MLB Foreign Substance Ban

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Major League Baseball has finally responded to the ongoing scandal within the league by pitchers, by issuing a 10-day foreign substance ban. According to an article posted Monday night by ESPN’s Jeff Passan, the MLB is expected to issue a memo Tuesday to all teams addressing the scandal and how it plans to punish those who violate the rule moving forward.

The previous foreign substance ban had been a 10-game suspension, but it has now been reduced, presumably because of the widespread ongoing use currently within the league. Umpires are now expected to check players’ uniforms and hands more regularly to determine whether a player is using a substance or not. Currently, players have estimated 70 percent to maybe even 90 percent of pitchers potentially utilizing these illegal substances in an effort to manipulate their command and velocity while on the mound.

Foreign Substance Ban: It’s Lengthy Tolerated History

For years, foreign substance use has been prevalent in baseball, dating back over 100 years ago when pitchers like Burleigh Grimes would utilize his spit to manipulate his control on the ball. More substance means more grip and spin, and more grip and spin equates to more movement and velocity against hitters. The first foreign substance ban outlawed spit and some foreign substances in 1920, with the exception of 17 pitchers, including Grimes, until they finished their career.

Legendary Hall of Fame inductee Gaylord Perry was one of many to continue the use, where he predominantly featured his infamous spitball in his pitching repertoire throughout the course of his career from 1962-1983, even releasing an autobiography discussing the use, titled “Me and the Spitter”. Umpires had always been required to check pitchers while on the mound, but many had largely resorted to avoiding the issue unless called upon by managers to do so. As a result, pitchers have taken full advantage of the apathetic attitude towards the use, doctoring balls with substances that include Firm Grip Spray, Tyrus Sticky Grip, Bullfrog Sunscreen with Rosin, and what’s become most popular now in Spider Tack.

Foreign Substance Ban: How This Came To Be

You may remember hearing about Spider Tack when New York Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole was asked but had declined to give a straight answer about his potential usage of the substance during a press conference less than a week ago. Spider Tack is a sticky, tacky, adhesive-like substance used frequently to establish a grip on holding gravel stones. Many competitors in the World’s Strongest Man Competition frequently use it. Cole has been the subject of a recent scandal involving former Los Angeles Angels’ away clubhouse manager Bubba Harkins, who was fired back in 2020 when it was revealed he was supplying substances that he had concocted for both Angels pitchers and opposing team pitchers.

Cole is at the forefront of names listed by Harkins he had supplied substances to that also included other high profile pitchers like Max Scherzer, Corey Kluber, Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, and Adam Wainwright. Despite the anti-foreign substance stance he had taken back in 2020, even Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer has been the subject of suspicion for doctoring balls, as there’s been a significant increase in both spin rate and overall efficiency over the past few years within his performance. He was investigated for potential ball doctoring, when several of his baseballs were inspected during a start on April 7 against the Oakland Athletics, but the results did not determine that Bauer was guilty of any wrongdoing.

While the use is expected to be prevalent, there has been only one documented incident this year in MLB involving foreign substance use. Back on May 26, umpire Joe West had confiscated the hat of St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Giovanny Gallegos without ejection nor suspension for what was determined to be sunscreen on his hat. In protest to the inconsistency of surveilling the usage, Cardinals manager Mike Schildt was ejected from the game when arguing with Joe West on why his pitcher was being singled out, compared to others who have been using themselves. In Minor League Baseball, however, there were also four players that have already been suspended for using them as well.

Many have also attributed the dramatic decrease in league-wide batting average to the use of foreign substances in MLB, where it dropped to a staggeringly low .236 by June 3. It marked a tie for the lowest in MLB history that dates back to 1968 for when it fell that low. Spin rates have also gone up, with the Dodgers rotation accounting for a seven percent average increase in spin rate from last year to this year that stands atop the league. Teams on average have increased their’s by about only 1/14 of that at a 0.52 rate improvement, so the spike in spin rate for the Dodgers is considered significantly high.

Foreign Substance Ban: MLB’s Latest Response

Throughout the course of this year, MLB had been collecting baseballs by the thousands all season long in an effort to find a way to contain this scandal. Baseballs had been sent to an independent laboratory for analysis to determine if they had contained foreign substances on them. Two general managers have already told ESPN that all teams had recently received reports on substance usage occurring within their pitching staff. There are some teams who have even asked that their pitchers avoid utilizing substances even during bullpen sessions to avoid any potential risk of being in trouble when they approach the mound.

In the meantime, MLB has also been listening to propositions from pitchers, who have suggested a more compatible alternative to pitch grip other than just using rosin, which remains the only substance really allowed. While they have looked into creating a universal product, they have yet to successfully develop one that only enhances grip and not performance. With suspensions now seemingly being enforced again, the next one will mark the first time in six years that one was given for such a violation when Baltimore Orioles reliever Brian Matusz was suspended for eight games in May of 2015.

As for the MLB Players Association’s response to the recent ruling, they stated, “The Players Association is aware that Major League Baseball plans to issue guidance shortly regarding the enforcement of existing rules governing foreign substances. We will communicate with Players accordingly once that guidance has been issued. We anticipate future discussions with the League regarding on-field issues, including the foreign substance rules and the baseballs themselves, as part of ongoing collective bargaining. Our continued focus will remain on fundamental fairness and player health and safety.”

For now, only time will tell the impact of the newest foreign substance ban.

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Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images

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