‘Sticky stuff’ enforcement theater captivates baseball world as press buries real issues

DeGrom’s hat hits back page, Mets’ front-office turmoil disappointingly tough to find

After Day One of the sticky stuff crackdown, everyone is talking about Jacob deGrom and no one is talking about myriad of other, more important, issues in MLB.
After Day One of the sticky stuff crackdown, everyone is talking about Jacob deGrom and no one is talking about myriad of other, more important, issues in MLB.
Image: Getty Images

Major League Baseball’s crackdown on sticky stuff began on Monday, and the program already is a sweeping success.

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No, not a single pitcher was found to be using illegal grip-enhancing agents, although Rangers manager Chris Woodward seemed to inadvertently called out much of his pitching staff for cheating when he said of Monday starter Kyle Gibson, “He’s kind of a unicorn nowadays … to have a guy who is so good who doesn’t use anything.”

Maybe the caveat there is the “so good” part, because the Rangers don’t have many other pitchers who fit that description on a staff with a combined 4.59 ERA, the American League’s fifth-worst figure. If Jordan Lyles is 2-5 with a 5.68 ERA, 26 walks, and 16 homers allowed in 71.1 innings, it would be really embarrassing to find out that his performance was “enhanced” somehow.

The reason that the umpires’ checks on pitchers wound up being such a resounding success right from the start has nothing to do with what happened between umpires and hurlers, but with what didn’t happen amid the exaggerated display of stewardship of Rule 3.01.

The New York Daily News’ back page on Tuesday showed Jacob deGrom having his hat inspected, a check which came up clean as the ace extended his scoreless innings streak to 30 innings in the Mets’ win over Atlanta.

Not making the back page was the story of the Mets firing general counsel David Cohen and head of human resources Holly Lindvall after an investigation into the organization’s workplace culture conducted by an outside firm in the wake of the Jared Porter and Mickey Callaway scandals. Well, sort of firing Cohen and Lindvall, as both executives will remain in their jobs until their replacements are hired, which is totally a sign that these are serious issues about the work environment with the Mets that the club is deeply committed to fixing.

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The New York Post’s story on what writer Ken Davidoff called a “day of reckoning” wasn’t even on the main sports page of the paper’s website by Tuesday morning, relegated to the eighth-most prominent story in the Mets section. Over at the Times, where they focus less on the day-to-day machinations of the local teams, deGrom being checked was the lead story on Tuesday morning, alongside Carl Nassib coming out, a story of racism and sexism on the LPGA Tour, and a piece on the Olympics. “Mets Try To Improve Workplace Culture With New Guidelines” was on the front page of the website’s sports section, but required scrolling down to find.

Maybe it’s overly cynical to believe that the whole reason for baseball’s sudden obsession with substances that have been used by pitchers for years is all about taking the focus off of MLB’s real scandals of how people — from front office employees to minor league players, to the general public and taxpayers — are treated by the sport. But even the most generous reading of the situation is that MLB is trying to goose historically low offense by making the game less friendly to pitchers, and that the distraction from other issues is a side benefit.

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Either way, the story of the Mets front office — and the reminder that Lindvall stayed employed with the team for nearly seven years after allegedly delivering the ludicrous human resources advice that Leigh Castergine should just quit her job if Jeff Wilpon’s humiliating criticism of her for being pregnant and unmarried was so bothersome — went right under the rug on day one of the sticky stuff crackdown. A sweeping success, indeed.