The baseball news cycle usually only lets us care about a thing for a week or so. Then, like 80 games happen and a new little story pops up and that first thing is forgotten about. This is probably a good thing, as it limits just how much any given story can be beaten to absolute death. Sure, we beat some pretty badly, but compare what happens in baseball to what happens in football and thank your lucky stars we don’t have several days in a row to come up with new hot takes.
A big story about three or four baseball news cycles ago was pitchers using pine tar or sunscreen. That happened when, in a short period of times, Milwaukee’s Will Smith and Baltimore’s Brian Matusz were both suspended for using foreign substances on the ball.
As many said at the time, and as they say every time a pitcher is suspended for such things, the idea is to just get a better grip, everyone does it and perhaps baseball should allow a rules change to let them do just that. Yesterday Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe had a big story up about that and in it he got a comment from Rob Manfred’s spokesman which makes it sound like he’s on board:
Commissioner Rob Manfred has said the issue is something baseball should explore.
“In the event that either the rules committee or the competition committee wishes to address this topic, we will be prepared for such a conversation,” MLB spokesman Mike Teevan said. “We are aware of the comments that managers and players have made on this issue and we will be open to determining whether there is a better solution.”
Maybe that’s encouraging. But maybe it’s just a repeat of 2014, when Rob Manfred said much the same thing about reexamining the rules. The rule remained un-reexamined then. Will it now?
We’ll see. But we can say this much. The rules, as they exist now and as they are enforced are uneven and problematic and for that reason their legitimacy is in serious question. Possibly because the rationale for using foreign substances is not as benign and uniform as people like to say it is. I feel like, for the most part, it’s truly to get that better grip everyone’s talking about. But I also feel like there is a subtle second layer to it in which, sure, sometimes there is a competitive advantage to be had with it too, which leads to making a new rule a difficult proposition.
If there continues to be inaction on this, I suspect it will be because of that.