Major League Baseball has recently faced allegations of pitchers using sticky, foreign substances on the mound, but is this really a new trend in baseball?
Cheating has been a part of Major League Baseball for well over a century. There are numerous ways to cheat as well, with the influence of performance-enhancers and gambling being two of the most commonly thought of.
However, another style of cheating that has been occurring daily for decades is through the alteration of the baseball. This affecting of the ball can be done by the pitcher or by the league entirely, something that was literally announced to have happened this season. Following a couple of seasons with offensive explosions, people began to question if the balls had become “juiced.” Commissioner Rob Manfred actually spoke to Jeff Passan on the subject…
Rob Manfred on some players' belief that MLB intentionally juiced the baseball: “Baseball has done nothing, given no direction, for an alteration of the baseball.”
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) July 9, 2019
After all that debate, Major League Baseball, who clearly denied those accusations, officially declared a detonated ball will be in play this season in order to reduce flight and speed. In doing so, MLB was attempting to reduce the number of home runs and make the offensive game more “old-school.” However, that could not be further from happened. The game has continued to evolve towards power and strikeouts, something that is not entirely enjoyable to watch. This season is on a remarkable pace to set countless record highs for pitching statistics, with records lows for hitters. New York Mets first baseman Pete Alonso offered Mike Puma of the New York Post an interesting take on this trend, stating, “I think the biggest concern is Major League Baseball manipulates the baseball year-in and year-out, depending on free-agency class.”
The new ball can totally be a reason for this, but another common opinion is that pitchers are using some type of foreign substances to enhance their grips, which increase spin rate, thereby increasing movement and velocity. Types of substances used include pine tar, rosin, sunscreen, and many other creatively hidden ones. The usage of these substances is not new and not by a long shot. Pitchers are always finding ways to make balls move more so than normal. Specifically, when pitchers receive a scarred ball or one with slightly larger seems, they will do whatever they can to exploit this abnormality to their advantage.
The history of pitchers using foreign substances is long and well-advertised. So why is it just now being brought to attention? Players have known for decades that pitchers can easily slip under the radar with these illegal practices, but now it is apparently unfair and needs to end. This cop-out for MLB’s decision to alter the baseball is simply baseball doing their best to accommodate for such a drastically poor offensive year. Strikeouts and no-hitters are through the roof thus far, not too mention massive spikes in certain player’s spin rates.
Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer are two of the game’s best pitchers right now. But, both of them have been questioned about their usage of these substances and deny those claims immensely. However, if one looks back at their spin rates over the last three seasons, we can see some crazy, seemingly unnatural changes for both of them. Additionally, after the league recently announced they would be cracking down on foreign substances, both pitchers saw dramatic fall-offs from earlier in the season.
Where Major League Baseball Sits Today
As much as cracking down on cheaters is a valuable process to do, the way baseball is utterly going back on its’ decades of purposeful ignorance seems random. It will forever be a hard thing to monitor as hiding these substances is somewhat easy and can be done in a lot of discrete ways. Baseball has done its’ best to speed the pace of play and make the game more fun for the average viewer, but the deadening of the ball and the resulting cracking down on foreign substances seems to be counterproductive. Let the hitters hit fifty plus homers. Let the pitchers throw 101 mph fastballs with movement. Baseball is baseball, changing the ball and attempting to change a practice that’s been around for decades simply will not do enough.
This situation baseball put themselves into is a tricky one. It is unfair and hypocritical for the game to give out severe punishments on something they have actively ignored for so long, but they also need to keep the public’s opinion of the sport’s integrity. They are trying to reverse the trend they started. They wanted less runs for faster games, but now that that has sort of happened, they want more runs for more entertainment. Regardless of where you stand on this situation, whether you think sticky substances should be ignored or cancelled, I think it is fair to say that Rob Manfred has yet again found a way to put baseball in the public limelight for all the wrong reasons.
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