Welcome to The Opener, where every weekday morning you’ll receive an up-to-date and current column to start your day from one of the MLB writers at SI.com.
The richest pitcher of all time faced perhaps the most challenging opponent of his career, the New York media, on Tuesday. “Have you ever used Spider Tack while casting?” the New York PostKen Davidoff asked Gerrit Cole of the Yankees. Or, in other words: have you ever cheated?
Cole paused. “Um, I don’t, I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t know. It’s, I don’t know very well, I don’t really know how to answer that, to be honest.”
It was a fair question. It was also a fair answer. But a better one could have been: “Yes. And almost all the others, because the league and the teams tolerate it and in some cases encourage it. “
Cole spent his entire press conference weighing questions about whether he’s cheating, as did Trevor Bauer of the Dodgers on Sunday. They are two of the most prominent figures in Major League Baseball computing as the sport attempts to crack down on the rampant pitch manipulation that is helping to suppress the offense and make the sport sometimes unseen. . The hands of these pitchers have become the face of a scandal.
And yet this isn’t really about them specifically. His success and his compensation have caught the attention of fans and other players alike, which is reasonable – with prominence comes scrutiny. (Cole, who finished second in the 2019 American League Cy Young Award voting, is in the second year of a nine-year, $ 324 million contract, the longest for a pitcher; Bauer, who won the Cy Young Award Young of the NL at ’21, is in the first year of a three-year, $ 102 million deal.) But a recently retired player said Illustrated Sports He believes that 80-90% of pitchers are applying some kind of foreign substance, what they call “sticky material,” to the baseball to make it harder to hit. So this scandal is not about individual actors. It is about the system in which they operate.
Several of the pitchers who spoke to SI said their teams had encouraged them to use foreign substances to make their pitches spin faster. Some clubs make their preferred formula available to players. At least two have used chemicals, according to one pitcher.
All described the feeling that they would be at a disadvantage if they did not use anything. One pitcher recalled an all-staff meeting in 2019 where the pitching coach said, “A lot of people in the league are using sticky stuff to make their fastballs stronger. And if you’re not using it, you should consider it, because it’s a little overdue. ”
So was Commissioner Rob Manfred. Just as MLB was slow to recognize the proliferation of steroids and the advance of illegal signal theft, it allowed this latest scandal to unfold.
Manfred deserves some credit for acting now, in the middle of a season, as the situation becomes untenable. MLB has spent the first few months of 2021 collecting baseballs and comparing player spin rates. At homeowners meetings last week, the league presented evidence on the extent of the problem and agreed to move from analysis to application. Umpires will be empowered to frequently check pitchers for illegal substances and impose 10-game suspensions.
Pitchers seem to have heard the message from the league. Four-seam fastballs, considered a benchmark pitch because their spinning speed is difficult to improve without substances, are already spinning less quickly. Cole’s season average before his last start was 2,561; on Thursday, after the execution plan was leaked, it was 2,436. Bauer’s season average before his last start was 2,835; on Sunday there were 2,612.
They both faced questions about those numbers. Do you know who didn’t? Yankees pitching coach Matt Blake and Dodgers pitching coach Mark Prior. (The teams did not respond to SI requests to interview them.) Manfred has not held a press conference on the issue.
Also consider who benefits from framing this as the fault of the players and not the league. The collective agreement between the union and the owners expires in December. The sides often fight through the press, both loudly and quietly.
Players have been cheating. But don’t let people’s names distract you from the name that really matters here: Manfred. That would be too much of a turn.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.