For a decade and a half, a former MLB visiting clubhouse manager alleges that he supplied a slew of All-Star pitchers with foreign substances, and he appears to have relatively damning evidence.
Brian "Bubba" Harkins was fired as the visiting clubhouse manager for the Los Angeles Angels in March of 2020, with then-general manager Billy Eppler citing his creation and distribution of a foreign substance to players.
Harkins doesn't deny his role, but in an in-depth feature story written by Stephanie Apstein and Alex Prewitt of Sports Illustrated, he blew the whistle on quite a few notable current or former Major League pitchers for having used his substance.
Harkins says four-time All-Star Tory Percival created a concoction that consisted of rosin, liquid pine tar and Manny Mota grip stick. However, after Percival left to join the Detroit Tigers ahead of the 2005 season, Harkins essentially became the point guy for creating and distributing the substance. Word spread around the sport as former Angels joined other teams, and rather quickly, Harkins was sending the product to quite a few pitchers around the league.
The SI report confirmed that texts Harkins showed as proof from pitchers or those around them requesting the substance were legitimate. The following pitchers were listed:
- Three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer
- Two-time American League Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber
- Three-time All-Star Gerrit Cole
- Three-time All-Star Adam Wainwright
- One-time All-Star Edwin Jackson
- Joba Chamberlain, who spent 10 major league seasons with the New York Yankees, Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals and Cleveland
- Tyler Chatwood, currently a member of the Toronto Blue Jays, having also played for the Angels, Colorado Rockies and Chicago Cubs
The connections to seven have happened at different points over the last 15 years, and it's entirely possible that some used said substance all the time and others didn't.
It's not hard to see the chain reaction here given all the ties to the Angels and Tigers. Unquestionably, though, this has affected every team.
In some cases, it will be interesting to see how these connections affect the potential Hall of Fame cases of the pitchers accused.
There's not a text from two-time American League Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander, but he still appears to have ties to this. Verlander - out for the 2021 season after having Tommy John surgery - is said to have asked Harkins in person for some of the substance in 2006 or 2007. Verlander told Harkins he had been turned onto the substance while playing with Percival on the Tigers. Verlander has been a hardliner on players who fail PED tests, but was part of the 2017 Houston Astros World Series team and now has this accusation attached to him.
Scherzer - one of six pitchers in MLB history to win the Cy Young Award in both leagues - didn't directly reach out to Harkins. However, someone on the Nationals staff did, with the message "Bubba, Max need 2 batches please." Prior to joining the Washington Nationals, Scherzer, of course, was teammates with Verlander on the Tigers from 2010 to 2014.
Cole stumbled on a question last week when asked whether he ever used the substance Spider Tack, so his inclusion here isn't especially surprising. Cole - who FanGraphs says has the third highest fWAR among starting pitchers since the start of the 2018 season - was teammates with Verlander in Houston during the 2018 and 2019 seasons. His production vastly improved with the team when compared to his five seasons in Pittsburgh. In January of 2019, Cole texted Harkins asking to be helped out "with this sticky situation," before preceding to discuss how weather affects the efficacy of the substance.
Wainwright won't be a Hall of Famer, but he's one of the most respected pitchers of this era. Text messages obtained by SI not only show that he ordered the product, but then followed up by asking if Harkins could provide it for some of his St. Louis Cardinals teammates.
Kluber, now a member of the Yankees, won two American League Cy Young Award while pitching in Cleveland. Kluber, per Harkins, was turned onto the substance by the aforementioned Chamberlain, and has sought him out for it.
ESPN's Buster Olney reported over the weekend that baseball was hoping to minimize the damage brought about by this scandal with a slow rollout, that would allow pitchers to stop using any banned substances before umpires begin checking. Unfortunately for baseball, the cat is already out of the bag, and it doesn't look great for some of the game's most notable faces.