Tim Lincecum & the Appeal to Authority

Tim Lincecum believes the balls in Colorado are juiced. That the Rockies are secretly giving the visiting teams balls that have not been properly kept in the stadium’s humidor in order to increase offense. He’s so sure of this, in fact, that, during a game last week, he received a ball from the umpire and, after saying loudly to himself “f*ckin’ juiced balls”, he asked the umpire for a new one. When pressed about it by the media after the game, he did not back down.

Heath Bell is also sure that the Rockies are messing with the balls. In fact, he thinks that they “cheat”. On Sunday, Bell tweeted a message saying “SF are the nice people.” A follower of his on Twitter interpreted from this that he was saying that the Rockies were cheating and, when he asked Bell if that’s what the tweet meant, Bell said “yes they do.”

That should solidify it then, right? Two star pitchers on two different teams are both absolutely certain that the Rockies are cheating – manipulating the balls that are put in play for their own advantage. So certain, in fact, that they’re even willing to talk about it in public. These are men who are on the field of play. If anyone could be said to be experts on the topics, it’s these guys. It’s certainly not us bloggers in our mother’s basements, or even the old guys in the press boxes. Our speculation is meaningless compared to the authority of the guys who play the game.

The ballplayers know the truth, and we would be foolish to ignore them.

Except, of course, that’s ludicrous. For some reason, everyone seems to want to defer to the expertise of the ballplayers when it comes to these things. Is David Eckstein a great player? His teammates seem to think so, so it must be true. Should we be using machines like Questec to help review umpires’ performances? Curt Schilling says no, therefore it’s got to be wrong. Instant replay? BatGloves? Bigger helmets? Stupid ideas all – the players tell us so!

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Let’s not forget that ballplayers are, as a whole, a very superstitious and competitive bunch who are not very well-educated. They’ve also historically tended to be much less interested in long-term self-preservation than short-term self-gain. If there’s one group of people who I would have trouble trusting their opinions on themselves, it’d be major league ballplayers. Here’s a short list of beliefs and actions that players have taken over the years:

  • Refused to wear batting helmets for decades until it was mandated by team managers and front office personnel, despite the drastic and sometimes deadly accidents to the likes of Ray Chapman and Mickey Cochrane.
  • Wear magnetic bracelets and necklaces because they expect the “energy” to give them strength… or rejuvenate them, or something.
  • Avoid stepping on foul lines, changing their underwear during a hot streak, shaving their beards in the playoffs, and a boatload of other petty superstitions that players do on the off chance that changing the routine will screw with their results or anger the baseball gods.
  • Slump-busters.
  • Used HGH as a means to increase strength when all scientific tests show it does no such thing.
  • Corked bats to hit the ball further.

And those are just a few examples that I could come up with off the top of my head. I have no doubt that I’m missing another half-dozen or so examples that aren’t in the “petty superstition” category. Every single one of these, though, is something either not based in any scientific fact or are decisions that are entirely counter-productive to players’ safety and long-term health. Yet players do them all the same.

If you’re relying on a player to make your case who believes that the magnetic bracelet or titanium necklace that he wears somehow turns him into Wolverine, or that he can’t effectively pitch in a game without first eating his Froot Loops that morning, then you don’t really have much of a case to stand on. Sure, his opinion may actually turn out to be true, but when he has no evidence for it other than his suspicions, there’s no reason to give him any credence. He has not earned the benefit of the doubt.

There may be a valid reason or two to suspect that the Colorado Rockies have been doing something funny with their baseballs this year (though I believe there are many, many more reasons to suspect that they haven’t done a single thing to the baseball), but the appeal to authority that so many people resort to with relation to the likes of Tim Lincecum and Heath Bell just doesn’t work. Baseball players just haven’t proved smart enough in the past to justify that kind of confidence. We’ve been putting up with it for decades, though, so, sadly, I don’t expect it to change anytime soon.

Larry Granillo

About Larry Granillo

Larry Granillo has been writing Wezen Ball since 2008 and has dealt with such touchy topics as Charlie Brown's baseball stats and Ferris Bueller's day off. In 2010, he got the bright idea to time every home run trot in baseball; he has been missing ever since.