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MLB needs more clarity on sticky stuff, no more scapegoats

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MLB needs more clarity on sticky stuff, no more scapegoats

TORONTO – Gerrit Cole’s response was revealing on some levels. When asked directly if he had used a forbidden grip-enhancing substance called Spider Tack, he sidestepped the question entirely.

“I don’t …” Cole began in response to Ken Davidoff’s question from the New York Post Tuesday afternoon. After a long pause, he continued.

“I don’t know, yeah, huh. I don’t really know how to answer that to be honest. I mean there are customs and practices that have been passed down from older players to younger players from the last generation of players to this generation of players and I think there are some things that are certainly off limits in that regard. I’ve been pretty firm in terms of that. “

So, has Cole used Spider Tack? Baseball fans will now draw their own conclusions. And what Cole has to say on the subject is important. Not only is he the best starter in the American League, a three-time All-Star whose $ 324 million contract is the largest a pitcher has ever received, he is also a prominent voice within the MLB Players Association.

But as the conversation about these substances intensifies with MLB warning memos and a recent Illustrated Sports The story titled “This Should Be the Biggest Scandal in Sports” is also worth wandering past Cole, past the dirt on Giovanny Gallegos’ hat, and beyond the weekly fluctuations in Trevor’s turning speed. Bauer.

Because while Cole’s response was the one that went viral, he’s not the only pitcher wondering, “What can I wear? What are my colleagues wearing? How much of this can I admit without facing discipline? “In the absence of clear regulations and consistent enforcement, players, teams and umpires have to improvise with decisions made in real time. And in baseball, that doesn’t always go so well.

Decades ago, when some hitters started taking steroids to gain an offensive advantage, it didn’t take long for their teammates to notice. And even though much of what those players drank was illegal at the time, the MLB didn’t ban steroids until 1991, and testing didn’t begin until 2003. Without a real app, players were free to do whatever they wanted. . Or, put another way, they had to give up an advantage to their rivals if they wanted to follow the rules to the letter.

In more recent years, teams used technology to steal posters. And while the Houston Astros are the most famous on this front, they weren’t alone. The Boston Red Sox wore an Apple Watch in defiance of the rules in 2017 before illegally using their video playback room the following season. And in the years before MLB’s harsh discipline made the league’s stance clear, other teams faced a decision: copy players like the Astros, or risk being left behind.

Now, it’s the pitchers who are stuck in this morally uncertain territory. So as tempting as it may be to single out a pitcher like Cole when his spin speed drops, it’s a dilemma faced by hundreds of pitchers. Inside the clubhouse of the big leagues, some believe that any discipline should reflect that.

“Just don’t mention the guys,” Toronto Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said. “One rule for everyone, that’s fine. We have to follow the rules and (once) that’s the rule for everyone, everything is fine. As long as we don’t know the guys, I’m fine with that. “

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The Blue Jays have spoken to their pitchers about how to navigate the various grab agents out there, and there are plenty of them, from the relatively innocent combination of sunscreen and rosin to industrial strength substances like Spider Tack.

As for the hitters? Good luck. As if speed increases, improved analytics, and frame changes didn’t make life difficult enough, pitchers can now grip the ball better than ever, allowing them to create more movement and deception in their pitches. And sure, hitters want the guys on the mound to be able to dominate the ball, but what we’re seeing now may be a step too far.

“It’s tough because you know sticky stuff is used, in quotes,” Blue Jays infielder Joe Panik said. “There’s a fine line between letting pitchers control the ball and extreme: taking it too far. Now it’s ‘OK, what’s too far?’ “

“In a perfect world it would be ‘OK, let’s find a substance that is in the middle,” continued Panik. “Whether it’s sunscreen and rosin or whatever. Something like that. It’s not like a super tactic. For me, he’s trying to find a middle ground. “

In theory, an agreed substance for all pitchers would level the playing field. Creating some clarity would also help with the application question.

At this point, much is left to the umpires’ discretion. But inspecting every glove and hat as MLB wants to increase the pace of action doesn’t sound easy, and umpires have a lot to handle as they are. They are already expected to spike the ball and make eye-catching calls, keep the game moving and take advantage of the occasional dabbling on national television. Now they are also supposed to evaluate the relative adhesion of each substance on each glove and hat?

“It’s terrible,” said a veteran of baseball. “His job is hard enough.”

Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most comprehensive Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering the latest news with opinions and analysis, as well as interviews with other team members and insiders.

Until there is clarity for the referees, they will continue to make judgment decisions in real time. Until there is clarity for pitchers in terms of rules and consequences, they will do the same. And if that leads to an inconsistency, can anyone really be surprised?

For some, that leads to a feeling of outrage. However, others see the rampant use of grip enhancers as the logical response to an environment that lacks clarity. As a second senior office executive commented, “If everyone does it, it’s easy to see why pitchers would try it themselves.”

It is with that spirit of understanding in mind that Panik shared his hopes for what is to come next.

“I’m not going to criticize anyone because everyone wants pitchers to throw strikes, but at the same time they are trying to find a middle ground,” he said. “Try to make everyone happy. And try to grow the game instead of fighting for it. “

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