Major league owners concluded two days of meetings Thursday with a consensus on how to increase enforcement against pitchers using illegal sticky substances in the game.
The league would not comment on the context of the meetings, but sources involved said the current thought process subject to further meetings with, for example, umpires includes three areas of emphasis:
- Place a greater responsibility on teams to enforce rules against doctoring the ball within their own clubs.
- Empowering umpires to check, especially caps, gloves and uniforms, for signs of illegal substances on a pitcher. The strategy likely would be for umpires to check each pitcher as they enter the game and remove any questionable piece of uniform or equipment and provide a warning that a return of an illegal substance would lead to ejection from the game and discipline by MLB. On May 27, there was a form of this when umpire Joe West confiscated the cap of Cardinals reliever Gio Gallegos, but did not eject the pitcher.
- Stepping up enforcement in the minor leagues as a way to address a systemic problem within the sport.
The current consensus is to try harder than ever to discourage the illegal behavior, but MLB still plans — when provided proof of doctoring baseballs — to include suspensions as part of a punishment. The standard, to date, has been a 10-game ban.
Concerned that the use of illegal sticky substances, in particular, was part of the brew decreasing offense, MLB announced in spring training that it would be increasing its overview of the problem. The league has been collecting balls, monitoring clubhouses, reviewing video and observing spin rates (which are most positively impacted by sticky substances).
After two months of games, MLB felt it had a good feel for what was being used, to what effect and by whom. The league considered the problem substantial enough to present the data at the owners meeting with a decision to intensify efforts to stem the usage, particularly because of how offenses are being suffocated. The MLB batting average going into Thursday was .236, which would be the lowest ever. Plate appearances were ending in a strikeout 24.2 percent of the time.
The use of sticky substances has grown in recent years as the sport became more aware of the effectiveness of spinning the ball with greater revolutions. The increase improves movement on breaking balls and allows better gravity-defying ride through the zone. To gain the spin pitchers have moved to stickier and stickier substances — all illegal.
MLB is hoping that greater concentration and enforcement will lead to more offense as the second progresses. The league will be able to monitor the results and decide — at that point — if even greater measures are needed within collective bargaining with the Players Association.