MLB’s newest cheating scandal is worse than steroids

80-90% of pitchers in the MLB were caught using a foreign substance when they pitched

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The MLB saw many pitchers having historically good seasons in 2021. Little did the world know that those pitchers used substances such as sunscreen, rosin, and pine tar to doctor their pitches. (Photo Illustration by Sam Berg)

Samuel Berg, Staff Writer

Since the creation of Major League Baseball in 1869, baseball has been known as a game of sportsmanship and integrity. Any actions that are unsportsmanlike or ungentlemanly are frowned upon and punishments are enforced as a result. Several rules have been put in place over the years to maintain the idea of integrity. 

But there was one rule implemented in the middle of the 2021 season that exposed a cheating scandal that many pitchers across the MLB were involved in. And if this rule had not been enforced by the MLB, pitchers at the college, high school and little league level would have been cheating as well. The ban on foreign substances in the MLB is important because it helped to stop a cheating epidemic, and helps keep the MLB competitive and fair.

When the MLB regular season started in April, something happened that had never occurred before in MLB history: Pitchers were having record-high strikeout numbers and batters had record-low hitting numbers across the league. And to go along with that, six different pitchers threw a no-hitter in the first two months of the season. 

MLB fans and analysts tried to learn why pitchers had such an advantage over the hitters in 2021. In early June, the MLB opened an investigation to solve that very issue, and discovered that pitchers were using illegal substances to make their pitches move more and travel faster. 

To me, this is a drastic but necessary move by the MLB. It sent a message to the rest of the league that no cheating would be allowed from that point forward—which in turn allowed the batters to stand a chance against pitchers who had pitched far better this year than in years prior.

According to Stephanie Apstien and Alex Prewitt, reporters for Sports Illustrated, foreign substances were used by the majority of pitchers in the MLB, who were doctoring their baseball by several means. 

At first a mixture of sunscreen and rosin, now various forms of glue, has become so pervasive that one recently retired hurler estimates 80-90% of pitchers are using it in some capacity,” Apstein and Prewitt wrote in a June 4 Sports Illustrated article

Pitchers would use foreign substances for a number of reasons, but it all had the common objective of making a pitcher’s pitches better, according to ESPN insider Alden Gonzalez.

“The better the grip, the more spin that can be generated on breaking balls and four-seam fastballs, the latter of which use spin to create the “rising” illusion and, thus, produce swings and misses,” Gonzalez said in a June 21 ESPN article

On June 21, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred enforced a rule that prevents all pitchers from using foreign substances and that they will undergo regular checks from umpires during the game. If any players were caught with a foreign substance during an umpire check, that pitcher would be suspended for 10 games and fined by the MLB. 

As a result of the ban, pitchers across the league became less effective and their numbers started to decline. And for some players, banning foreign substances actually led to them getting injured, like Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Tyler Glasnow.

Glasnow says he had to change the grips on his pitches for the first time in years because he was no longer allowed to use his substance. That change forced him to throw his pitches in an unnatural way, which led to his season-ending elbow injury.

“I had to change everything I’ve been doing the entire season. I have to start doing something completely new and I truly believe that’s why I got hurt,” Glasnow said in a June 15 press conference.

Now that the regular season has ended, and the MLB has had the foreign substance ban in place for a few months, I believe the new rule was a necessary decision that needed to be made.

Pitchers using a substance to manipulate the baseball in a way that makes their pitches move more gives them a huge advantage over the hitters. Compared to other forms of cheating, such as steroids or sign stealing, using foreign substances is one of the worst ways a pitcher can cheat. Foreign substances gave an unfair advantage to the pitchers, which caused hitters to be in historically bad slumps. 

Regardless of how pitchers were using a substance while they pitched, it was giving pitchers an edge that steroids could never do for a hitter. Steroids will make a player stronger, but foreign substances make a pitcher better. 

If the MLB wanted to maintain its reputation as a game of integrity, the ban was absolutely necessary. No player should be allowed an advantage over any other player. If baseball is a gentleman’s sport, no cheating can be permitted, and the MLB did a great job at cleaning up the scandal before the postseason began.