MLB will start cracking down on players using any foreign substances next week.
The league announced its sweeping new enforcement guidelines on Tuesday. Beginning June 21, any pitcher caught by umpires with foreign substances on their person will be automatically ejected and suspended for 10 games. In a news release announcing the crackdown, MLB said repeat offenders will face escalating penalties, and team personnel could also face discipline for failing to ensure compliance.
Notably, teams will not be able to replace the players suspended for violating this rule on their rosters.
Every starting pitcher will be checked at least twice a game for foreign substances by umpires and relief pitchers will be checked at least once.
MLB made a strongly worded case for the sudden crackdown, with commissioner Rob Manfred saying the sudden, midseason changes "are needed to level the playing field."
“I understand there’s a history of foreign substances being used on the ball, but what we are seeing today is objectively far different, with much tackier substances being used more frequently than ever before," Manfred said. "It has become clear that the use of foreign substance has generally morphed from trying to get a better grip on the ball into something else – an unfair competitive advantage that is creating a lack of action and an uneven playing field. This is not about any individual player or Club, or placing blame, it is about a collective shift that has changed the game and needs to be addressed. We have a responsibility to our fans and the generational talent competing on the field to eliminate these substances and improve the game.”
MLB has long had a rule against doctoring the baseball, but that rule has rarely been enforced. Even though illegal sticky stuff is now front and center in the sport, an estimated 75% to 100% of pitchers use it, according to The Athletic. Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole even gave a stunning non-answer when he was asked directly by a reporter if he had ever used Spider Tack.
Many hitters will no doubt be happy to see the rule enforced, but there are huge questions about how taking such a hard line — banning even the combination of sunscreen and rosin — will affect pitchers and the game. Some have wondered if the cold turkey method of removing grip-enhancing substances might endanger batters.
MLB's announcement sought to undermine that line of questioning, citing internal research to say "evidence does not suggest a correlation between improved hitter safety and the use of foreign substances." It points out that hit by pitches are currently at an all-time high, with sticky stuff in use.
Team owners determined in meetings earlier this month that they wanted to ramp up enforcement of that rule, following a sampling of balls earlier in the season — which sparked a newfound focus and scrutiny about sticky stuff in the game.
"The Players Association is aware that Major League Baseball plans to issue guidance shortly regarding the enforcement of existing rules governing foreign substances,” the MLBPA said in a statement, via ESPN. “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."
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