When the NFL announced New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was to be suspended four games for his involvement with the Deflategate scandal, the Internet blew up, and left us with a lot of questions. While some of them have not been answered, Major League Baseball decided it needed to improve “ball security” to ensure a similar situation doesn’t occur on the field.
According to the Associated Press, a MLB representative will be present while the balls are being handled (h/t CBS Sports).
Starting this year, an MLB representative watches the baseballs while a clubhouse assistant carries them from the umpires’ room to the field.
And if the supply runs low during the game, an MLB security person is now sent to retrieve more from the umps’ room.
In the past, a ball boy or ball girl did those jobs alone.
The timing couldn’t be more coincidental for this story to break since MLB was already in the process of taking these security measures before the Patriots had been caught deflated ball in hand.
Each team became aware of the new ball security policy prior to the beginning of the regular season.
Hoping to avoid a seamy situation, MLB sent a memo to all 30 teams before opening day with a nine-step procedure on ball handling. Along with the policy on storage — around 70 degrees, about 50 percent humidity — there were guidelines on chain of command.
Home teams store the new balls during the season, and the umpires’ clubhouse attendants usually rub up about eight dozen for each game.
When they’re taken to the field, an MLB “authenticator” follows them. That person is a current or former member of law enforcement hired by an outside company to document balls and other game-used items, often to be sold or given to charities.
If the ball supply is running out, a Resident Security Agent gets more. The RSAs also have police backgrounds and are hired by MLB.
I asked former Major League left-handed pitcher (and current MLB analyst at Fox Sports) C.J. Nitkowski if there is any way to doctor a baseball to make it easier for the pitcher, or anyone on the field.
Not really,” says Nitkowski. “Pregame preparation for baseballs doesn’t offer much opportunity to give a pitcher an advantage. Also keep in mind you’re dealing with 100’s of baseballs, so which ones you actually get in a game are random. A clubhouse attendant would have a lot of doctoring to do for that many baseballs. The other issue of course is that both teams get to use those baseballs. Hitters would not be happy to hear that their own team doctored balls that would be used against them.
With “monitoring” baseball becoming a thing in the MLB now, I also asked if this will change any aspect of a pitcher’s game. Nitkowski said “not even in the slightest.”
It’s just not a factor in baseball. Any altering of baseballs pretty much happens on the mound and that is getting harder and harder to get away with these days.
It will be interesting to see more information come to light regarding this story. While a coincidence, it appears MLB is safeguarding itself from what happened with Brady and the Patriots.