MLB’s foreign substance rules: What we know about baseball’s new enforcement policies

Story Highlights

  • MLB's enhanced enforcement begins on June 21.
  • Players will be able to appeal the automatic 10-game suspensions.
  • Umpire crew chief will conduct both regular and cause-related inspections.

Major League Baseball is laying down the law on foreign substances.

Yet, many questions remain, such as: Who, exactly, is the law? How will it be enforced? And how many pitchers will succumb to greater enforcement of sticky stuff applied to baseballs – either through discipline or diminished performance?

While much more will be publicly known about the crackdown in coming days, as MLB conferences with all 30 managers and general managers regarding enforcement and discipline, there are a few gray areas that can be clarified.

With that, USA TODAY Sports poses and answers a few questions regarding baseball’s sticky situation:

Will umpires undress pitchers on field?

Not necessarily. It will be the responsibility of every crew chief to conduct both regular and cause-related inspections. In the name of keeping the game moving, most inspections will occur after an inning or upon a pitcher’s exiting of the game. From a patrol standpoint, it’d probably be optimal to check them amid performance, though given the, well, sticky nature of the offending substances, it’d be awfully hard for a pitcher to ditch his gunk, Joe Niekro-style, before an umpire can find it.

Hence, we’ll probably see more discreet inspections rather than highly public walks of shame.

“My hope is,” says Cardinals manager Mike Shildt, “and I’m comfortable that this will take place, is however this is done is in an efficient manner and done in a manner that doesn’t require anything publicly that says, ‘Look at this,’ and make a spectacle of what’s taking place.”

MLB will reveal more specifics in conference calls with all 30 managers and general managers, as well as umpires, beginning Thursday.

Cardinals manager Mike Shildt argues with umpires after they ordered Giovanny Gallegos to switch caps because there was sunscreen on the bill during a game in May. (Photo: Charles Rex Arbogast, AP)

Will Joe West ruin my team's season?

Not entirely. Yes, crew chiefs will have the power to eject a pitcher, which brings with it an automatic 10-day suspension.

Yet, just like any on-field transgressions, those suspensions will be subject to appeal. Given that teams must play a man down during these suspensions, you can figure almost every implicated pitcher will appeal the suspension. In that case, the damning evidence, the umpires’ report and the player’s explanation will be laid out before an MLB official, likely executive vice president John McHale Jr., who will consider the evidence and determine if the suspension will, uh, stick.

So the evidence will arrive CSI-style?

Not in this digital era we’re living in. While equipment and uniforms containing contraband will be confiscated, the on-field replay administrator – you may know them best as Headphones Guy or Gal – will be responsible for capturing photos that will be submitted for evidence. It’s expected this will help expedite the appeal process, thus making any suspension as punitive as possible for the offending pitcher and their team.

Do we expect a bevy of suspensions?

Not necessarily. By the time enforcement begins Monday, pitchers will have had 18 days since MLB informed owners of an imminent crackdown to wean off any foreign substances, be they the long tacitly-approved rosin and pine tar or sunscreen and pine tar mixes, or the far more offensive Spider Tack. Just like screening for performance-enhancing drugs, getting caught with foreign substances in this era amounts to an intelligence test: If you’re brazen enough to cheat in an undetectable fashion, best be smart enough to avoid for what and where they’re checking.

Yet, the problem is widespread, right?

Certainly. Since MLB announced before the season it will begin collecting baseballs and monitoring spin rates for potential ball doctoring, all 30 clubs have had at least one pitcher using banned substances this year, according to a person with direct knowledge of the monitoring who was not authorized to speak publicly about it. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, given the widespread acceptance of some substances to help pitchers gain a grip and, ostensibly, aid their control and protect batters.

What we may never know is the extent to which the super-effective substances like Spider Tack have been used – let alone which drops in spin rate are correlated to going cold turkey on foreign substances. If you want to liken foreign substances to PEDs, consider pine tar as the Red Bull of sticky substances. Sunscreen-rosin mixes are kind of like amphetamines.

And Spider Tack and other such mixtures? Those are more like true PEDs, with a material effect on performance and the capability to turn fringe pitchers into regulars, regulars into All-Stars, and so on.

How long will this crackdown take?

How long do you plan to be alive? OK, so this problem may not endure forever, although foreign substance use has always been a part of the game. This modern scourge, though, may abide if and when MLB and the Players’ Association agree on an acceptable, universal substance.

With Tyler Glasnow, Carlos Rodon and many other pitchers airing their understandable grievances over a mid-season crackdown and at least one hitter mocking that concept, this issue will not go away soon. With any luck, though, the days of mid-inning TSA-style inspections will hopefully be a temporary bug and not a permanent fixture.

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