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Baseball's Stuck In Another Cheating Scandal

The legs and glove of a baseball pitcher throwing a pitch.
A baseball pitcher. Photo by Ian Sane via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

While we often claim to want the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, sometimes, the things we don’t know are best left unknown.

Baseball finds itself in the throes of a cheating scandal. That, in and of itself, is nothing new. The landscape of the national pastime is littered with everything known to man to gain an advantage.

From sharpened spikes to sandpaper to tacks and screws to corked bats to performance-enhancing drugs to cameras and trash cans, baseball players have made gaining an edge a cottage industry.

And while the rationale may vary from person to person, the reasons are pretty consistent. Players cheat either to get ahead of the game or to keep up with competitors.

And baseball officials have largely turned a blind eye to the subterfuge, hoping the public doesn’t see the worst.

The latest challenge to baseball integrity is the newest iteration of pitchers’ attempt to throw the perfect pitch by getting an ideal grasp of the ball.

While hurlers have glommed on to most every adhesive possible over the years, it’s the recent version of sticky stuff, something called Spider Tack, that’s all the rage, literally.

Invented 12 years ago by a weightlifter with a PhD in molecular biology, Spider Tack is a resin-based gloop that is said to have remarkable sticky properties, more so than pine tar and resin and sunscreen, the current instruments of assistance for pitchers.

And the evidence of its effectiveness is obvious. As we noted recently, there have already been six no-hitters thrown this year in barely two months of play.

Those who pay attention to such things say that pitchers are throwing harder and that the spin of baseballs is greater, factors they lay directly at the foot of Spider Tack.

It didn’t take long for hitters to cry, well, foul, as what was going on with pitching. As a result, Commissioner Rob Manfred has sent the word to umpires to be more vigilant.

After St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Giovanny Gallegos was forced to switch his cap out of concern that he was using Spider Tack or something like it, his manager, Mike Shildt, went on a long, angry rant.

While Shildt’s ire was based on direct support of Gallegos in the moment, the Cardinals’ skipper was furious that baseball had decided to crack down on a crime that practically is committed by every team.

New York Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole gave the “see, what had happened was” answer recently when he was asked if he used the sticky stuff, a non-denial denial that resonated throughout the game.

There are concerns that without Spider Tack and the like, pitchers will lose control of their pitches, but not velocity, which could lead to more walks or hit batsmen.

And the matter is certain to be further adjudicated in the offseason when baseball and the players union negotiate work conditions in a new collective bargaining agreement.

That could make what were already expected to be contentious talks even more heated.

Nonetheless, Manfred is forging ahead with enhanced enforcement and 10-day suspensions for offenders. He’d better be careful about what he discovers once he starts turning over all those rocks.

And that’s how I see it for this week. You can reach us via email with your questions and comments at Sports at Large at gmail.com. And follow me on Twitter at Sports at Large.

Until next week, for all of us here, I’m Milton Kent. Thanks for listening and enjoy the games.

Get in touch:

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @SportsAtLarge

Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.