MLB asks umpires for tougher checks on sticky substances
NEW YORK (AP) — Major League Baseball is stepping up in-game inspections by umpires for banned gripping aids, over concerns that pitchers’ use of foreign substances could rise again over time since a crackdown began in June 2021.
“Unfortunately, turnover rates have started to increase again during the 2022 season and we have received reports of continued use of foreign substances on the field,” the senior vice president of field operations wrote Thursday. MLB fielder Michael Hill in a memo.
“Referees have been instructed to increase the frequency and scope of foreign substance checks this year, including random checks of fingers (including the removal of rings worn on each pitcher’s hand), hands, hats , gloves, belts/waistbands and pants,” Hill says. “Pitchers may be subject to checks before or after the innings in which they pitch, and managers may make requests to inspect a pitcher or position player before or after an at-bat.”
Hill sent the note to owners, CEOs, team presidents, general managers, field managers and all major and minor league players. The memo was first reported by ESPN.
“Referees will also focus on suspicious player behavior that suggests the potential use of foreign substances,” Hill wrote. “For example, if an umpire observes a pitcher attempting to wipe their hands before an inspection, the player may be ejected immediately for violating the rules by attempting to conceal a foreign substance.”
News of the crackdown emerged from a meeting of owners on June 3, 2021 and increased checks began on June 21. 2,276 last year, according to Statcast data. The average speed of four-seam fastballs has increased from 93.7 mph in 2021 to 93.9 mph last year.
Only two launchers have been suspended for foreign substances since the start of controls. Seattle’s Héctor Santiago was penalized on June 28 and Arizona’s Caleb Smith on August 24, both for 10 games.
“A player who possesses or applies Foreign Substances in violation of the Game Rules is subject to immediate ejection from the game and will be automatically suspended,” Hill wrote. “If a player other than the pitcher is found to have applied a foreign substance to the baseball (for example, the catcher applies a foreign substance to the baseball before returning it to the pitcher), the player position and the thrower will be expelled; however, position players will not be ejected for having a foreign substance on their glove or uniform unless the umpire determines that the player was applying the substance to the ball in order to assist the pitcher.
MLB has threatened to get tougher on repeat offenders.
“Players found to have used a foreign substance as a result of a prior suspension for violating the rule will be subject to more severe and progressive discipline for each subsequent violation,” Hill said.
Hill has threatened “harsh discipline” for club employees who help players use banned gripping aids.
“Clubs will be held responsible for any foreign substance discovered in any area of the club (eg clubhouse, tunnel, dugout, enclosure, etc.),” he wrote. “Each club must inform its managers and clubhouse attendants that they are required to report to the general manager any foreign substance discovered in the clubhouse or other areas of the stadium. Please note that the throwing bag and the bullpen bag were a frequent source identified by Gameday Compliance Monitors (“GCM”) as carrying foreign substances.”
In an effort to create more even ball conditions, MLB made humidifiers mandatory for ball storage starting last season. Balls should be kept there for at least 14 days, and Hill said the temperature should be set at 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius) with 57% humidity, with the exception of 65% at Coors Field, at a kilometer high. Procedures for removing balls from humidors and scrubbing them with mud were standardized last June.
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