Eno Sarris published an article in the Athletic two days before the Cy Young winners were announced, one of whom was Trevor Bauer. The main thrust of the article was that most pitchers cheat and it’s acceptable. Specifically, after speaking with close to 20 MLB hitters, pitchers, and pitching coaches, Sarris stated that “a large majority of big league pitchers right now are using some sort of extra-grip substance to impart more spin — and therefore more movement — on the ball.”
Please note that Official Baseball Rule 6.02(c)(4) states that “pitcher may not apply any foreign substance to the ball. This goes beyond the ‘expectorate’ prohibition and applies to anything at all (including dirt).” This is relevant to all 30 MLB teams including the Mets, especially considering the biggest free agent (FA) pitcher on the market is Bauer, the 2020 NL Cy Young winner. While Sarris was informed that most pitchers use foreign substances, Bauer was quoted extensively in this article and there are allegations that he has used some sort of sticky substance to assist with increasing his spin rate. One of the quotes in the Athletic reads as follows:
“For eight years I’ve been trying to figure out how to increase the spin on my fastball because I’d identified it way back then as such a massive advantage,” Bauer himself wrote in a piece for The Players’ Tribune. “I knew that if I could learn to increase it through training and technique, it would be huge. But eight years later, I haven’t found any other way except using foreign substances.”
While Bauer may not be alone, he is one of the only MLB pitchers to put his name to using foreign substances on the ball. He never stated specifically that he did it in 2020, but rumors are out there and Sarris’ article indicates most, if not all, pitchers load up the ball in some form of another. Once upon a time, it seemed this practice was only a veteran pitcher’s purview as stated hilariously by one fictional Ed Harris of Major League fame:
Wild Thing: You put snot on the ball?
Harris: I haven’t got an arm like yours. I gotta put anything on it I can find. Someday you will, too.
If most pitchers cheat, then what is cheating? Where does one draw the line? The Rule clearly states that any foreign substance on the ball is not allowed. Sarris’ article indicates that a rule change could happen or loading up the ball will just be ignored forever. It’s possible that some combination of the two occur where some foreign substances will be allowed and some pitchers will have to dance between the raindrops not to be caught with illegal ones.
One can argue that the ball is hard to grip due to multiple changes to the ball over the years that has resulted in pitchers needing to do more to allow them to grip it. For example, Noah Syndergaard once described the ball as an ice cube after giving up five runs in five innings.
The interesting thing about pitching is that even great pitchers have terrible starts. For example, early in 2019, Jacob deGrom pitched seven scoreless innings with 14 strikeouts against the Miami Marlins and, in his next start, gave up six runs in four innings against the Minnesota Twins. At that time, there was talk that deGrom was tipping pitches or there wasn’t sufficient velocity differential between his pitches. deGrom won his second Cy Young for the 2019 season. He’s special, an ace of aces, and even he is not perfect.
One has to wonder if inconsistency for pitchers is just baked into the cake of their jobs? What of the multitudes of lesser lights? If life is a normal curve, then most pitchers aggregate in the middle and aren’t special at all. Foreign substances seem to help with gripping the baseball and pitching is clearly one of the most difficult jobs in sports. Should use of foreign substances become a part of the rules, rather than be considering cheating? What is the point of winning if it requires breaking the rules? Where is the joy, the sense of accomplishment in such an endeavor?
Baseball is so offense-friendly now with bringing fences in, changing the ball, lowering the mound in the 1960s, having a pitch clock in the minors, less mound visits in the bigs, and now the 3-batter rule. Why not just have a pitcher robot or machine do the job? Why allow humans to do this most difficult thing in sports? Maybe it’s beyond them if cheating is intrinsic to the job.
Hyperbole aside, are we just supposed to accept cheating as a way of life in baseball? Some fans were angry at the Houston Astros players for not getting punished and some were fine with it: all in the game, you know?
Where do you draw the line?