Fired Angels Employee Alleges Knowledge of Illegal Grip Substance Used by Cole, Verlander, Scherzer, Wainwright, More

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Fired Angels Employee Alleges Knowledge of Illegal Grip Substance Used by Cole, Verlander, Scherzer, Wainwright, More

Chicago Cubs

Up front, I’ll say again that I’m not going to excuse MLB from any of what follows. Not unlike the Steroid Era, MLB has known that players were increasingly using illegal substances to improve their play on the field, and has failed to act. Moreover, not unlike the Steroid Era, there is reason to believe that the use of illegal substances is rampant. Neither is an excuse for players, but it’s important context before you get TOO morally righteous.

Of course, this time, I’m not talking about the kind of illegal substances you put into your body to enhance performance; I’m talking about the kind of illegal substances you put on your body to enhance performance. Namely, illegal grip-enhancing products that pitchers use to generate extra spin, which can impact the shape and movement of pitches tremendously.

Earlier this year, a Los Angeles Angels employee was fired after being connected to the distribution of a special grip-enhancing substance out of the visitor’s clubhouse. The former employee, Bubba Harkins, is suing the Angels and MLB for defamation, claiming he’s being made a scapegoat despite the fact that this was all pretty widely known in the game. And in his latest filings, there are significant allegations about who was receiving his substance, and/or who MLB already knows has been using illegal grip enhancers.

From ESPN:

The [filings include] a declaration from Harkins in which he recalled a March 26 interview with attorneys from MLB and the Angels. During the interview, Harkins claims, he identified Cole, Justin Verlander, Edwin Jackson, Max Scherzer, Felix Hernandez, Corey Kluber, Joba Chamberlain, Adam Wainwright and Tyler Chatwood among the pitchers who previously asked for his specific blend of pine tar and rosin, which became popular throughout the league after he made it for former closer Troy Percival more than 20 years ago.

Harkins also named several current and former Angels — Percival, Brendan Donnelly, Kevin Jepsen, Cam Bedrosian, Keynan Middleton, Yusmeiro Petit, Luke Bard, Matt Andriese, Dylan Peters, Jose Suarez, Kaleb Cowart and Dylan Bundy — who used the blend.

Some very recognizable names there, obviously, and the point is less about doing a “gotcha” as it is about noting how wide this is. These are just the guys named by ONE former clubhouse attendant, and it reaches guys throughout the league (including, you’ll note, former Cubs pitcher Tyler Chatwood). Again, it is believed that the use of illegal grip enhancers is rampant throughout the game.

To that end, my beef has never been with pitchers wanting to maximize grip for grip’s sake. Heck, hitters kinda like it when they know a pitcher isn’t going to totally lose his grip and throw one at their head. Moreover, with MLB tinkering constantly on the baseball, I do believe it when pitchers say sometimes rosin isn’t enough if the ball is too slick.

Where I do draw the line, however, is when pitchers are CLEARLY using the grip stuff to dramatically increase their spin rate. They know the impact that can have on performance, and they know it’s against the rules. So they’re cheating. Let’s just be clear on that.

One of the more salacious allegations by Harkins is a text message he says he received from Yankees ace Gerrit Cole: “Hey Bubba, it’s Gerrit Cole. I was wondering if you could help me out with this sticky situation [winky face emoji]. We don’t see you until May, but we have some road games in April that are in cold weather places. The stuff I had last year seizes up when it gets cold ….”

That Cole is being implicated here should surprise no one, because we’ve been over this before. A thread from August, where Trevor Bauer is necessarily discussed as well:

Bonus? Imagine the stones on this guy to say this now:

I understand that Bauer thinks he was proving a point this past year by massively increasing his own spin rate (which, again, he himself says is not possible without grip enhancers), but he also walked away with the Cy Young award because of it. I really don’t understand how you can do that and then be out their chirping.

Anyway. Bauer has long been right about one thing, though: there are pitchers who are cheating under the current rules. Lots of them. Probably far too many to “punish” at this point. But MLB will have to continue to work on this issue, because the benefits of having a massive spin rate increase – even if ill-gotten – can be far too much for pitchers to turn down, especially when there’s this gray area of, “Oh, well, I’m just using it to get a better grip for control and safety, and MLB isn’t punishing anyone for this, so it’s fine if I also happen to get a little more spin.”

Oh, one last reminder: simply adding spin to your pitches, alone, doesn’t make you some great pitcher. You also have to make that added spin work for you, which is a more complex thing, and for which pitchers do deserve credit. But, well, having the added spin obviously helps the movement and life on your pitches, which is why teams target it so much.

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Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.