By now, surely all Major League Baseball fans have heard about the ongoing controversy with pitchers using foreign substances. Whether it's cheating with something like Spider Tack or using so-called "grip agents" like pine tar or rosin mixed with sunscreen, it's likely all fans have an opinion on the matter, too.
We've recently learned that MLB is starting a hardcore crack down on June 21, suspending pitchers using anything for 10 games (full details here). We've seen plenty of players weigh in on the matter, probably most visibly Rays ace Tyler Glasnow saying he believes he suffered his torn UCL due to not being allowed to use anything.
Wednesday, baseball's most visible agent Scott Boras spoke out with a statement he sent to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic:
As former major-league pitcher Brandon McCarthy suggested, MLB knew (as did all GMs, including Michael Hill) that clubs for years have taught pitchers to use a variety of gripping agents. This was the "custom and practice" of all MLB teams and the commissioner's office was fully aware their technical rule was ignored by them and all MLB teams.
Certainly the latest iterations of gripping substances and advances in performance measuring technology illustrate we have gone from the grip "freeway" to the performance enhancing "autobahn." Everyone agrees limiting legislation is required and the commissioner's office should have acted years before. There can be a certified gripping agent akin to the distinction between corticosteroids and anabolic steroids when one is considered an aid and the other is defined as performing enhancing yet both are steroidal in form.
However, to completely abolish gripping agents (other than rosin) creates a major issue as all MLB pitchers were taught (by their respective MLB teams) control of the baseball with the use of gripping substances.
To suggest pine tar can be used (on bats) by the very same players that play defense is truly an umpire's conundrum. The pitcher hits using pine tar and is suspended for applying the substance to the baseball, or the position player with pine tar on his throwing hand from the prior at-bat transfers it the ball and then both he and the pitcher are deprived of 10 days of performance for legal use of a permissible substance. The grey divide continues!!!!
[Note: Michael Hill used to be with the Marlins, but he now works with the commissioner's office, hence Boras' inclusion of his name, specifically]
The first thing to know here is that Boras is a player agent. He's always going to stand up for the players and he probably even had some clients come to him with their specific complaints. He's a mouthpiece and a very good one when it comes to articulating their complaints and taking the heat.
Then there's commissioner Rob Manfred. He's on the owner side, whether he wants to admit that or not. He did their bidding for the most part during the COVID-19 shutdown and he was hired by them. They can also replace him (look up Fay Vincent for reference).
The third prong of the point I'm making here is that the collective bargaining agreement is up this coming offseason and it seems like there's a big rift between the players and the owners in several areas.
Boras going after the office of the commissioner here serves multiple purposes. First of all, I have no doubt he believes everything he is saying and feels strongly about it. But he's also starting and/or continuing to push back against the owners in front of the offseason CBA battle between said owners and the MLB Players Association. He knows exactly what he's doing. He's setting a table.
As for the points he makes, he has some salient ones for sure.
- It does seem like most players agreed that using something (such as pine tar or the rosin/sunscreen mix) to grip a ball isn't that bad. If the league came up with one legal thing that can be used and legislated out everything else, it might be the best win-win there is. Instead, MLB just unilaterally banned everything. Part of this goes back to the CBA. These last two seasons they've been making a lot of changes without even asking the players.
- The pine tar on bat thing is interesting. First off, it's different on bats than pitches because it doesn't performance-enhance at the plate. It just helps the player from not losing his bat. And the overwhelming majority of players wear batting gloves. However, batting gloves aren't required, nor should they be. You can't tell a batter without gloves he can't use pine tar, so this is an interesting point by Boras and worth a discussion.
- He's right that it has been custom and practice to basically look the other way and ignore the rule against using foreign substances, but the league issued a memo in late March to stop it. It doesn't seem like anyone listened, until now. Was this an overreaction from the league? Perhaps, but they already said to stop doing it and no one was listening, so they felt like drastic measures were their right after being ignored the first time. Many parents can attest that they at least understand that point of view.
Get ready for months of discussion on this topic. It's not going away any time soon.