Humidor once again under scrutiny

Humidor once again under scrutiny

DENVER -- Accusations that the Rockies have uncorked a dastardly plot to slip juiced baseballs into games at Coors Field when they need a lift have bubbled to the level that Major League Baseball became officially involved by having umpires monitor baseballs closely after they leave the storing chamber.

TV footage that went viral caught Giants ace Tim Lincecum profanely expressing suspicions about one of the balls he rejected in the sixth inning Friday night -- as he was throwing perfect ball for seven of his eight innings in a 2-1 victory over the Rockies. The Giants had already expressed concerns in a call to MLB prior to this series, although they said they didn't file an official complaint.

"They definitely called us on this," Pat Courtney, MLB senior vice president of public relations, said on Saturday. "That's why we made the changes we did."

Umpires will witness the balls being removed from "the humidor," the temperature- and atmospheric pressure-controlled chamber; watch them as they're taken to the field; and be able to see them at all times. The baseballs have been kept in a bag near the Rockies' dugout during play.

Since 2002, the Rockies have stored baseballs in the humidor after tests proved that baseballs can shrink, harden and become slippery in Colorado's mountain atmosphere. MLB has monitored the balls by having the Rockies test them and file a report, and the league has the right to inspect the humidor at any time.

Just before this year's All-Star break, Giants Hall of Fame broadcaster Jon Miller said on radio station KNBR that people in the game suspect the Rockies of skulduggery. Several media outlets have debated the issue.

Lincecum allowed for the possibility the complaints were on his mind.

"It's just one of those things that's in the back of your mind," he said. "If it's happening or not, it doesn't really matter. You just gotta come and show up. But in a crucial game like that, I'm thinking I don't want anything to happen for any reason. Err on the side of caution, I guess you would say, at least in my mind.

"Just giving the ball back and getting a fresh one. I got like three or four where I thought that -- [they were] not necessarily juiced, but they didn't feel rubbed down or like some of the other balls I got back."

The Rockies were bemused.

"He shouldn't complain," Rockies ace pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez said. "He threw eight innings, one run. Why are you complaining?"

The search for conspiracies could stretch to the nature of the footage.

The sixth-inning footage began with a 2-2 ball in the dirt to Rockies catcher Miguel Olivo, which was shot by FSN Rocky Mountain's left-field camera and shared by both teams' television feeds. The at-bat occurred on the heels of the Rockies' first hit of the game, a Seth Smith bloop double to lead off the inning.

The Giants' CSN feed switched to a closeup of Lincecum, who received a new baseball from the plate umpire, then rejected it. The footage, a lengthy shot of Lincecum that drew closer just as Lincecum uttered his complaint, was shown only on CSN.

But the idea that the network, the Giants and Lincecum arranged for the specific muttering to be caught on camera was dismissed as far-fetched by experts in televising games. According to television personnel at Coors Field on Saturday, the long and tightening shot of Lincecum is not unusual for a road team in this situation. CSN had just three cameras, and all other shots were taken from FSN. Between pitches, CSN would naturally be expected to use its camera throughout the telecast.

Olivo, the unknowing co-star in the video evidence under dispute, couldn't understand how someone's mind could entertain such thoughts in an important game. The Giants, Rockies and Padres are all battling to win the National League West.

"I've never heard about it," Olivo said. "I feel the same thing, the same ball. How's he going to say that? I don't want to get into it, but when you have the game on the line, you don't even think about it. I don't agree with that.

"When I've got the ball in my hand, I just throw it."

The increased scrutiny began Saturday, and it was a night nothing like Friday. The Rockies won a wild, 10-9, 10-inning contest.

Umpiring crew chief John Hirschbeck, in an interview with a reporter for The Associated Press, said the umpires monitored as a clubhouse attendant brought the baseballs from the humidor to the umpires' clubhouse. They were rubbed down to remove slickness as standard procedure. Umpires saw the balls all the way to the field.

"There's nothing going on here," Hirschbeck said. "This is a bunch of [nonsense], it really is. They just scored 18, 19 runs [between the teams]. I mean, come on. There's nothing going on here.

"That's what baseball wants us to do over the weekend, so I will."

Suspicion over the humidor is not new. It has hung over the club ever since the use of the chamber was made public during the 2002 season. The Rockies, who said they came up with the idea after one of their engineers applied the logic of the shrinkage of his hunting boots to baseballs, began storing the balls there but didn't announce it publicly.

Since Coors Field opened in 1995, balls flew over fences, triples abounded and runs piled at an unprecedented pace. Then in 2002, the rate of scoring plummeted and pitchers enjoyed unexplained success. But after the Denver Post published a story revealing the chamber, MLB stepped in and came up with guidelines. Since then, MLB has expressed interest in standardizing the storage of baseballs throughout the game, but that has not occurred. The D-backs have discussed going to such a storing device.

In 2006, then-Brewers third baseman Jeff Cirillo said on a Milwaukee radio show that he and teammates compared a ball from Milwaukee with one stored in the humidor and said of the Coors Field ball, "It's all spongy, and it's big, and it's water logged. They're illegal baseballs. They are non-flying baseballs."

The complaints also touch on issues that have burred at the Rockies throughout their 18 years of existence.

Rockies hitters have had their statistics questioned, and their candidacies for awards questioned, because of the way the ball can travel in Denver. Now the Rockies' efforts to normalize the game draw skepticism.

Jimenez said the complaints smack of gamesmanship.

"Probably they're trying to get into our heads," he said. "We're baseball players. Anytime you go out there, you're trying to give 100 percent so you can be good. We have a lot of talent on this club. Every time we score a lot of runs, maybe it's because guys can hit."

No one has outlined a road map for how the Rockies can administrate such a cheating strategy in a game in which scuffed balls, foul balls and balls the pitcher doesn't like can be rejected at any time. No one has directly accused anyone at the top of the Rockies' organization of administrating a conspiracy.

Rockies first baseman Todd Helton at first said, "I don't have a response," as he walked down the corridor from the clubhouse to the dugout.

Then he yelled, "I wish we were that good. How's that?"

Rockies manager Jim Tracy said he has bigger concerns than the bag of baseballs and what happens to it.

"You might ask the bat boy," Tracy said.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for Keep track of @harding_at_mlb on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.