A STICKY SITUATION

By: Holly Horning

It appears that the powers that be within MLB don’t act when something is significantly wrong with the game until they are called out publicly.

Case in point is the Houston, and then Boston, cheating scandals that they ignored until Mike Fiers gave a high-profile interview to The Athletic.  Then the Commissioner’s Office did something.  Kinda.

Back in 2018, pitcher Trevor Bauer was doing interviews questioning pitchers who used sticky substances to pitch.  He even mentioned that it was a prevalent problem within MLB and spelled out what pitchers were doing.

(Insert sound of crickets here.)

There were multiple discussions of certain teams who acquired pitchers and “magically” transformed them into better ones with significantly higher spin rates.  Discussions that indicated certain teams couldn’t possibly improve their pitchers that much.  Teams like the Dodgers (with MLB’s current highest spin rate) and Astros.  Players like Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole were often cited.

Still, MLB did nothing.

Then there was the recent scandal and defamation lawsuit involving the Angels’ former clubhouse manager who was fired for his skill at concocting sticky substances.  So well known by a majority of MLB pitchers that they would call or text him when coming into town to pick up some of the stuff.

And this former Angels’ employee went into court with text messages and other proof in his attempt to clear his name.  (The case was just dismissed.)  Texts and other forms of evidence from Gerrit Cole, Clayton Kershaw……. Justin Verlander……and Max Scherzer, among others.

Clearly, this has become a major problem.

(Insert more cricket noises.)

But MLB finally took action recently when Cardinals’ Manager, Mike Schildt, made a scene during a game in which an umpire believed his pitcher had sticky stuff on his cap.  Schildt then came out publicly and called the prevalent use of adhesives by pitchers “baseball’s dirty little secret.”

That did it.  MLB had to act.

(If you follow us on Twitter, we’ve been reporting on all of this over the past couple months. Follow us as we report multiple stories every day.)

Historically, pitchers have always used a little something to aid their pitching.  Vaseline, spit, pine tar, etc.  Then they started using rosin mixed with sunscreen. 

But now they’re using sophisticated stuff.  Some that actually requires cooking. 

And then there’s Spider Tack which is described as “sticky stuff on steroids.”  So much so that there is video of balls sticking to catchers’ chest padding and players in the dugout holding a ball in their palm and then flipping their hand upside down to show the ball’s defiance of gravity.

How bad is this problem?

Some teams actually employ chemists.  If not to manufacture stuff, what exactly is their job?

In an interview with Spider Tack’s owner, he says that teams actually order his product and have it shipped directly to the ballpark.  There is no attempt to hide anything.

Analysts suggest that 80% – 90% of all MLB pitchers use something on their baseballs to help increase velocity, spin rate and movement.  Good pitches become even better.  Even exceptional.  Sliders break more sharply.  And fastballs?  Killer.

The new advanced sticky stuff can increase spin rates by 500 RPM.  Alone, an improvement in mechanics is said to improve spin rate by only 30-50 RPM.

A significant number of pitches have now gone from average to outstanding.  And it’s the main reason why batting averages are way down and strikeouts are way up.  It’s not due to the shift.

Top pitchers, it is sometimes insinuated, use it to gain an advantage in contract negotiations.  Young pitchers use it in order to (pardon the pun) stick in the majors.  Others use it because everyone else is and they don’t want an unfair advantage.

What we’ve got here, folks, is a rule that hasn’t been enforced for a decade.  A rule now that requires umpire checks and automatic 10-day suspensions with pay for anyone caught.  As a result, teams will be unable to add a player to the roster while their pitchers serve their sentences.

So why now?  Was it actually Mike Schildt’s high-profile rant?  Or is there something else that spurred MLB to finally act?

Certainly, baseball has been concerned with the steep drop in offense that has created boring games.  But they’ve also brought some of this on themselves by changing baseball construction as often as some people change their undergarments.  MLB bought Rawlings 3 years ago and have changed their baseballs twice now.  Pitchers have noticed and complained about how difficult it is to hold and throw them.

Certainly pitchers have been vexed.  But hitters also.

Some players (and agents) have gone so far as to suggest that baseballs were deadened this year in order to mitigate the upcoming class of star free agent hitters and those eligible for arbitration.  Lower offensive numbers equal lower new contracts.

Agents also added on their concerns.  They are blaming MLB for changing the focus to pitchers when it really should be on how MLB keeps changing the composition of baseballs.

But maybe the most insinuous accusation is MLB’s attempt to disrupt and fracture the Players’ Association in advance of the new collective bargaining agreement.

