Mets acting general manager Zack Scott had a fairly clean solution to a very sticky situation.
While the rest of baseball debates the merits and fairness of “sticky stuff” – the tacky substances more than a few pitchers use to improve grip and spin rate – Scott said that he didn’t care if players used it or not, as long as it was fair across the board. Even if that means changing the ball or allowing a certain set of universal tacky materials.
“If they decided to go to a standard tacky baseball that’s made that way or if there’s just one product that’s approved, kinda like when we went through PEDs, they decided to give you a list of things you could take and the things you can’t” he’d be for it, Scott said. “If there was clarity like that, I think that would be helpful. Whatever they decide will be totally fine with our players. We will work within those guidelines.”
Scott’s comments come as baseball is embroiled in yet another cheating scandal: Though use of a foreign substance other than rosin is banned in baseball (and has been banned for over a century), use of various tacky materials has often been ignored or even latently encouraged. Recent domination by pitchers, increased spin rate, and the six no hitters so far, though, has continued to put a spotlight on the practice – so much so that MLB emerged from the owners’ meetings this June vowing a crackdown on pitchers who practice the craft of aided manipulation.
The issue touched the New York baseball world last week, when Twins slugger Josh Donaldson accused Gerrit Cole of using substances to alter spin rate. Four minor leaguers already have been suspended for use of a foreign substance, and it’s expected that this will soon come to MLB, with umpires checking balls more frequently and enforcing rule violations.
But while enforcement is fine, Scott said, it should all be codified in a way that leaves no room for speculation. After all, it’s always been illegal, but it’s rarely been viewed that way.
“I just think clarity is important,” he said. “We’re going to work within the parameters of the game to win, so how you set those doesn’t matter…The key is to be fair and to be clear and for the umpires, for it to be clear for them. Because we’re really just talking about enforcement. It’s always been on the books that you’re not supposed to put stuff on the baseball, so it’s really how they communicate with the umpires and what the expectations are.”
The issue is further complicated by the fact that grip is important for things other than spin rate – it also helps pitchers control the ball, so it doesn’t slip out and hit a batter. It doesn’t affect all pitchers equally – with different specialties and repertoires, some thrive with it, and some prefer to do without. Finally, the grip on baseballs deteriorates the longer they stay in play.
“It’s challenging, you know,” Scott said. “We don’t really know what guys are doing even inside our own organization versus outside, or if they’re doing anything at all. It’s not like it’s something that’s ever been broadcast in all my years of baseball.”
Scott also disagreed with Pete Alonso’s theory that baseball doctors baseballs based on the upcoming free agent class – juicing them up when pitchers head the group and deadening them when the top free agents are position players.
“I didn’t know Pete was a conspiracy theorist,” Scott said jokingly.
“I think if they’re doing that, I don’t know what their incentive is. If you’re doing that, you’re also helping some other players, so you can’t do one without the other,” he clarified. “The way teams evaluate performance is relative to levels. So we’re not going to be fooled by offenses way up or way down. We’re going to look at players relative to how the league is playing as a whole, so it would have no influence on how players are valued or paid.”
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