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Tuesday, June 20
Balls too lively by major-league standards

NEW YORK -- The test results are in: Baseballs this season are legal -- but barely.

Balls from this year and the last two were tested by Jim Sherwood, who runs the Baseball Research Center at the University of Massachusetts' Lowell campus.

Despite the record number of homers flying out of parks, the balls weren't found to be "juiced." Even so, balls from all three seasons were close to being too lively by major league standards.

"The balls today are at the upper end of the spectrum," Sandy Alderson, the commissioner's executive vice president of baseball operations, said Tuesday after meeting with Sherwood.

"We know where we are in the spectrum, but how does that relate to five years ago, 10 years ago?"

When a baseball is fired at a wall made of 2½-inch thick, northern white ash, it is required to rebound at 54.6 percent its original speed, plus or minus 3.2 percent.

In addition, a ball must hold its shape within 0.08 of an inch after being subjected to 65 pounds of pressure.

"There is a range of specifications the ball has to fall within," Alderson said. "There is a consistency within that range among the balls we've seen from the last three years. We're looking to see if we can find balls to test from further back."

There are two problems in testing older balls, according to Alderson: finding them and making sure they haven't changed since when they were made.

Through Monday, there were 2,584 homers in 1,011 games this season, an average of 2.56, matching the average for April. Last season's final average of 2.27 set a record, breaking the previous mark of 2.19, set in 1996.

There have been many theories on why so many home runs are being hit, including smaller ballparks in Houston and San Francisco, more players lifting weights following Mark McGwire's record 70-homer season in 1998, more weak pitchers due to expansions in 1993 and 1998, and juiced balls.

Rawlings, which has supplied all major league balls since 1977, checks to make sure each ball weighs 5-5¼ ounces and has a circumference of 9-9¼ inches -- measurement's specified in the Official Baseball Rules.

"While the ball this year is the same it's been in recent years, it's not clear for how long it's been that way," Alderson said.

The commissioner's office plans to release Sherwood's report to the public next week, Alderson said.