There are pretty much just five things going on across baseball Twitter nowadays:
- Jacob deGrom doing Jacob deGrom things
- Shohei Ohtani doing Shoehi Ohtani things
- Vladdy Jr. murdering baseballs
- Fernando Tatis Jr. being excellent for the game of baseball
- Spider Tack and other sticky substances
That last one is the big one, the talk of the town, the dirty laundry being aired. For years talking about the “sticky stuff” was taboo. You just didn’t do it. It was yet another one of MLB’s unwritten rules. So, why, all of a sudden, is Major League Baseball going after these illegal substances now of all times?
There has been more than enough evidence dropped at Major League Baseball’s feet that this cheating epidemic has been going on for quite some time. I’ve talked before about the Brian “Bubba” Harkins lawsuit against Major League Baseball, but here’s the SparkNotes version:
In 2019, Angels clubhouse manager, Brian Harkins, was fired after it became public that he was selling a homemade sticky substance called “Go-Go Juice” to pitchers around the league. Harkins sued the league and the Angels for defamation claiming that the league knew about his operation, but only reprimanded him once it became public. In the lawsuit, Harkins provided tons of evidence that dozens of pitchers across the league were using his substance, including former Cy Young winners Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, Corey Kluber as well as Yankees ace Gerrit Cole, among many others. Despite the evidence presented to them, MLB was more than willing to let Harkins be the scapegoat for the sticky substance scandal because pitchers like Cole and Verlander were huge ticket-sellers and great for MLB’s marketability.
So, despite MLB having the evidence, why did it take them so long to go after these foreign substances? Well, maybe because they were planning on using those substances as a weapon.
MLB and the MLB Players’ Association held their first talks about the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) about a month-and-a-half ago. The current CBA expires on December 1, so getting ahead of the issue makes sense in order to avoid the league having its first stoppage since 1995.
However, with how tough negotiations have been between MLB and the union in recent years (i.e. the talks between the two parties prior to the COVID-shortened 2020 season), Major League Baseball may have needed an ace up their sleeve — something that could make the players turn against one another in order to save their own skin. Something that would make players, and therefore the MLBPA, eager to get a deal done in order to stay employed even if it meant playing under less-than-ideal conditions. Something like the sticky substance issue we’re seeing right now.
We’ve already seen the effects of this epidemic on certain players. Josh Donaldson is becoming a pariah by vowing to release a “catalog of video” exposing pitchers who use sticky substances. Reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer has been suspected of heavily using sticky stuff. And Cole has become the face of the entire scandal after giving the worst answer imaginable when asked if he had used Spider Tack. That’s a Cy Young winner, the highest-paid pitcher in baseball (making $36 million along with deGrom), and a former MVP — three of the biggest names in the sport. Just like Major League Baseball has done in the past, the league will gladly let their stars take the fall for a situation that could’ve been resolved years in advance in order to save face.
There will be zero meaningful suspensions that come out of this scandal. No one will miss more than 10 games. The only long-lasting solution to come out of this scandal will be a precedent set that anyone who uses these substances in the future will be subject to much criticism and inspection. Actually, that’s not true, because when the CBA meetings come and go at the end of this year, the players will be at each other’s throats. Hitters and pitchers will be pitted against each other in a different setting and it will lead to one of two outcomes: either no agreement gets done and there will be a delay in the upcoming season, or the players, not wanting to miss out on payment, will agree to non-ideal terms in order to play. I’m more than willing to bet that the latter will happen, and it’s because Major League Baseball held onto their knowledge of the sticky substance situation and waited to play all their cards at the right time. The league’s biggest stars get burned, and the league moves on as if nothing happened.