If there is one thing baseball players know how to do, it is playing dirty. Scandals are old news in Major League Baseball. They can range from simple sign-stealing to the “steroids era” of the late 80s through late 2000s. History, like it so often does, repeats itself. Similar to the infamous spitball ban in 1920, during this past week, the crackdown against every pitcher’s “sticky stuff” secret weapon has the baseball world spinning.
This past Monday, the MLB drafted a new policy that builds off of Rules 3.01 and 6.02(c) and (d), a policy that ejects and suspends any pitchers who use illegal foreign substances to doctor baseballs. In between innings, umpires will routinely check pitchers for such substances — from the highly popular Spider Tack to mixtures of sunscreen and rosin or tobacco and licorice mixtures.
To the surprise of no one, various players have voiced their objections to the enforcement, arguing that the procedures mimic airport security checks . Inspection checks on hats, gloves, fingers and belts are commonplace, and umpires can even ask for more checks if they have reason to believe that pitchers are hiding sticky stuff in other places. The new rule has had narrow direct consequences: So far, only Hector Santiago of the Seattle Mariners has been ejected from a game and given a ten-game suspension.
The new movement, while semi-disruptive, is necessary to keep audiences engaged and to preserve the integrity of the game. Before the new policy, these sticky additives were applied by many pitchers to enhance their grip and create more spin to their throws, making it harder for batters to make contact with the ball and by extension, upping their strikeout rates and decreasing batting averages.
Within this past week, it has been reported that the decline in spin rates fell 69%; the average “super-spin” four-seam fastball dropped from 17.2 throws per game to 5.3. Batting averages in turn, have slowly increased from .236 (the lowest in MLB history) to .243. These jarring numbers have forced members of the league — from the players to management — to reassess what the game of baseball is really about.
Pitchers, however, have a different perspective. According to some, sticky stuff has been heavily relied on for years, helping limit the number of batters being hit by pitches — though as recent statistics show that the number of hit batsmen is at its highest, insinuating that said substances do little for protecting hitters. The biggest concern voiced by pitchers is how the environment around these substance checks resembles one of “guilty until proven innocent.”
Years of practicing the art of deception instead of practicing actual pitching has turned baseball into a superficial game of stats. Baseball is more than witch-doctor-like concoctions: It is a game of precision, skills and morals.
The leaders within the MLB are examples to those in the minor leagues trying to make it big, college players hoping to impress and little leaguers inspired by their role models. Those who still try to use substances to gain an advantage will have to deal with the “if they’re doing it, so can I” situation they have created. Cheating has always been part of baseball and the MLB is finally making moves to make it right.
Contact Kiana Thelma Devera at firstname.lastname@example.org.