After repeated efforts by Major League Baseball to dissuade pitchers from using illegal substances to get a better grip on the ball and create more spin, the league is going to crack down on the practice by giving umpires more latitude.
Details on the more aggressive enforcement were still being worked out after owners were informed that the practice is prevalent around baseball, sources told ESPN.
MLB has gathered plenty of data after two months of collecting a random sampling of baseballs and shipping them to a third-party laboratory for inspection of foreign substances. But it will not use that data to punish pitchers retroactively, a source told ESPN. That information, however, could be communicated to umpires so that they know whom to closely monitor within games.
Umpire enforcement, which will now take place more regularly without an initial ask by a manager, is a crucial element to MLB’s hopes of policing foreign substances. But other aspects are expected to be involved, including the possibility of suspensions for those caught using.
On May 26, St. Louis Cardinals reliever Giovanny Gallegos was asked to change hats by umpires in a game against the Chicago White Sox after he had a substance on the cap, which was sent to the commissioner’s office. The Cardinals claimed it was just sunscreen and dirt.
“Any chance we get to equal the playing ground is what’s necessary,” White Sox closer Liam Hendriks said in a Zoom interview with reporters on Thursday afternoon. “As long as it’s even across the field. That’s all that I ask for. … We need to make sure that we govern it.”
More spin on the ball allows it to stay on the same plane longer, giving a hitter less chance to react when it breaks. The crackdown comes amid years of rising strikeout totals around the baseball.
Pitchers contend such substances are useful for grip in order to know where the ball is going, but hit-by-pitches are at their highest rate in the majors in the past 100 years, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
The league has determined the practice is out of control, so a crackdown is coming.
ESPN’s Alden Gonzalez contributed to this report.