As outlined in a recent memo issued to all 30 teams, MLB’s crackdown on foreign substances that began in 2021 will include several new wrinkles this year, with umpires encouraged to inspect pitchers with greater “frequency and scope.”
To prevent pitchers from doctoring balls, gaining an unfair advantage through the use of grip-enhancers like pine tar and “Spider Tack,” MLB Vice President Mike Hill has instructed umpires to conduct random spot checks as opposed to previous years when players were only inspected between innings. Umpires have also been granted latitude to eject players for exhibiting “suspicious” behavior, keeping a watchful eye for wiping and repeated hat-touching, among other telltale signs.
Though MLB’s initial crusade against banned substances was lamented by pitchers as invasive and wholly unnecessary (in protest, Max Scherzer memorably showed up an umpire by submitting his belt for inspection), only two players—Seattle’s Hector Santiago and Diamondbacks lefty Caleb Smith (now of the Pirates)—were actually disciplined, both serving 10-game suspensions. As noted by Jayson Stark of The Athletic, spin rates (measured in revolutions per minute aka RPM), after a noticeable drop-off in 2021, returned to normal last season, suggesting pitchers had gone back to the sticky stuff, either by anticipating checks or crafting clever workarounds to conceal their use.
Hitting, in baseball’s current state, is hard enough without pitchers gussying up balls with more product than Pauly D’s hair, though, others would argue that Spider Tack and other substances (Rosin and sunblock, when used in the right quantities, can be equally effective) are a necessary evil, giving pitchers an added level of control needed to prevent injuries to opposing hitters.
Stark adds that MLB’s revised stance isn’t the result of one specific incident (though Joe Musgrove’s glowing ears immediately come to mind), but rather a concerted effort to police the game from sticky stuff after relatively lax enforcement last season. We’ll see how resistant pitchers are to these efforts (Lance Lynn and Madison Bumgarner have both been ejected for their hostile behavior during spot checks), though it’s clear that MLB, after letting its guard down in 2022, is back to treating baseball’s substance epidemic for what it is—a stain on the sport’s integrity.
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