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The MLB’s sticky situation with pitchers using illegal substances

Major League Baseball (MLB) has had a dirty little secret for some time now that is finally being dealt with. Pitchers have long used sticky substances to better grip the baseballs. It’s been revealed, with a new understanding of the substances, that these sticky substances being used are not just helping them grip the ball, but it’s also been creating more spin as it leaves the pitcher’s hand. This has led to record-setting strikeout numbers and all-time low hitting numbers for batters in the MLB this season. 

Interestingly enough, the MLB has had rules banning the use of any foreign substance on their balls. This all started in 1920, when then New York Yankees pitcher Carl Mays, who was notoriously known for putting substances like soil or tobacco on the ball, threw a pitch to former Cleveland Indians batter Ray Chapman that struck him in the head. Chapman was pronounced dead 12 hours later. To avoid any such occurrence again, the MLB banned any doctoring of the ball whatsoever. The only exception for getting a better grip is the allowance of a bag of rosin for pitchers during the game. So, what’s the secret? The MLB has known about the use of illegal substances for years, and they haven’t done anything about it. The use of foreign substances, while illegal, has been a well-known secret in the MLB community. 

This isn’t to say that nobody outside of the MLB knew about this. Many instances have happened in recent history where pitchers have been caught using things like pine tar and other things during games. Probably the most famous occurence in the last few years was when former Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda got ejected from a game after getting caught with pine tar on his neck. Learning from Pineda’s mistake, many pitchers today either keep these substances in their gloves, belts, on the brim of their hats, etc… 

So, where did the sudden crackdown start from? In early 2021, a clubhouse attendant for the Los Angeles Angels was fired after reports came out that he was selling foreign substances to players around the league. Many big named pitchers were on this list that are considered some of the best in the sport today. This was obviously a shock to the public. 

Why is this a big deal or that much of a problem? It’s not like they’re taking illegal steroids. Well, it’s because it is like they’re taking steroids. Aside from compromising the integrity of the game (which is a much more serious offense to fans), it’s unfair to the other players who follow the rules, as many studies have come out saying that the effectiveness of these foreign substances is similar to that of steroids.

Trevor Bauer, a pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers, has been on the forefront of the opposition to this abrupt change. He has been drawing MLB’s attention to the topic for many years and has conducted experiments with scientists to figure out the true effect of the substances. Though he said he wouldn’t use it during the games, the statistic of spin rate shows that in 2020, his spin rate had increased by an abnormal amount (around 200-300 RPM), which usually indicates that there is foul play involved. 

What has the MLB done to fix all this? Rob Manfred, the MLB’s Commissioner, has announced  that as of June 21st, there will be stricter regulation of the use of foreign substances. Umpires will randomly check pitchers mid-game for substances. So far, spin rates have gone down drastically around the league. The repercussion for getting caught with these substances is a 10-game suspension for the pitcher.

What kind of substances are being used? In the olden days it was things like soil and tobacco, but other things were used like dirt and spit. An article published by Sports Illustrated said that, “ (the use of substances) has become so pervasive that one recently retired hurler estimates ‘80 to 90%’ of pitchers are using it in some capacity.” Players today have many choices like Spider Tack, a sticky paste used for gripping stones, a combination of sunscreen and rosin, amongst many more things. 

While many pitchers are unhappy with the rule change, one thing is for sure: we as fans will now know for sure who truly are the best of the best on the mound.

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