Good evening, Rowbots. It's a dreary one where I am, not only due to the results of today but also because it's raining. (As a consequence of the former more than the latter, I am somewhat out of temper.) To say that that series, apart from last night, could have gone better is an understatement, but the Rockies already handicapped themselves coming into it by letting themselves get swept by the lowly Diamondbacks. That's the kind of thing that a serious contender just can't do in the season's closing weeks, and the guys shot themselves in the foot entirely on their own accord. While the streakiness was fun, it's going to take something more than last-gasp Rocktember magic to transform a team that was unpredictable all year into a playoff entrant. And to be perfectly honest, if you can't win on the road all year long, you don't really deserve it.
Recently, some of our opponents have been kind enough to suggest that the "something more" we have been employing is to resort to monkey business with the humidor. It's become a big enough issue that MLB has ordered the umpires to monitor it. Indeed, the Rockies couldn't possibly have actually won games on their own accord and pulled off late-inning rallies without a little black-market fixing.
I think it's time that this was addressed. If you feel likewise, join me after the jump.
Fair warning: I am very, very angry.
Ever since the Colorado Rockies were added into the National League in 1993, the one thing the rest of the country has "known" about them is that, thanks to their beautiful home city and its altitude of 5,280 feet, they have a ballpark that plays outside the average. "Coors Canaveral" and other such appellations have been the stock in trade of a lazy sports media that, even today, will start every story with how our park is such a feared place for pitchers, how not even a 10-run lead is safe, you can't be really sure that that guy's gaudy stats are legit, and so on and so forth. While no fool will deny that Coors did play like a pinball machine in the early going, it was for that very reason that the humidor was finally installed in 2002. The fact that the park continued to play host to a number of high-scoring games may just have had something to do with the corresponding sad but true fact that its home team and its home team's pitchers were, um, not that good. But after an organizational philosophy that for years had been characterized by constantly tinkering, trading for prospects, and making splashy free-agent signings was finally altered to a sustained, long-term strategy of developing a team from the ground up, things began to change.
Don't get me wrong. I am well aware that Coors Field remains very firmly a hitter's park, and no doubt some visiting pitchers probably still get ulcers at the thought of coming in in a close game. But I have to wonder just how much of this is due to the earlier reputation and continuing misperception, instead of present-day reality. You never have a guy's stats questioned because he plays in, say, Citizens Bank Park or the Ballpark at Arlington or Chase Field or any of the other notoriously hitter-friendly environs. Heaven forbid we do that. No, it's just Carlos Gonzalez who's not actually as good as he looks. You wonder, though. If Coors gives such a massive boost to the Rockies, why doesn't every guy on the team boast an identical stat line? Why is Todd Helton declining so much if he can still hit a lazy fly ball and have it turn into a homer? Why is Clint Barmes possible?
Yes, CarGo's splits are much better at home. That couldn't possibly be due to the fact that he plays 81 games here, and has a chance to become familiar with how the ball acts, or because almost every player in baseball does better at home, or because he's a legit five-tool talent. You can bet that during the MVP discussion, the Coors Question is going to come up. You can bet that it won't be applied to anyone else.
I digress. This article isn't necessarily about Carlos, although he's certainly relevant. No, I thought that it was finally time to concretely address the accusations of our opponents that we're using "non-juiced" balls that haven't been humidored, and slipping them into the game in the late innings in order to give the home team an unfair advantage.
Yes, what I just wrote is precisely what they think we've been doing. This batch of Einsteins has offered no evidence as to how we'd:
1) Keep the balls in play when a pitcher has a right to discard any foul ball, scuffed ball, or ball he plain doesn't like,
2) Ensure not only that the Rockies batters hit the ball, but to where there isn't a fielder, or make the fielder magically miss it;
3) Run out onto the field, ambush the umpire, change out his bag of balls, and hypnotize the entire crowd into forgetting what they've just seen;
4) Why in God's name we, faced with a series we absolutely had to win, would score one run in the first game, and then be no-hit into the eighth inning in the third one. (Oh, but we made a great comeback in the second one! CHEATING IS CLEARLY EVIDENT!!!111)
This series was at home, after all. We were in prime position to cheat. If we had magical baseballs that somehow canceled out the ability of every opposing pitcher and gave superhuman hitting power to everyone in purple pinstripes, don't you think we'd have started using them long before? Don't you think we would have, you know, actually beat up Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, instead of letting them pwn our faces? Don't you think that we would be in Hogwarts? Don't you think that we would have reinvented the laws of physics? I am beyond baffled. And to be honest, disgusted.
Claiming that our late-season success is owed to underhanded humidor hijinks is plain stupid, lazy, ignorant, and classless. Now, I understand that the fact that the Rockies reviving from apparent death was alarming to those who felt they had it in the bag, but give me a break. It was due to the humidor that we swept the Padres in San Diego, amirite? We made sure to smuggle nonhumidored balls to San Diego, regardless of the fact that their balls aren't humidored either and thus would act exactly the same, sacrificed a live chicken and did some voodoo, and ta-da, sweep. Because it's clearly the Colorado freaking Rockies that MLB has an interest in giving a leg up. The thing about conspiracy theories is that they require more and more elaborate conspiracy theories to hold them up, until Occam's Razor is turned into Occam's Butter Knife and you are convinced that the universe itself is under the sway of an alien overlord named Xenu and a bunch of thetans. Whatever the hell thetans are. In fact, it's all directed at you personally, you can't trust anybody, you can't trust your own eyes, and everything that has taken place has a nefarious and manufactured purpose. From the New World Order.
