Game-ball rule changes predate 'Deflategate'

MLB started laying groundwork for new policies at Winter Meetings in December

Game-ball rule changes predate 'Deflategate'

At the Winter Meetings in San Diego last December, Major League Baseball equipment managers discussed changes in their policies for storing and securing the baseballs that are used in games. It was a standard review, resulting in the decision to assign an MLB representative to watch the balls while they're carried from the umpires' room to the field. Also, a security person would retrieve extra balls if the ump runs low.

All of this would have gone largely unnoticed, except a month later, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was accused of using underinflated footballs in New England's rout of the Colts in the AFC Championship Game. On Monday, Brady was suspended for four games by the NFL, and the team was fined $1 million and forced to forfeit two draft picks. Brady and the Pats are appealing.

MLB had sent a memo to all 30 teams before Opening Day outlining a nine-step procedure for readying game balls. The timing was strictly a coincidence; the changes were in the works long before the Brady story broke. The Associated Press first reported the story.

While it's more difficult to tamper with baseballs, it's still important to ensure they're handled properly before being used in a game. For example, to offset the impact that thin air in Denver had on the distance batted balls travel, the Rockies installed a humidor in 2002 at Coors Field.

Game balls are to be stored at about 70 degrees and 50 percent humidity. Before a game, the umpires' room attendant is responsible for seeing that about eight dozen balls are rubbed with a special mud to take the shine off.

When those balls are taken to the field, they're now followed by an authenticator, a current or former law enforcement member hired by an outside company to document game-used items that may later be sold or donated to charities.

If the umpire needs more baseballs, a resident security agent, also with a police background and hired by MLB, gets them.

Those rules have tightened up the oversight of game balls. And that was going to happen even if Deflategate hadn't.

Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.