For the second time in as many offseasons, a cheating scandal threatens to engulf Major League Baseball.
Last week, Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times reported on the latest developments in Brian "Bubba" Harkins' lawsuit against MLB and the Los Angeles Angels, who fired him as their visiting clubhouse manager last March.
Harkins says that the Angels made him a "public scapegoat" as part of last year's MLB-mandated crackdown on pitchers doctoring baseballs with foreign substances—such as the blend of rosin and pine tar known as "Go Go Juice" that Harkins was known to provide.
To help his case, Harkins submitted a January 2019 text from then-Houston Astros ace Gerrit Cole asking to "help me out with this sticky situation." Harkins also says that MLB has evidence that implicates Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Felix Hernandez, Corey Kluber and Adam Wainwright.
All of this is coming out only one year after news of the Houston Astros' electronic sign-stealing scheme embarrassed MLB. The thought of one scandal following so closely on the heels of another—with a pandemic-shortened season in the middle, no less—must have some in the league office cringing.
But instead, what if the league just shrugged?
A New Spin on an Age-Old Controversy
The actual rules governing what pitchers can and can't do to the baseball are longwinded and yet, as MLB's glossary makes clear, also simple: "No player is permitted to intentionally damage, deface or discolor the baseball by rubbing it with any type of foreign item or substance, including dirt or saliva."
While these rules mainly exist to prevent spitballs or scuffed balls—which have long been known to have unnatural movement—there's traditionally been a gray area concerning the use of sticky stuff to get a grip.
Take what happened with then-New York Yankees ace Michael Pineda in 2014. The Boston Red Sox called him out for pitching with pine tar during an early-season game, but only because he wasn't being subtle enough about it after he had also less-than-subtly used the stuff in a previous contest.