Don't forget your tinfoil hat on the way out the door.
Conspiracy theories are an essential part of American psychology. JFK's assassination, the moon landing, and 9/11, just to name a few biggies. There is, for whatever reason, a part of our national character that is not inclined to accept the logical explanation. It's beyond me to explain it, and I'm going to stay well away from getting into deeper water on any of these. That is definitely not the point of this article. But no matter how many examinations of empirical reality are conducted and how many sourced conclusions are drawn, we reserve the right to point-blank discard it. You may not know how it happened, exactly, but you just know it didn't happen like that.
This feeds into the very climate of our society today. It's pretty self-evident. In twenty-first-century America, if you say something loudly enough and long enough, it becomes true -- or at least you believe it, and therefore it's true. Just think of your (least) favorite outrageous media personality, and just think of something that they've managed to get large numbers of your fellow citizens believing -- not because there's a shred of evidence for it, or because it's a compelling case, but because it appeals to the Gut. It feels right, it explains why the Man keeps keeping you down, and why your favorite sports team is choking. As Jonathan Swift once observed, you can't be reasoned out of something you weren't reasoned into. So instead, we operate in a state of permanent, persistent, and aggressive denial. If you get on TV and you say it, even better. We are creating our own realities that have nothing to do with the actual one, and the more we calcify ourselves into our shells, the harder it is to hear each other. It is dangerous, and it is detrimental -- to our civic life, to our politics, and to our humanity. When arguments and evidence are disregarded and you can just believe any old thing you want, we're moving into some pretty scary territory. When you attempt to talk someone out of this, therefore, it looks as if you're not attacking their beliefs, you're attacking them personally. There isn't a separation any more. We have largely lost the knack for cordial disagreement. When you're anonymous and you can say anything you want to your computer screen, it's much, much easier to "flame." Thus, your opponent isn't a person, but the bite-sized capsule of belief that is personally offensive to yours, and thus can be taken down with a sledgehammer.
I am emphatically not saying that we shouldn't question official explanations, that we shouldn't ask questions, that we shouldn't have the right to free speech, that we shouldn't have the right to our own beliefs, or any of that. Saying that I am is a complete misstatement of my argument. What I am arguing instead is that this humidor controversy is entirely a product of its sociological context, and thus in some sense predictable. It doesn't need to supply evidence, it doesn't need to be plausible, and it doesn't need to be logical. It just needs to be there. Somebody will pick it up and run with it. Boom. It LIIIIIVES.
In the increasingly small world we inhabit, when a story can travel worldwide as fast as it can be Twittered and speculation is speculated upon and the angle on the news is who's fighting with who, this kind of thing can take root, and take root deeply. Don't underestimate it.
As Rockies fans, we constantly carp that our pitchers are ignored, our hitters are discredited, and that we didn't get a front-page mention on ESPN. Some of these are more fatuous than others. But the fact is, we just don't get it. As a wise man named Ubaldo Jimenez said, it couldn't be that our hitters are doing well because they're good at the game of baseball. It's because of some contorted, evil scheme that probably involves the Illuminati and their headquarters under DIA. It couldn't be because they play here so often. Nope. We're fixing the game. And I, as a person who passionately, passionately loves this great American pastime, find this disingenuous and appalling. This is a serious accusation. It got Shoeless Joe and Pete Rose thrown out. It led to the code of conduct that I found on the wall of a minor league clubhouse a few weeks ago, which I wrote about in my last Rockies Review. In which, gambling and attempting to throw games are expressly and severely prohibited.
You might remember one other line:
Respect yourself, your teammates, and the game.
A bunch of nice guys like the Rockies are clearly incapable of that. Or so you'd think.
In the post-steroids era, after we discovered that our heroes were just as flawed, messy, and human as us, there's now a paranoid, immediate suspicion of every achievement. It just can't be legit. There has to be a catch. Success doesn't come without pharmaceuticals or asterisks any more. What we wait for is somebody to slip up. It's the universal human impulse. Watch someone else go down.
So, to our opponents: If you want to go on claiming that we're cheating, fine. We certainly can't stop you. But recognize it for what it is: you can't deal with the fact that the team that used to be a reliable doormat is finally coming into its own. That you have to argue, make excuses, and evade. You can just go ahead and make up all kinds of justifications, and come up with "incontrovertible proof" of our malediction. Freeze-frame videos and parse out double meanings. Tim Lincecum and the Padres radio guys said it, so it must be true.
For what it's worth, we're probably going to miss the playoffs anyway, so I guess we should have cheated more, huh? Should have programmed Tulo to hit a few more homers, should have remembered to break out the doctored baseballs a little earlier today. (And no doubt we decided to put Tulo and CarGo on steroids for this month alone.) We should have helped Ubaldo win a few more games in his post All-Star break malaise. We should have stopped Huston from blowing those saves. After all, our magical baseballs can do that.
Come on, guys. Seriously. Come on.
Respect the game enough to respect its magic.
Leave it all out there on the field.