The MLB wants to crack down on the use of foreign substances by players that could help them gain an edge on the field. According to Jeff Passan with ESPN, the league is expected to announce today that it will issue 10-day suspensions to any player, especially pitchers, caught using foreign substances. The new rule is expected to go into effect as of June 21.
No More Sunscreen for MLB Players?
Pitchers have used a variety of substances over the years to give them the ability to spin a ball faster. Likewise, pine tar is used on bats to give them better grip as a player enters the batter’s box. However, MLB is apparently in the mood to go after anyone who uses a grip enhancer. Passan explains that umpires will be able to search pitchers between innings, assumedly in a manner similar to a police pat-down, looking for any foreign substances on their uniforms or hands. It seems, for now, pine tar for batters is safe.
The league already announced a week ago that it was preparing to give umps more power on the field to check for foreign substances, but the implementation of the rule changes set the changes in stone. There’s little disagreement among the league and players that products like Spider Tack, an industrial-strength glue, cross the line, but the changes could also result in players being banned over something as innocuous – and necessary – as sunscreen. Baseball umps have been known to make a bad call from time to time and, while using a mixture of sunscreen and rosin by pitchers for better grip will be off-limits, there’s no guarantee that an ump on a bad day won’t assume the presence of sunscreen isn’t only to protect the skin under the hot sun.
Long History of Grip Enhancers in MLB
The use of grip enhancers has been seen since baseball began, which isn’t to say that it should be viewed as acceptable. However, the league has largely overlooked their use and hasn’t updated the rules regarding the use of foreign substances by pitchers in over six years. Now, halfway through a season, MLB is making a change that it expects to be followed as soon as it’s implemented, which will almost certainly have an impact on the rest of the season’s games.
Despite the current use of foreign substances, it doesn’t appear that the rule change is finding a lot of resistance from teams or players. Several teams have already begun having their pitchers practice without the use of any substance that might throw up a red flag, and the MLB Players Association, in a recent statement, didn’t indicate that it would challenge the rule. It stated that it will hold “further discussions with the League regarding on-field issues, including the foreign substances rules,” but the statement didn’t have a tone of defiance to it. Since the changes were first announced on June 3, game data shows that the spin rate across the league for fastballs is down, while the batting average has increased from .236 to .247. Those stats might indicate that the rule changes might lead to more hits on the field, which would make sports gamblers happy.