Once again, MLB faces the crisis of its own making

Here’s What Yankees Gerrit Cole Should Have Said Last Week When asked if he has ever used a spider tack? When pitching: “I follow all the rules that baseball is set out to enforce.”

It must have emphasized where it is.

On Tuesday, Major League Baseball formally announced “enhanced enforcementRegarding its longtime rules prohibiting the application of foreign substances to baseball. It continues the tradition of the game until the situation gets out of control.

Do we really think that the 1919 Chicago White Sox was the first group of players to take money to fix games? Was Jackie Robinson the first black person to qualify to play in the majors? Has anyone ever taken steroids before Ken Caminity admitted it? Did the 2017 Houston Astros Invent the Art of Illegal Sign Stealing?

off course not. And like those embarrassing episodes, MLB knew what was happening long before they made an uproar about it.

“Yeah, there’s a rule on the books, but they don’t enforce that rule,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said Tuesday, adding that pitchers took advantage of the league’s apathy. “The game is starting to take hold now: it’s too much, it’s gone too far, and how can we improve it ourselves? And the only way to fix all of this is by people, I guess. ‘Get dry, and don’t use things they’ve used for generations.”

From Monday, the umpires will check the gloves, cap and fingers of every pitcher who enters the game. If those fickle pitchers seem suspicious while pulling up their sleeves, raising their belts, or scratching their heads, they can expect a visit from an additional umpire. Anyone found with foreign matter will receive a 10-game suspension (with pay), and their team will not be allowed to replace a player on their active roster.

If baseball carries on with its planned enforcement, expect a major change in the culture of the sport. In the century since the league banned spitball, generations of pitchers have used mound catching agents, mostly with impunity; It was so pervasive that the managers had an unwritten agreement not to check each other’s pitchers. People who were caught and punished usually flout the rules in such an obvious way – think Michael Pineda with pine tar smeared on his neck – that he basically asked the opponent to intervene with an umpire.

The problem now is that pitchers have advanced from using pine tar to products like Spider Tack, a sticky paste that helps competitive strongmen haul stones weighing hundreds of pounds. It would be prudent to accept something other than a rosin bag to give the pitcher a consistent feel and grip; Say, a sunscreen-and-rosin blend. When a baseball seems slick—as it often does on cold nights, especially—it’s a Threat to hitters and pitchers alike.

To prepare for the new enforcement, many pitchers had already abandoned their usual methods. Tyler Glasnow, a right-hander for the Tampa Bay Rays, said he had long used a sunscreen and rosin mix, but stopped doing so at his debut last week. Forced to hold his fastball and curve more tightly, he said, he developed pain “in places I didn’t even know my muscles were in.” On his next start, on Monday, Glasnow felt a strain in his elbow. He was diagnosed with a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament and a flexor strain; Even if he survives the surgery, Glasnow will be missed for months.

“To ask us to do something completely different in the middle of a season Crazy,” he said. “It’s ridiculous. There’s some give and take here. You can’t just take away everything and not add anything. Pitchers have to be able to have some sort of control or some sort of grip on the ball.”

Now they can’t, because MLB ignored the evidence they should have gathered long before this season.

Four years ago, Jason Giambi, a longtime sluggard, spoke with me at a long development of different pitches. It stood for the argument, Giambi said, that modern technology would prevent pitchers from doctoring baseball.

“Not only do you have players watching it, you have the video guy down in the tunnel, and then your other video guys are running the whole room upstairs,” he said. “So you have a lot of eyes on these guys, and especially if they see a pitch that looks really unusual, the guy rewinds it 5,000 times: ‘Well, what did he do differently? Oh, He went to his pants, he went to his belt, he went to his hat.’

“Then they start putting together a timeline every time he pitches, does that ball do the same thing? What about his last start, his start before that? And before you know it, he Turned it down – well, ask the umpire to check his hat, or check the side of his pants, or check the inside of his glove. You can’t hide anymore.”

Giambi was right: video and data could really figure out who was doing what and when. But the teams didn’t use it to stamp out the practice, instead deciding to cultivate their own spinmasters in organizational pitching labs, which provide immediate feedback via high-speed cameras.

“Our pitching lab isn’t a biomechanic, let’s test all these substances and see which sticky stuff comes out best,” Cashman said of the Yankees’ pitching workshop in Tampa, Fla., known as a “gas station.” known as. “I never heard of Spider Tack – God as my witness – until three weeks ago.”

A higher spin rate allows a pitcher to hold its aircraft longer, creating the illusion of increased thrust and making it harder to hit. By knowing their exact spin rates, pitchers have a better idea of ​​what to use to take advantage of hitters’ weaknesses. The effect has been staggering.

In the 2016 season, the Major had 3,294 more hits than strikeouts. By 2018, strikeouts had reduced hits. And if the 2021 numbers continue at current rates, there will be around 5,200 more strikes than hits this season.

Baseball has stood and lets it happen, sometimes to a comical degree. In April 2017, Yadier Molina of the St. Louis Cardinals blocked a pitch in the dirt and became restless to find it, only to see that it was stuck like velcro For his chest guard. MLB determined there was no rule violation, and everyone had a good laugh.

Trevor Bauer, now with the Los Angeles Dodgers, saw what was happening. He also showed this in his first innings debut with Cleveland in April 2018, when he increased his spin rate to about 300 revolutions per minute. Bauer cited that figure as the number of times a pitcher can rise by using a gripping agent on the ball.

“There’s a problem in baseball right now that relates to viscous materials and spin rates,” Bauer then told reporters. “We didn’t have the technology before to measure how the sticky stuff affects the ball, how it spins, how it moves. But all that research is clear now.”

Bauer said: “It’s the same logic that was used when steroids were in play. If you look the other way and you let some people do it, the people who chose not to do it “They are at a competitive disadvantage. And that’s what’s going on right now.”

As it was in the steroid era, baseball was more concerned with appearances than competitive losses. When home records began to fall — and Congress began to take calls — MLB and the players’ union were eventually driven to drug tests with meaningful penalties.

Now, it seems, baseball is intimidated by the product it has become. While it’s hard to share Mets first baseman Pete Alonso’s belief that MLB regularly changes baseball based on the next free agent class, the home run rate increased significantly in 2015, when it hit a 22-year low. level fell. When the home run escalates, strikeouts usually follow – but now there are too many strikeouts.

The result is a style of play that many longtime observers in and out of the game barely recognize. It is a style that the league promoted by reacting too late to a trend that was evident all along.

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