Among the myriad of problems plaguing baseball is its relative lack of offense, resulting in record-low batting averages, reduced scoring and plummeting contact rates. Experts have spent all season trying to piece together this phenomenon with pitchers, after years of playing second fiddle to hitters (the Steroid Era, “juiced” balls, etc.), regaining the upper hand amid the sport’s offensive ice age.
This collapse can be traced to a number of factors—rising fastball velocity, batters selling out for home runs—but any discussion of baseball’s offensive decline begins and ends with the use of illegal foreign substances. MLB’s laissez-faire approach to policing grip-enhancers has birthed a power imbalance of the highest order, with pitchers becoming more and more reckless in their use of Spider Tack and other aids that improve spin rate.
Baseball’s crackdown on illegal foreign substances, or at least the threat of repercussion after years of looking the other way, seems to have already made an impact, as noted by ESPN’s Buster Olney.
With alleged cheaters like Gerrit Cole increasingly under the microscope and whistleblowers (former American League MVP Josh Donaldson among them) coming out of the woodwork at a breakneck pace, it’s clear this issue is coming to a head. The scope of baseball’s foreign substance epidemic will soon be unveiled when eagle-eyed umpires begin mandating random hat and glove checks, with offenders subject to automatic ejection and a minimum 10-game suspension.
What does former MLB closer Jonathan Papelbon, who memorably recorded the final out of the 2007 World Series, have to say about all this? The 40-year-old seems to subscribe to the old adage, “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.”
The Red Sox and Phillies' all-time saves leader expressed a similar sentiment on NESN (where the former All-Star contributes to Red Sox pre and post-game coverage) last week, arguing that enforcing baseball’s long-ignored foreign substance rules will “mess with guys’ careers.”
While Papelbon’s pro-cheating (or “misinterpreting the rules,” as South Park’s Eric Cartman might say) stance is problematic on a number of levels, you have to admire Pap’s honesty, shooting it straight when others would have bored us to tears with a boilerplate non-answer or dodged the subject entirely.