Blame the cheating pitchers! Blame the do-nothing commissioner! Blame the goshforsaken technology that revealed the wonders of spin rates!
You can point an angry finger in any direction you wish, but we’re still going to end up in the same place:
With a star pitcher’s career suddenly on hold, with one of the best teams in the majors staring at a 6-foot-7 hole at the top of its rotation, and with all the wrong headlines in a sport that should be celebrating an incredible wave of fresh talent.
The news of Tyler Glasnow’s elbow injury was horrific enough for Rays fans, but the fallout from his stark confessional on Tuesday sent shockwaves across the entire baseball world.
Glasnow blamed his potentially season-ending, and possibly career-altering, injury on MLB’s sudden interest in enforcing its own rules regarding pitchers using foreign substances to get a better grip on the baseball.
Now, before going any further, I would suggest viewing Glasnow’s interview in its entirety. There is much more nuance than you would gather from the social media-generating, and certainly inflammatory, quotes about MLB’s culpability. But evidence is evidence, and it will be used however anybody wants to use it.
And there have been plenty of people who have been attacking Glasnow for skirting his own responsibility in this mess. He acknowledged using a combination of rosin (legal) and sunscreen (illegal) to gain a better grip on the ball but said he went cold turkey after MLB promised crackdowns and suspensions.
In his first start without using the mixture, Glasnow said his elbow was feeling a little funky in the days afterward. Four innings into his next start, Glasnow had partially torn a ligament in his elbow, which may or may not force Tommy John surgery and an 18-month rehab.
The point Glasnow was trying to make in his interview on Tuesday was that MLB had long turned a blind eye toward pitchers using sticky substances and that to suddenly enforce rules at midseason was a recipe for disaster. He is certain, he said, that his injury was caused by trying to change his pitching style in mid-stream.
If you are a stickler for responsibility, you can point out that Glasnow should not have been using an illegal substance in the first place. I totally get that argument. However, if you view the world with a little more gray, you can point out that MLB had bestowed its de facto blessing by allowing this to happen across baseball for several seasons even though it was an open secret around the game. I get that argument, too.
It’s not a perfect parallel, but there are shades of baseball’s steroid scandal in this story.
Back then, baseball’s poohbahs were content to ignore the bulging biceps and other evidence of performance-enhancing drugs because the home run records being broken by Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds and others were good for ticket sales and ratings.
In this case, pitchers who were using homemade concoctions were able to increase the spin rate on baseballs and better manipulate velocity and location on fastballs, particularly in the top of the strike zone. MLB seemed thrilled with the all-or-nothing matchups of power pitchers vs. power hitters until realizing that the hurlers were beginning to dominate the game.
Thus, the sudden Captain-Renault-in-Casablanca routine in Commissioner Rob Manfred’s office:
“I’m shocked! Shocked to find there are sticky substances in baseball!”
This isn’t quite as cut-and-dried as steroids, which were an obvious perversion of baseball’s rules. There are legitimate reasons for pitchers to use some substance to get a better grip on slick, new baseballs. Mainly, the safety of hitters who could be seriously injured by a 98 mph fastball that slips out of a pitcher’s hand.
But it’s also disingenuous for pitchers to act as if they were not aware that sticky stuff could make them more effective on the mound. And, unless Nolan Ryan, Sandy Koufax, Bob Feller and Walter Johnson were buying Coppertone in bulk, fastball pitchers had been dealing with the issue of their grip on a baseball for a century before StatCast unveiled the marvel of spin rates.
To me, the problem is baseball wanted it both ways.
Officials were fine with pitchers fudging the rules right up until the moment that hitters started loudly complaining. And then, suddenly, MLB wanted to act like Rambo stepping into a rowdy saloon.
This could have been handled much better if MLB had acknowledged its own complicity, if it came up with a universal substance for pitchers to use, and if there was a gradual buildup of enforcement.
Instead, MLB wanted to look tough and we have weeks such as this.
A star pitcher could be lost for the season and blames MLB. Fans are choosing sides in the debate, and reporters are analyzing spin rates to figure out who may, or may not, have been cheating.
It’s sad. It’s distracting. Mostly, it was unnecessary.
John Romano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @romano_tbtimes.
• • •
Sign up for the Rays Report weekly newsletter to get fresh perspectives on the Tampa Bay Rays and the rest of the majors from sports columnist John Romano.