mlb foreign substance crackdown, mlb drug policy

Why Do Pitchers Continue To Use Foreign Substances?

Chris Elwell

Pitchers have been subject to one of the more recent rule changes implemented by MLB, no longer permitting them to use foreign substances to doctor baseballs. The league has strictly followed this policy, ejecting the pitcher from the game and handing down an automatic 10-game suspension in which the team cannot fill their roster spot during the suspension. 

MLB’s crackdown on foreign substances started on June 21, 2021, ending the time where pitchers were allowed to use sticky products to get a better grip on the ball and improve velocity. Substances such as Spider Tack, which rose to prominence in baseball after pitchers began reaching career-high spin rates on all their pitches are now banned by the league.

Despite punishments being handed down from the league, pitchers have continued to use foreign substances and violate the league’s policies. Yankees right-hander Domingo German is the most recent pitcher to be handed the 10-game suspension after umpire James Hoye checked his hand before German took the mound for the fourth inning in his start in Toronto, calling it “the stickiest hand he’s ever felt.”

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“It was definitely just the rosin bag,” said German through an interpreter. “Sweat, rosin bag, I don’t need any extra help to grab a baseball.” 

German pitched three perfect innings before he was ejected in New York’s 6-3 win, which brought breakout reliever Ian Hamilton to the mound to pitch the fourth, who was forced to come out of the game with a right groin strain. With the loss of two critical pitchers, the Yankees found themselves in a bad situation with their bullpen, which has been the team’s biggest strength despite pitching the seventh most innings in the league. 

German isn’t the only Yankee pitcher that has been involved in foreign substance use, with Clarke Schmidt being inspected before the 5th inning of his start in Cincinnati. The umpire crew checked his glove and hands before he took the mound and found a dark spot on his wrist. Schmidt credited the spot to the fuzz inside his glove mixing with sweat and rosin, but was not enough for the umpires to come to the decision that he should be ejected from the game. 

Cincinnati manager David Bell was ejected after arguing that Schmidt should have been thrown out of the game, instead getting a warning from the umpires and making him wash his hands to clean the spot off. Umpires like crew chief Brian O’Nora have given pitchers the chance to clean their hand before prematurely ejecting them from the game, much to the demise of opposing managers. 

Minnesota Twins manager Rocco Baldelli was ejected from an April 15 game against the Yankees when German was given multiple chances to clean rosin off his hand. The use of rosin was not banned by MLB and remains a legal substance for pitchers, which when mixed with sweat can form a sticky substance that has sparked conversation around the league, which notably played a role in the only other ejection this season from foreign substance use.

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New York Mets ace Max Scherzer was ejected from his start last month after umpires found a foreign substance on his hand, which he claimed was just sweat and rosin. Scherzer was the first pitcher suspended in 2023, and the third since the beginning of the crackdown in 2021. 

The first three ejections due to a foreign substance all came from umpire Phil Cuzzi, who ordered Scherzer to wash his hands during his examination after the second inning which he said was stickier and darker than normal. Scherzer said he washed his hands with alcohol in front of an MLB official and came out to pitch the third inning.

Cuzzi ordered Scherzer to switch gloves after he declared the pocket of his glove to be too sticky after a scoreless third inning. Before coming out to pitch the fourth, Cuzzi checked Scherzer’s hands again and threw him out of the game after saying that his hands were stickier than any previous point during his outing. 

Photo Courtesy of New York Post

"I said I swear on my kids' life I'm not using anything else," Scherzer said in his post-game press conference. “This is sweat and rosin, sweat and rosin. I keep saying it over and over.”

Barring an obvious violation of the rules like in German’s case, there is no clear line that decides what is too sticky. The circumstances that the crackdown have created have enforced rules for pitchers that have become primarily under the umpire’s discretion of what is to be considered a foreign substance. 

Without a consistent answer across the league, pitchers are left to wonder what an acceptable amount of substance to use on the ball is. In order for MLB to assure that pitchers are keeping the game fair by using an appropriate amount of legal substances, coming up with categories that can describe the significance and amount that a pitcher is using and is allowed to use could prove to be vital in preventing ejections and suspensions.

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