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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