Denver, CO

Once Confined To Colorado, Humidors Have Become Universal

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Denver's Coors Field was the home of the first baseball humidor, now universal in the majors.Dan Schlossberg, IBWAA

By Dan Schlossberg

The Minnesota Twins mark of 307 home runs in a single season could stand forever.

That’s because the humidor, a device designed to dry out baseballs, has become ubiquitous.

Once used solely by the Colorado Rockies in an attempt to counteract the atmospheric affects of Denver’s alpine air, the use of humidors is now as accepted as the brassiere — except that men are the main beneficiaries.

Broadcaster Jon Sciambi was the man who leaked the news, which teams have kept quiet because fans dig the long ball.

As a fan of the Atlanta Braves, I was wondering why so many hard-hit balls this season wound up in outfielders’ gloves rather than disappearing deep over the wall.

Atlanta announcers have blamed the cold April air. But it’s obviously more than that.

Even with their humidor, the Rockies remain the only team to have four 30-homer hitters twice. The team has trouble signing pitchers (see Mike Hampton for a recipe of disaster). And players who leave the Coors Field playground — even Hall of Famer Larry Walker — don’t do nearly as well in their new environs.

The Arizona Diamondbacks, whose high desert altitude ranks second only to the Mile High City, followed the Rockies in the evolution of the baseball humidor.

As for the aforementioned World Champions, Atlanta has the third-highest altitude in the majors and once had a stadium nicknamed “the Launching Pad.” Hank Aaron’s assault on Babe Ruth’s home run record might have stalled if the team had added a humidor instead of a teepee.

Now, however, Matt Olson’s quest to hit 40 home runs for the first time might just become a pipe-dream. Liberated from the massive, pitcher-friendly ballpark in Oakland, Olson seems to be battling an invisible enemy.

Yes, it’s early. So let’s wait and see how Ronald Acuña, Jr. fares when he returns from rehab on May 6 (incidentally, the birthday of both Willie Mays and this columnist).

The original intent of the humidor was to keep balls from drying out in places with low humidity (Atlanta is definitely NOT one of those). The contraption is widely considered successful in lessening the buoyancy of the baseball — but wouldn’t dry balls have the opposite effect in high-humidity ballparks?

The jury is still out.

Before the humidor became as universal as the designated hitter, teams that had it included the Blue Jays, Red Sox, Mariners, Astros, Rangers, Mets, Marlins, and Cardinals in addition to the Rockies and D’backs.

It will be interesting to watch the impact of the humidor as the weather warms — especially in parks that proved conducive to the home run in previous years. The eyes of the baseball world will be on Boston’s Green Monster, Houston’s Minute Maid Park, and especially the ridiculously-short right field porch at Yankee Stadium.

If I were a betting man — and baseball now accepts gambling though it keeps Pete Rose banned — I would bet against the humidor lasting longer than the Manfred Man, the automatic ghost runner of extra-innings infamy.

Maybe Colorado will keep it, and perhaps Arizona too, but teams would be better served by spending their money elsewhere. Giving their much-maligned PR guys a raise would be a great place to invest.

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has been covering baseball since 1969. His byline appears on forbes.com, Latino Sports, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Sports Collectors Digest, and elsewhere. E.mail him at ballauthor@gmail.com.

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