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Angels fire visiting clubhouse manager for providing illegal substances for baseballs


The Los Angeles Times reported last night that the Angels have fired their visiting clubhouse manager after an internal investigation revealed that he was providing ball-doctoring substances to opposing pitchers.

The clubhouse manager, Brian Harkins, had been at his post since 1990, after starting out with the club as a batboy in the early 1980s. The team confirmed that he had been fired but did not elaborate on the reason citing legal restrictions preventing them from discussing employee matters.

The timing on this is . . . curious.

Just last week MLB’s new Vice President of On-Field Operations Chris Young announced that Rule 8.02, which prohibits pitchers from applying foreign substances to the ball, is going to be enforced this year. This after years and years of MLB turning a blind eye to the rule and it becoming an open secret that the majority of pitchers in the game use pine tar, sunscreen, or other substances to get a better grip on the ball. A better grip means more spin and, as more recent insights of the analytics revolution has shown, more spin means a massive increase in the effectiveness of pitches.

The blind eye was, largely, a function of teams not wanting to rat out opponents for suspected pitch-doctoring because it would put their own pitchers, who were also likely doctoring pitches, at risk of being ratted out in retaliation. In effect, this meant that only in situations in which the pitch doctoring was hilariously obvious — such as when Michael Pineda came to the mound for the Yankees one night with an obvious smear of pine tar on his neck — would the player be ejected and disciplined. Whenever this topic came up in the past, hitters would say that, actually, they preferred opposing pitchers to use sticky substances because the better grip it allowed them prevented balls from getting away from pitchers and possibly hitting batters. I’ve always been skeptical of that explanation and figured that it was a way for batters to help cover for the pitchers on their own team.

Baseball’s crackdown on violations of Rule 8.02 changes all of that, however. And it certainly just changed the life of Brian Harkins, whose supplying of foreign substances was, I imagine, a fairly open secret at Angels Stadium. An open secret that could no longer persist given the crackdown.

And, as I said last week, I also imagine that this crackdown did not occur in a vacuum but, rather, is a direct response to the sign-stealing scandal which has roiled baseball this offseason. Sign-stealing, like pine tar on balls, was a bit of rule breaking that Major League Baseball was quite aware of for some time and did nothing about it. When newspaper reports came out detailing just how elaborate the Astros’ sign-stealing operation was, Major League Baseball was deeply embarrassed in the eye of the public and only then began to take any action to put an end to it.

I bet Rob Manfred’s first order to Chris Young was to go after whatever rule-breaking MLB had previously tolerated and snuff it out lest the league be humiliated once again. It almost makes me think that there’s a big story about foreign substances on baseballs currently being investigated and Rob Manfred wants to get ahead of it.

MLBPA: MLB’s ‘demand for additional concessions was resoundingly rejected’

Rob Manfred and Tony Clark
LG Patterson/MLB via Getty Images

On Thursday evening, the Major League Baseball Players Association released a statement regarding ongoing negotiations between the owners and the union. The two sides continue to hash out details concerning a 2020 season. The owners want a shorter season, around 50 games. The union recently proposed a 114-game season that also offered the possibility of salary deferrals.

MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said that the union held a conference call that included the Executive Board and MLBPA player leaders. They “resoundingly rejected” the league’s “demand for additional concessions.”

The full statement:

In this time of unprecedented suffering at home and abroad, Players want nothing more than to get back to work and provide baseball fans with the game we all love. But we cannot do this alone.

Earlier this week, Major League Baseball communicated its intention to schedule a dramatically shortened 2020 season unless Players negotiate salary concessions. The concessions being sought are in addition to billions in Player salary reductions that have already been agreed upon.

This threat came in response to an Association proposal aimed at charting a path forward. Among other things, Players proposed more games, two years of expanded playoffs, salary deferrals in the event of a 2020 playoff cancellation, and the exploration of additional jewel events and broadcast enhancements aimed at creatively bringing our Players to the fans while simultaneously increasing the value of our product. Rather than engage, the league replied it will shorten the season unless Players agree to further salary reductions.

Earlier today we held a conference call of the Association’s Executive Board and several other MLBPA Player leaders. The overwhelming consensus of the Board is that Players are ready to report, ready to get back on the field, and they are willing to do so under unprecedented conditions that could affect the health and safety of not just themselves, but their families as well. The league’s demand for additional concessions was resoundingly rejected.

Important work remains to be done in order to safely resume the season. We stand ready to complete that work and look forward to getting back on the field.

As per the current agreement signed in March, if there is a 2020 season, players will be paid on a prorated basis. Thus, fewer games means the players get paid less and the owners save more. MLB has threatened to unilaterally set a 2020 season in motion if the two sides cannot come to terms. It should come as no surprise that the union has responded strongly on both fronts.

There have been varying reports in recent days over the confidence in a 2020 season happening. The MLBPA’s statement tonight doesn’t move the needle any; it simply affirms that the union remains steadfast in its goal to avoid a second significant cut in salaries.

As I see it, the ball is in the owners’ court. The owners can strongarm the players into a short season, saving money but significantly increasing the odds of a big fight in upcoming collective bargaining agreement negotiations. Or the owners can eat more of a financial loss, agreeing to a longer season than they feel is comfortable. The latter would have the double benefit of not damaging overall perception of the sport and would not disrupt labor peace going forward.

The MLBPA statement included a declaration that the players are “ready to report, ready to get back on the field, and they are willing to do so under unprecedented conditions.” If there is no 2020 season, we will have only the owners to blame, not the players.

Update: Cardinals pitcher Jack Flaherty, who has been quite vocal on social media about these negotiations, chimed in: