Since the early eras of Major League Baseball, pitchers have tried to gain an advantage over hitters in various ways. While the league has gotten more sophisticated in other areas, assessing whether a pitcher is using a foreign substance still very much comes down to the eye test. Toronto Blue Jays hitters Kevin Kiermaier and Whit Merrifield alongside pitcher Kevin Gausman were asked about the latest push to stifle the use of “sticky stuff”.
The league reportedly sent out a memo to all teams on Thursday that will supposedly push examinations for foreign substances even further, according to a recent piece from The Athletic’s Jayson Stark.
“In a memo sent to all clubs on Thursday, MLB said inspections of pitchers will be more exhaustive and less predictable, could again include examinations of items like caps and gloves (which had stopped last year, when inspections turned to hands and fingers), and could even include inspections mid-inning if umpires observe suspicious behavior.”
Thing is, the league already made a similar push to crack down on the “sticky stuff” last season and have done so in the past. But realistically speaking, players aren’t exactly convinced anything will work until it manifests itself on the field.
“If there’s a way to crack down even more, I’ll sit back and wait and see,” Blue Jays outfielder Kevin Kiermaier told The Athletic. “But I just don’t know. I just feel like guys are going to try to figure out a way to get around it, if that’s fair to say.”
Blue Jays infielder Whit Merrifield spoke out on the difficulties of determining what helps the pitcher gain proper grip versus something that should be considered an unfair advantage. You want pitchers to be at their optimum level, but going beyond that is indeed hard to define.
“I’m all for somebody being able to feel like they can hold the ball and control it,” Merrifield said. “But as soon as that turns into an advantage a guy normally wouldn’t have, it becomes a problem. But it’s such a hard line to draw.”
Kevin Gausman raised concerns on what would actually constitute a flagging from the MLB.
“I think there are certain teams out there that push that envelope,” the Blue Jays pitcher said. “And there are ways of gaining some grip without having something ‘sticky’ on you. You know, even just moisture out there can give you some (level of) ‘sticky.’ Now, is that a ‘sticky’ substance? Not necessarily.”
MLB pitchers will always try to find ways to gain an edge over hitters, which is natural in such a sport where a few extra ticks on the radar gun or some barely detectable additional movement on their breaking ball. Cracking down on said advantages, and what actually should be considered unfair remains a challenge that isn’t likely to ever be settled. The league can keep trying, though.