It’s the last thing Major League Baseball needs right now: another cheating situation.
MLB has been in the headlines around sticky baseballs for the past few weeks. It’s an old drill that benefits pitchers. Foreign substances are applied to baseballs and can aid spin speed and ball control during games. But it’s against the rules.
After collecting data and alerting teams about the matter, MLB officials plan to crack down on sticky baseballs.
Legendary players like Nolan Ryan have spoken up about the matter, and current pitchers like Gerrit Cole of the New York Yankees have also been pushing for the use of sticky substances.
While the use of foreign substances on baseballs is illegal, MLB has not enforced its own rules and can harm offensive production, leading to a staggering number of no-hitters.
But that’s going to change.
The league wants to enforce rules against applying stick substances to baseballs. It will ask umpires to check players and check baseballs, and will continue to use ball tracking in the hopes that it will deter players from cheating.
The league also sent warning shots to big league players suspension of numerous minor league pitchers for tacky baseballs in an effort to combat the problem among younger players. But how can MLB really make police rules that some think it never cared about? And will the players’ union help with that?
MLB needs to be very careful about players cheating now more than ever, especially as it navigates the sports betting space. Consumers can lose tons of money betting on games if players cheat.
“We’re talking about keeping big dollars from coming into play,” said former MLB executive Marty Conway. “At that moment you have to take action, because now it is the common thread through the general discussion in public. That is usually not good for a sport.”
Behind the scenes, the league and the MLB Players Association (MLBPA) recognize the problem. The fear of public shaming will help matters, officials who wished to remain anonymous said. Baseball players don’t want to be seen as cheaters. It will surely ruin their legacy and prevent entry into the Hall of Fame.
Should the fear of public embarrassment not work, players who are caught usually risk a fine and suspension of up to 10 games. One of the individuals said MLB will look into increasing the number of suspensions to 20 games. MLB plans to unveil its enforcement plan in the coming weeks.
So far it seems to work.
While discussing the matter on Tuesday, Cole, the pitcher for the Yankees, was asked if he had used any foreign substances on baseballs. He didn’t confess, but he didn’t deny it either. Cole pointed to “customs and practices” that have moved from “older players to younger players”. He said he was open to dialogue that would avoid using sticky baseballs.
“This is important for many people who love the game”, Cole told reporters. He added that if the league “wants to sort out some more things, that’s a conversation we can have because we all need to point in the same direction in the end.”
Conway, who served as a special assistant under former MLB commissioner Peter Ueberroth, said umpires couldn’t do much to address the problem.
“Ultimately, it’s up to the lead to establish and restore the integrity of the game,” Conway said. “There are cameras in every stadium. I don’t think it’s just up to the umpires to watch the dugouts, bullpens and everything else. Baseball can control this, just like they steal backboards and other things.” to check.”
“It’s up to baseball to penalize it because I think we’re already seeing some data on spin rates from certain pitchers diminishing,” he added. “Rule enforcement probably won’t eliminate everything, but a lot of what’s going on.”
In baseball circles, some point to sticky balls as a reason why team violations suffered this season.
Six no-hitters have already been thrown, which could break the record of eight sets in 1884. Hitters also suffer at the plate with a league wide .237 batting average after 1,798 games this season. The last time the MLB season batting average ended that low was in 1968.
With less action from pitchers dominating the batters, fans get a boring product, something MLB doesn’t need. But if umpires regularly check for sticky balls or suspicious players, this would slow down play, making results take longer. And MLB is already trying to increase the game speed to make its product more exciting.
Speaking to CNBC about pitchers dominating this season, MLB Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. insist that batters also have to adapt at the plate. He said that players are mainly looking for home runs and not aiming for the bases. And defensive shifts have made it challenging as well.
Still, the last thing MLB needs right now is more signs that teams and players are cheating, especially after the Houston Astros debacle.
“That situation caused leading headlines in non-sports publications about what was happening in baseball,” Conway said. “That prevents commercial sponsorship from being triggered. I would say to someone running an organization, ‘There is some risk here, so be careful.’ And until they clear this up, [corporations] may not participate.”
The situation remains sticky, but MLB needs to wipe it clean soon. Commissioner Rob Manfred needs to get back to more important things, like avoiding another lockout that could ruin his baseball legacy.