NEW YORK (AP) — Even before Tom Brady was penalized, Major League Baseball boosted its prevent defense.
As part of a new security plan this season to further safeguard game balls, an MLB representative now watches them get carried by a clubhouse assistant from the umpires’ room to the field.
And if the supply of eight dozen or so runs low during a game, an MLB security person is sent to retrieve more.
In the past, a ball boy or ball girl did those jobs alone.
“We can’t deflate ’em,” Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia said Sunday. “It’s precautionary, I guess.”
MLB said many changes in the pumped-up policy for ball security and storage were discussed by equipment managers last December at the winter meetings. That was more than a month before Brady and the New England Patriots were accused of deflating footballs in the AFC championship game.
MLB said it was aware of the Patriots’ situation as it put the procedures into effect on opening day at every stadium.
Brady was suspended for four games by the NFL on Monday for his role in the scandal. The Patriots were fined $1 million and also lost two future draft picks.
As for any copycat in the majors, Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell joked that it was unlikely.
“Baseballs are solid,” he said.
There have been plenty of pitchers who have tried to doctor balls, with mixed results.
Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry made a living of throwing greased-up balls that could do tricks. Yankees righty Michael Pineda was suspended last year for using pine tar to get a better grip, Joe Niekro was penalized nearly three decades ago for carrying an emery board to scuff the ball.
Nothing like taking the air out of them, though.
Former English Premier League and World Cup referee Howard Webb, now the technical director of the body that oversees match officials in English soccer, said he made a point of checking the ball before it got used.
“I knew if I didn’t and a player complained about the pressure of the ball, I wouldn’t be able to say with certainty that the ball was fine,” Webb said. “So I would always check it and make sure it was in that range that I knew players would accept.”
The balls that Rawlings supplies to major league clubs are fairly standard.
“Obviously, there’s not as much that you can do to baseballs,” Los Angeles Angels pitcher C.J. Wilson said. “I mean, you can’t change the density of the baseball at any point — unless you dunk them in water. Then they’re going to be 9 ounces, and everyone’s going to blow their arms out.”
Game balls weigh between 5 ounces and 5 1/4.
“If you’re playing on turf and a guy hits a screaming one-hopper to the shortstop, it’s going to have a huge scuff on it. Certain pitchers can create an advantage with that, so that’s why they throw those baseballs out,” Wilson said.
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.
More than a decade ago, the Colorado Rockies put a humidor at Coors Field to preserve the balls, trying to counter the effects of the mile-high atmosphere.
Across the majors, home teams store the new balls during the season, and the umpires’ clubhouse attendants usually rub up nearly 100 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.
The plate umpire keeps several new balls in a pouch. When he needs more, he signals to the ball boys and ball girls. The ump puts each one in play, occasionally tossing out a ball before it ever gets into the game.
“I’d say a ball averages only two pitches, and not too many things can happen when you foul a pitch into the stands,” Wilson said.
AP Baseball Writers Howie Rumberg and Janie McCauley and AP Sports Writer Rob Harris contributed to this report.