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MLB will enforce foreign-substance ban on balls; players respond

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Very sudden news

Oakland Athletics v San Francisco Giants
An illustration of where this decision was pulled from

A significant change is coming to Major League Baseball, almost immediately.

MLB will begin “enhanced enforcement” of the existing rules against pitchers applying foreign substances to baseballs, the league announced in a press release. The new enforcement will begin June 21, which is next Monday.

The topic of pitchers using sticky stuff has been a hot conversation all year, especially after the league announced in March that it would begin investigating the issue. Pitchers are commonly known to use sticky substances to help them safely grip the ball, a practice that’s decades old, and some use even tackier glue-like materials to increase their spin rates and movement. One veteran reliever estimated that 80% of pitchers use some sort of substance, per Eno Sarris and Brittany Ghiroli of The Athletic.

Now everybody will need to quit everything cold turkey. The penalty for being caught using any foreign substance at all, even the previously widely accepted sunscreen-and-rosin mixture, is a 10-game suspension with pay.

The ramifications of this change could be enormous, from performance on the field (fewer strikeouts?) to potential injury considerations. Sarris and Ghiroli suggest we might already have begun to see the early effects on the field, since players were informed of the news weeks ago and some had already begun experimenting with not using goop. Eric Stephen of True Blue LA provides an excellent rundown of background info, including Trevor Bauer’s role in raising awareness of how the issue had grown into a serious competitive imbalance problem as it evolved from simple safety into downright cheating.

As for the injury concerns, one has already been raised by Tampa Bay Rays star pitcher Tyler Glasnow. The right-hander was diagnosed with a partial UCL tear Tuesday, which puts him on the injured list indefinitely. He’ll try to rehab and return without needing Tommy John surgery.

Glasnow says that he has always used sunscreen-and-rosin to help his grip but suddenly went dry for his start on June 8 due to the enforcement change, and afterward he could feel new soreness in his arm that he “100%, without a doubt” attributed to the novel adjustments required to grip the plain ball. The sensation got worse during his next start June 14, when he hurt himself.

While Glasnow could accept a world without sticky substances, he objects to the change being rolled out in the middle of the season with no chance for pitchers to prepare and adjust.

Glasnow:

“Whether you want us to not use sticky stuff or not is fine. Do it in the offseason and give us time to adjust to it. But I just threw 80 innings and then you just told me I can’t use anything in the middle of the year? I have to change everything I’ve been doing the entire season, everything out of the window, I have to start doing something completely new. I’m telling you, I truly believe that’s why I got hurt. Me throwing 100 mph and being 6-foot-7 is why I got hurt, but that contributed.”

He went on to make a distinction between using simple substances to safely grip the inconsistent baseballs, and using Spider Tack to gain a serious competitive advantage. As many other players have done, Glasnow suggested some kind of standardized league-approved grip assistance — that solution would give pitchers and hitters the confidence they both desire, while leveling the playing field and erasing the shenanigans that have turned this into such a crisis.

As for the Oakland A’s, after this news was pre-announced yesterday, there were five batters hit by pitches in their game Monday night, four of them A’s batters by Angels pitchers. Chad Pinder was drilled in the head by a wayward breaking ball and had to exit the game.