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?

11 comments on “When did cheating become a way of life?

  • Name

    I’m actually OK with pitchers using some sort of grip substance on the baseball for safety reasons as the last thing you would want to see is someone get hurt because the ball slipped in their hand as these guys are hurtling projectiles at nearly 100 mph that can cause serious bodily harm.

    As long as it’s regulated and standard, then it would be an even playing field and merely a modification of the rules. It’s essentially like an additional piece of “equipment”, akin to a batter wearing batting gloves for better grip on the bat, or a runner wearing cleats for better traction on the field.

    • tj

      Agree 100%, so long as the standard does not result in such an improvement to pitching that it negatively modifies the game…for example, raising overall strikeouts per game by 50% and further reducing the balls in play. Perhaps they can try a season in a minor league and evaluate the impact.

  • Hobie

    In the era of hand-sanitizing before gripping the shopping cart, I wonder if grip substances are applied to hand for adhesion and not for the purpose of “loading up” (displacing center of gravity) of the ball.

    Is that fundamentally different from the ubiquitous rosin bag?

    • Jennifer Corozza

      That’s interesting regarding the COVID situation and hand sanitizer. Who knows what a pitcher is putting on his hand and seems like a sort of easy way to get out of it. My instinct is I hate cheating and I don’t love using grip substances, but then when you think of safety, it’s hard to know. That’s why I ask “Where do you draw the line?” at the end because I don’t know. The whole Astros thing drives me nuts, but how different is using foreign substances on the ball. It’s almost like the unwritten rule of unwritten rules per Sarris’ article in the Athletic.

    • Joe Vasile

      I think that you are correct in that many pitchers are turning to pine tar or other substances to get a better grip on the ball and not to displace the center of gravity. Using pine tar has been shown to help pitchers increase spin rate on the baseball in a way that a rosin bag does not.

  • Mike W

    If they get caught with a substance on their hands, for purposes of changing the flight of the ball, they should be ejected. I don’t buy this safety stuff if they don’t have a good grip. Every pitcher has the same opportunity to grip the ball. What are we supposed to do next, limit pitchers who have long fingers because it may give them an unfair advantage?

    Mordecai Brown had “three fingers” and he is in the hall of fame.

    I remember as a kid, Gaylord Perry was known for greasing the ball. In some games on TV, a good portion of the discussion was on Perry to see if he was greasing the ball. The cameras were focused on him. Another great memory of baseball in the 60’s and 70’s.

  • MattyMets

    Doesn’t seem to me like guys are even being subtle about it. Take a look at the brim of Edwin Diaz’s hat. He doesn’t just keep going to his hat because it sits funny on his ears. But then, hitters use pine tar and really what is the big difference between pine tar and what’s in a rosin bag? Here is Baseball-Reference definition of a rosin bag: A rosin bag is a small canvas bag filled with rosin powder (a sticky substance extracted from the sap of fir trees) used by pitchers to improve their grip on the baseball and keep their hands dry. So, Jennifer, you may have heard this somewhere before, but, apparently, if it comes from a tree, it’s okay. If it’s bought on the street it’s not.

    • Jennifer Corozza

      I haven’t heard that before. Sounds hypocritical to me. You can use natural substances or whatever, but if you buy it in a controlled form, nah? There are so many degrees here regarding foreign substances, but the Rule says the pitcher can’t even use dirt, the natural of natural? If dirt is a foreign substance, what isn’t? I guess just the rosin bag. It just makes me wonder, who is even a good pitcher? Pitchers aren’t even allowed to bat anymore. Do you even have to be an athlete of high caliber or just find the perfect mix of substances to get the job done? I don’t love it.

  • Brian Joura

    I’m a big believer that inconsistency is baked into the job of pitchers. Not sure how that should impact making grip substances legal, though.

  • TexasGusCC

    Maybe have a “pitching glove” that everyone wears to make things uniform?

  • Remember1969

    I don’t know what to make of this. . does everybody in baseball cheat? were the antics in Houston just the ones that were caught? is it only a select few that are thinking hard enough to push the envelope?

    In the end, it is a sad state of affairs that baseball might need to institute a crimes division with agents to oversee the rules. I do not understand (if?) how the golf world is able to turn out self-policing players who know the rules and can and do call penalties on themselves at times, while other sports cannot play by the rule book.

    Granted, it is human nature to want to do everything in one’s power to be best or set oneself up to get the best possible outcome of any situation, but baseball is a game. There is a rulebook for that. It should not be that hard to trust that the players are playing the same game. Violators should be prosecuted if proven.

    Just do the right thing.

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