I pretty much reached my breaking point earlier this week when video circulated of a pitcher blatantly – so absurdly blatantly – using sticky substance from his glove on the baseball, when that SAME pitcher had been seen on video doing it a month earlier. Clearly, there was not yet any enforcement going on to deal with the rampant use of sticky substances to increase spin rate and pitch movement, and pitchers were unmoved by MLB’s threats to finally take action over the offseason.
I just want something done to avoid the sinking feeling that we’re living through another “steroid era,” where we can’t really tell which pitchers are cheating, which ones are playing it straight, which accomplishments are real, which are aided by an illegal substance, and how we can’t unring the bell. Either make the baseballs more tacky (so that pitchers can’t claim they are merely using extra substances to get a decent grip), or create a uniform sticky substance – more than rosin, less than pine tar – that pitchers are all allowed to use however they want. That’s where I have tended to land.
But it sounds like MLB was taking another approach all along.
According to multiple reports, rather than seeking to identify, prove, and punish offenders right from the jump, MLB has simply been gathering information – lots of it – for the first two months of the season. That information was presented at the owners meeting this week, and apparently, enforcement is coming soon. As Joel Sherman writes: “MLB believes it has a strong feel for what is being used, by whom, how often and to what effect. Multiple sources said to anticipate action.”
In other words, MLB was gathering the proof over the course of two months – guys who continued to cheat, in MLB’s mind, even after all the talk of cracking down this offseason. In retrospect, yeah, that does seem like a really smart approach. My bad.
Well, actually, I should hang onto the apologies until we see what MLB actually does with the information it has gathered. If it’s just handing out 10-game suspensions to the guys they believe they can prove were cheating (that’s what it’s been in the minors), I’m not sure how that’ll go (unless they’re gonna suspend half the league, it seems like the volume of suspensions won’t actually match the volume of reported cheating). If instead MLB does as Sherman suggests, and releases a report that indicates – without naming names – just how widespread AND IMPACTFUL the cheating is, and says something like anyone caught cheating after X date will be named and suspended, it’s possible that might be the best approach.
So I’ll hold too much more commentary until we see how MLB decides to proceed. What we know is that lots and lots of pitchers are using illegal substances, and many of them are using them explicitly to gain extra spin on their pitches. It is truly a widespread and rampant problem, evolving in part from bad actors, but also in part from the way these substances have been treated culturally in the sport (not really enforced, described as OK if they’re just for grip and control, but oh hey teams value spin rate like crazy and this happens to also impact that, so maybe I’m OK to use a little, everyone else is doing it so now I’m falling behind, etc.).
If names are named, you can be sure there will be some Cubs pitchers – I say that not because I have any particular suspicions, but instead because it’s just a statistical question at this point. If something like way more than half the pitchers are using substances, well, then … just prepare yourself to deal with the cognitive dissonance of loving how a guy pitches, but also recognizing that he may have been assisted in it over the past several years (and then recognizing that it could be most pitchers doing it, but only certain guys doing it SO MUCH that they get busted for it, or maybe other guys are just great at pulling it off, and on and on … it’s gonna be a head trip).