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Baseballs are scrutinized again, but findings remain inconclusive

Commissioner Rob Manfred speaks during the Major League

Commissioner Rob Manfred speaks during the Major League Baseball winter meetings Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019, in San Diego. Credit: AP/Gregory Bull

SAN DIEGO — Yet another investigation into the closely-scrutinized performance of the baseball was unveiled Wednesday morning at the winter meetings, but the results of the study, like others before it, remain mostly inconclusive.

Despite a 40-minute discussion involving a panel of five scientists, two Rawlings executives and a pair of MLB officials, the only thing everyone could agree on was that the baseball’s behavior — including last season’s statistical jumpiness — is primarily  because of the variance of the natural materials used to manufacture it.

“Look, we’ve been around for 130 years,” Rawlings president and CEO Michael Zlaket said. “The company was founded in 1887. We’ve been the official baseball of MLB for more than 40 years, since 1977. We make a great product, one that’s consistently within MLB specs, and has been validated in the report.

“We have never been asked to juice or de-juice a baseball, and we’ve never done anything of the sort, and never would on our own.”

MLB released a 27-page report that preceded Wednesday’s news conference, and in attempting to explain the rise in home runs last season, the summation pointed to a change in players’ adjustments [launch angle] as well as the ball’s seam height being 0.001 inches smaller. Releasing study after study starts to feel like overkill, but MLB’s push for transparency on the subject is meant to combat the conspiracy theories blaming them for intentionally doctoring the baseballs.

“I think the variability in the baseball is a product of the fact that it is a man-made product with natural materials,” commissioner Rob Manfred said. “I think that’s part of the charm of the game, and the reason that I’m prepared to live with that variability is both teams play with the same baseball.

“So in terms of the fairness and integrity of the competition, they got one ball that’s out there at a time and they’re both using the same one.”

Astros probe ongoing

Manfred did not give a timetable Wednesday for meting out discipline for the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal, which stands to have implications for other franchises, as two former employees — Red Sox manager Alex Cora and Mets manager Carlos Beltran — may be facing punishment as well.

“I think that this is probably the most thorough investigation that the commissioner’s office has ever undertaken,” Manfred said. “I think we’ve interviewed already nearly 60 witnesses, [read] 76,000 emails and a whole additional trove of instant messages. That review has caused us to conclude that we have to do some follow-up interviewing. At this point in the investigation it would be wholly inappropriate for me to speculate about what types of discipline might be in play.”

Beltran declined to discuss the matter during Tuesday’s media availability, but Cora said he has spoken with ivestigators as did Astros manager AJ Hinch.

“What I can say is I’ve committed my time and energy to cooperate with MLB,” Hinch said. “I’ve talked to them a couple of times and we continue to work with them as they navigate the investigation, and now we’re waiting with everything in their hands.”

Notes & quotes: Manfred also announced Wednesday that all 30 ballparks will extend protective netting to at least the end of the dugouts for the 2020 season. Seven clubs will have netting that stretches to the foul poles and 15 others will have expanded from previous seasons...As far as the proposed contractions of some minor-league clubs, Manfred said the two sides remain in talks and nothing has been decided yet. “The fact of the matter is at the point of time this became public, we had precisely three negotiating sessions,” Manfred said. “It is by no means a fait accompli as to what the agreement is going to look like.”

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