in me couldn’t resist!).  Bring this subject up to any team player or staff member, and you will likely start an animated debate.  I’m interested in the debate because it brings together three of my favorite things:  baseball + science + drama – an awesome combination (almost as good as chocolate + peanut butter + milk).

Let’s approach this like a science experiment, starting with background data (you can take the girl out of science, but not the science out of the girl!).  Denver, Colorado, has extremely low humidity during the baseball season, averaging around 30%.  Most of the other baseball cities average around 50% humidity.  This lower humidity causes the baseballs to dry out, making them lighter, more slippery, and more “bouncy” (the scientific term is “having a lower coefficient of restitution”).  The slipperiness makes it harder for a pitcher to grip, making it difficult to impart enough spin to execute breaking pitches.  The bounciness makes the ball more bouncy off the bat, causing it to travel further.  Combine these two elements and you can understand why Coors Field (home of the Colorado Rockies) is known as a hitter’s paradise, and why pitchers hate to pitch there.

Noticing the high ERAs and high batting averages associated with their park, the Rockies came up with a hypothesis.  They postulated that if the drier balls are the culprits, humidifying the balls might solve the problem.  In 2002, the Rockies began to keep their balls in an atmospherically controlled environment, which they call “the humidor”.  In the humidor, the temperature is always 70 degrees and the humidity is always 50%.  And lo and behold, once they started this practice, ERAs and batting averages at the park began to drop.  Average ERAs went from 6.50 – 5.46, and runs per game went from 13.8 to 11.2.  They didn’t drop down to the levels at other parks (there are other factors involved when you play at a high altitude park, like lower air density and ball travel), but they did drop.

Now we get to the drama part.  Anyone who’s ever done a science experiment can see there is something wrong with this picture.  Where are the controls????  Since the Rockies are the ones bringing out the balls to the field, who’s to say they couldn’t slip in some non-humidified balls when their batters are up, allowing them to hit the balls further?  Unfortunately, cheating has been a part of baseball since its inception.  Ever since the humidor was introduced, there has been talk of the potential for cheating, even by the Rockies organization itself.  This all came to a head on September 24, 2010, when the Giants played the Rockies at Coors Field.  That afternoon, Giants officials, without leveling any specific accusations of cheating, expressed concerns to the league regarding the chain of custody of the balls in the park. That evening, Tim Lincecum was caught by a camera appearing to say, “F*&%^$& juiced ball bull s*&#!” (He actually admitted later that he did say this).  This all came on the heels of a Jon Miller (Giants broadcaster, whom I adore) interview on KNBR in early July of that year where he alluded to the fact that a current Rockies hitting streak might be due to tampering with the balls, and this should be investigated.

Needless to say, this set off a firestorm of drama between the Rockies and the Giants both in the media and on the field.  I remember at the time hearing that the new Western Division rivalry was not the Giants vs. Dodgers, but the Giants vs. Rockies.  And the drama continues – every time there is a Rockies game, you will hear them talk about the humidor and the issues involved with it.

Conclusion?  MLB did intercede, and now MLB officials keep visual tabs on the balls at all times, from humidor to ball bag.  MLB has monitored the balls by having the Rockies test them and file a weekly report, and the league has the right to inspect the humidor at any time.   There was actually a push a few years ago to get humidors installed in all parks to maintain ball uniformity, but this never happened (I would guess due to the tremendous expense).  My opinion – if there is an opportunity for cheating, it should be controlled, even if there is no direct evidence of cheating.  This serves the Rockies as well as everyone else.  And since the problem has been solved, I wish all the drama would stop.

Now on to the spit count.  I have one for you today.  Can you guess who spat the most?  One hint:  Whiteside and H. Sanchez didn’t start today.  Here we go:

September 17th

Giants:

–         Stewart 18

–         Surkamp 6

–         Pill 5

–         Christian 4

–         Runzler 4

–         Romo 3

–         Sandoval 2

–         Righetti 2

–         Lincecum 2

–         H. Sanchez 2

–         Beltran 1

–         Keppinger 1

–         Cabrera 1

–         Joaquin 1

–         DeRosa 1

–         Burriss 1

–         Ford 1

Rockies:

–         Rosario 10

–         Pacheco 5

–         Gomez 4

–         Ellis 2

–         Brothers 2

–         Giambi 1

–         Wigginton 1

–         Fowler 1

–         Nelson 1

–         Young 1

Misc.:

–         Umpire 1

Game Spit Master General = Stewart at 18 (Did you guess correctly??)

That’s a total of 84 spits during a 3 hour and 30 minute game for an average of more than 1 spit every 2.5 minutes.

Stewart wins again, and he didn’t even play the entire game.  Still have not found solid evidence that he is using smokeless tobacco.  I looked at his back pockets a lot tonight (solely for research purposes, of course!).  My boy, Joaquin, recorded his first spit today.  One of Ellis’ spits was into his mitt – is that to make the ball stick when you catch it?  Or is it a sneaky way to get spit on the ball for the pitcher?

Who else has gotten a high from watching Giants games lately??  They’ve won 7 in a row!  Can you believe it?  I’ve gone from having a stomachache after games to feeling like I could run a marathon!  And when they get behind by a run, I actually have faith that they can come back now.  We did have a bit of torture at the end of the game last night, but unlike the August team, they were able to escape the torture chamber and win it.  Ginny and I have been texting back and forth during the last few games like little kids.  Love it!   We also update each other if one of us can’t watch (she will be updating me today as I’m taking Mom to bingo this afternoon and will be dying to know if they get the sweep!).  Ginny’s been keeping an eye on her boy, Crawford, and her mom has been watching out for Pill.  They’ve been doing really well lately, especially Pill with his back-to-back triples last night.  Beltran is my hero – he had a slow start as a Giant, but he has made tremendous contributions to the team this month.  He’s officially one of my boys now.  And my newest boy, Waldis Joaquin, did a great job again last night, coming in for an inning and getting 3 straight outs.  Welcome to the team, Kid!  I was so sad to see that Cody will be out for a week with a sprain.  It’s just the luck o’ the Giants this season – a bat gets hot and then it gets hurt.  Also sending get-well wishes to Mike Krukow – his voice sounded terrible last night.  Get better – your commentary is awesome!  At least Wilson will be back today.  I’ve missed seeing that beard on the field.  The magic number has remained at 6 games the last few days as the D-Bags are starting to choke and feel the pressure.  Maybe I need to pull out that snake again and punch it some more for good measure.  Whatever it is that you do to help them win now is the time (and if you have a sec, comment and let me know what your good luck method is)!  For my part, besides punching the snake, I’m going to start using my Rob Schnieder bobble head for good luck.  He says, “Go Giants!  You can do it!”   And we all know they can.  Remember – Together We’re Giant!  GO GIANTS!!!

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