Think about it.  The new rule punishes pitchers. Hitters are complaining.  Whose side is Tony Clark going to take?  Is the MLBPA going to try to protect their pitchers at the risk of alienating their hitters?

As we all know, unity breeds strength within an organization.  If you can pit one side against another, you cause disruption and chaos.  It’s an opportunity to gain an advantage over your competition and win more points.

Could MLB’s decision to finally address the problems with sticky stuff, a full 5 years after players started discussing it publicly, be a reluctant admission that something needs to be done?  Or is it an action that has more nefarious tones to it?

Nah, it couldn’t possibly be the latter.  It’s not like the owners would ever collude or anything like that, right?

What did you miss on the Totally Tigers Twitter feed yesterday?

–  Injury bug has forced a much-anticipated roster move.

  What may have been a contributor to Matthew Boyd’s arm soreness.

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14 thoughts on “A STICKY SITUATION

  1. It has gotten to the point that baseball is not fun to follow anymore, there is always something scandalous going on, major rules changes, over analyzing, bean counting GMs, umpires always stopping play for one thing or another. I have not watched a game from inning 1-9 all year. Even the announcers talk too much. Baseball just seems over-engineered now, as kid in the 70s none of this stuff was in play, you just watched the games and enjoyed the players.

    Liked by 5 people

  2. Holly, your incredible insight and picture of the real reality is worth more than my first sentence. The MLB is made up of the MLBPA and the MLB-we own all the toys and Rob the “toy master”. The MLBPA is a two headed twin monster that people pay the nefarious collusers, aka: the owners, to see battle each other. The twins are complainers. But this is different, no whine but a squeal so loud it may tip the balance. Are the toy masters nefarious, absolutely and they’re putting the twins at odds.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I grew up in the spit ball era. That was always going on. Umpires were checking the ball quite often. I kind of wonder what baseball would have done if this substance was around then. This seems more nefarious then beating on a drum. Was this the stuff on Kenny Rogers left hand? It seems to me that baseball took exception to banging on a drum when all the hitters were doing is fighting fire with drums. Another great insightful article Holly.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Baseball has become very boring and is ruining itself. The use of chemicals to make sticky stuff for pitchers to use on the baseballs amounts to misrepresentation and fraud. Why can’t this be stopped immediately? What is the Commisioner doing about it? Maybe Congress should intervine to remove this criminality. Kudos to Holly for a very informative, interesting article!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. An aide in the Clinton administration that facilitated peace negotiations for Northern Ireland and Israelis-Palestinians among others said the parties that hated each other the most were MLB players vs owners. The billionaire owners are accustomed to getting whatever they want, but they have lost every law suit.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This is simple. Baseball has all this documentation on spin rates. Figure out what an acceptable spin rate is and the same people that monitor the replays also monitor each pitchers spin rate on every pitch. If he goes over the level he is automatically suspended for 10 days without pay and the owners have to use that money to donate tickets for young baseball fans.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Yes, by all means get Congress involved, that would solve all of Baseball’s problems. So much hyperbole and overstatements on Baseball’s perceived problems. Baseball will survive, it always has.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. I’m not even sure what a spin rate is and I think that Trevor Bauer is a (very) successful and somewhat obnoxious blowhard, but it’s clear that MLB has a problem. The 10-day suspension, with no replacement possible during the suspension, is a modest start. Maybe Congress should be consulted. Nobody spins better than the average politician. Nice column, Holly. It’s a pleasure to read your work.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Baseball reflects of our society. When “ends justify the means” and “it’s all about me”, everything falls apart. There have always been rule breakers, but when the majority cheat the few that don’t can’t compete. Some way, somehow, the integrity of the game must be restored but I’m not sure this generation of owners, coaches, and players are capable.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. In some ways, this situation reminds me of the steroid era of the 90’s, epitomized by the homerun chase between Sosa and McGwire in 1998. MLB conveniently puts in head in the sand while the chase for Maris’ record was the talk of baseball. MLB.com just announced that umpires will start enforcing rule 6.02 banning foreign substances used by pitchers. Once again, MLB waited too long to address a problem because of the pursuit of money.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Sigh. . .At its finest, baseball was meant to be a simple game featuring a wooden bat, a leather glove, and a hardball with a pencil and a scorecard being the only necessary analytical tools.

    Liked by 2 people

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  12. Manfred ‘cheated’ when they ‘fixed baseball’to be more like batting practice home run contest. This is pitchers answer. We all loose. Thanks Holly, I never bought into the, Its a the shifts fault.

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