Is there a more ass-backward sport than baseball? What other sport, heck, what other industry, would have rules on the books that aren’t enforced, yet there is a whole list of “unwritten rules” that will cause players’ blood to boil?
In arguably the biggest baseball brouhaha since the steroid scandal a generation ago, pitchers doctoring the ball — using various stick ’ems, solutions and potions to better grip the ball, or scuffing the ball with sandpaper or a cleat spike — has suddenly been thrust into the spotlight for some reason.
By all accounts, pitchers have been doing this for years and once again, it seems as if the rulers of baseball have — like they did with the steroid issue — turned a blind eye for a long time and decided now was the time to address it.
There was a time pitchers had to use tricks and spots on their uniforms and bodies to hide the substances to “load up” the ball. Nowadays, it almost seems like it’s out in the open. There is one pitcher whose fingers literally get stuck together after he touches the black spot on the inside of his glove. I mean, at least try to hide it.
Baseball was put on notice last week when Minor League Baseball suspended four pitchers for putting a foreign substance on the ball. Any correlation between that and the sudden decline in spin rates among some of the Major League Baseball’s best pitchers?
Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole was asked, point-blank by a reporter, if he had ever used a sticky substance in his glove to get a better grip on the ball. I didn’t see the interview, but I could almost hear the color drain from Cole’s face as he stumbled over an answer.
“I don’t,” he said before pausing, searching for a way to get out of the question. “I don’t quite know how to answer that, to be honest.”
The ball-doctoring controversy is different than the performance-enhancing drugs dilemma because ball doctoring is specifically addressed in the rules of baseball. Steroids were not, because the assumption was they were illegal in general society, thus, illegal in baseball.
But the rules explicitly state doctoring balls is against the rules and those caught doing so face a 10-game suspension.
The baseball rulebook states: “No player is permitted to intentionally damage, deface or discolor the baseball by rubbing it with any type of foreign item or substance, including dirt or saliva. Failure to follow this rule will result in an ejection and an automatic 10-game suspension.
“The pitcher is allowed to rub the ball between his bare hands but cannot spit on the ball, his hands or his glove. Also, pitchers are not allowed to rub the ball on their clothes, glove or other body parts besides their hands.”
So why is baseball, all of the sudden, deciding now is the time to start enforcing a rule that has been on the books for, literally, 100 years? Who knows?
But watch a home run too long? We’re fighting. A pitcher “shows up” the batter? We’re fighting. Baseball players are willing to fight over perceived slights so much more than when an opponent is blatantly cheating, which makes no sense whatsoever.
Washington Nationals manager Davey Martinez had a good point and made a suggestion during a press conference Wednesday. There are so many young fireballers coming through teams’ systems, pitchers who throw in the high 90s-low 100s, but have the command of Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn of “Major League” fame. Martinez is afraid if these young throwers can’t get a good grip, batters could be in danger.
Martinez proposes MLB look into making baseballs less slick, officially adding some more stickiness to the ball so pitchers won’t be looking to illegal substances to gain better command.
I applaud MLB for trying to get cheating out of the game, despite it moving at a glacial pace. Whether anything actual comes of it remains to be seen, but let’s be real: doctoring the baseball is cheating. Don’t believe the euphemistic term “gamesmanship” when it comes to this. Gamesmanship is an infielder deking a base runner into believing he is in position to catch the ball. Gamesmanship is reading the pitcher’s lips as he’s talking to the catcher. Gamesmanship is trying to decipher what the third-base coach’s signs are to the batter.
Cheating is taking PEDs, using technology to steal signs and doctoring the baseball. It’s in the rulebook. Just enforce it.