THE CHEAP SEATS with STEVE CAMERON: A sticky situation developing in baseball
TONY GUTIERREZ/Associated Press New York Yankees starting pitcher Gerrit Cole adjust his cap as he works against the Texas Rangers in a May 17 game in Arlington, Texas.
Baseball is in trouble.
Baseball always seems to be in trouble.
For the past few seasons, there were howls and complaints about the game turning into slow-pitch softball — with home runs flying out of ballparks all over the majors.
That noise got louder and louder, and then, suddenly…
This year, nobody can get a hit.
(Yes, this would make a decent excuse for the Mariners, except that they’re simply the most helpless of the whole bunch.)
There’s no question that pitchers are totally dominating the game, and everyone knows why.
Or more specifically, they’re being allowed to cheat.
MLB has had a rule in place — pretty much forever — that makes it illegal to put any “foreign substance” on the ball.
YES, THERE have been a few notorious cases of enforcement (Joe Niekro caught with sandpaper and an emery board falling out of his pocket), and non-enforcement (Gaylord Perry is in the Hall of Fame, yet his autobiography was gleefully titled “The Spitter and Me”).
Generally, though, baseball has spent more than a century looking the other way as Vaseline, pine tar, rocket fuel, lemonade, cat food and Lord knows what else have been loaded up by pitchers looking for an edge.
These days, however…
Pitchers have analytics gurus on staff to tell them what sort of spin rate they’re producing.
So, instead of finding any old substance that can make a baseball do something weird, pitchers have found the Holy Grail.
(Or some similar gunk.)
The idea now is to have such a sticky substance on your hand — and the ball — that you can rev up the spin rate to such a blistering point that pitches can become almost unhittable.
MLB now has announced a crackdown on foreign substances, which is basically just enforcement of its own ancient rule.
One hilarious actor in the middle of this new crusade is Yankees star Gerrit Cole.
Asked specifically if he had used (or was currently using) Spider Tack, Cole responded this way…
“I don’t…I don’t know, I don’t know if, I don’t quite know how to answer that, to be honest.”
OBVIOUSLY, Cole going for the Fifth Amendment tells the whole world that, yeah, he’s been cranking up the spin rate on his pitches with some sticky-poo.
By the way, in Cole’s next start after the crackdown announcement, his spin rate dropped dramatically and he got knocked around.
MLB’s position on all this seems to be, “We’ve let you cheat for 140 years, but now you’re getting too good at it.”
Mets broadcaster Ron Darling, who pitched for 13 years in New York (and helped the Mets win a World Series in 1986), said on a podcast this week that he had wondered why pitchers weren’t going to their mouths anymore.
“It turns out they don’t want to get their fingers stuck to their tongues,” Darling said.
Darling, who would know, made it clear that baseballs are being doctored all over the place.
“I’ve seen breaking balls that looked like something I threw with a Wiffle ball when I was 10 years old,” he said.
The crackdown is on, if only MLB can figure out how to enforce it.
Meanwhile, I’m thinking the Mariners should order some Spider Tack while there’s still time.
Nobody will notice, I promise.
Hey, this is Seattle.
Steve Cameron’s “Cheap Seats” columns appear in The Press on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. “Moments, Memories and Madness,” his reminiscences from several decades as a sports journalist, runs each Sunday.
Steve also writes Zags Tracker, a commentary on Gonzaga basketball which is published monthly during the offseason.