The Sunday Brief: Top Storylines to Follow This Week

All the stories you need to follow this week in the MLB.

Should I just rename this “The Sticky Series?” I’m sure you know, this article is going to be filled with a discussion of grip enhancers. I’ll try not to make it — you know — the whole article. But, it’s pretty much the whole article. Let’s dive in and get caught up on the stories.

 

The Grip Police

 

Don’t know what’s up with grip enhancers? Let’s crib from my previous articles right here: This continues the saga from two weeks ago, where Sports Illustrated reported on the “biggest scandal in sports:” the scandal of sticky balls. Spider Tack might make you feel like Thor when you grip a baseball, but the sticky substance and its ilk are causing all sorts of drama in the MLB community, partly because of the uneven policing of grip enhancers. Last week, New York Mets slugger Pete Alonso jumped into the fray, arguing that MLB was knowingly changing the baseballs to disrupt free agency contract inflation. The change in the baseballs caused pitchers to use increasingly sticky grip enhancers to become more effective, and thus the effect amplified over time.

OK, that was the part that should be familiar to anybody reading this weekly update. This week, MLB commissioner announced that MLB would finally be cracking down on grip enhancers. We’ve seen this in small bits before: the MLB Hawkeye cameras were supposed to be looking for evidence of grip enhancers from the beginning of this year, and some umpires were already policing hats. Yet, notable star pitchers like Trevor Bauer and Gerrit Cole — who either admitted or had physical evidence revealed that they use grip enhancers — were generally allowed to go “unchecked.” Although a few of Trevor Bauer‘s baseballs were “inspected” earlier this year, nothing came from that investigation.

From our standpoint as pseudo-journalists getting news from journalists who are (maybe) getting news from players, we [points around at baseball community] don’t actually know who was or who wasn’t using some of these grip enhancers unless they tell us. The grip enhancers ranged from Spider Tack — which allowed people to carry cement blocks attached to their hand Thor-style — to combinations of drug store creams. Some players used nothing. Some players used everything — sometimes for years.

And a big clue into the investigation came — somewhat accidentally — when Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Tyler Glasnow injured himself on Monday evening. After 4 innings, Tyler Glasnow began shaking his arm as he pitched, which brought the immediate attention of the trainers and coaching staff.

The next day, Glasnow was diagnosed with a partial UCL tear. Now, pundits can point out that Glasnow struggled with injuries throughout his career and has never been in the “workhorse” class of pitchers. However, there’s another piece of evidence we’re learning from his story: Glasnow admitted to reporters that he had been using grip enhancers, and went off of grip enhancers cold turkey in preparation for the increased policing. Glasnow believed that his training and previous use of grip enhancers caused him to grip the ball so tightly that it caused undue stress on his mechanics, and the quick shift away from grip enhancers changed his mechanics in a way that strained his joints to the point of a UCL tear.

Former MLB relief pitcher Jerry Blevins took to Twitter to provide a bit of “historical” perspective, admitting that he and many pitchers used the combination of sunscreen and rosin to mildly improve their control. However, he claimed that the move toward Spider Tack was excessive and was caused by the culture of pitchers, umpires, and front office workers showing indifference over time.

MLB’s announcement of the grip enhancer crackdown comes with several “punishments” for rule-breakers, the specifics of which are a bit vague and severe. Hannah Keyser pointed out that pitchers punished for doctoring the ball couldn’t be replaced on the roster:

Eno Sarris pointed out that umpires become the on-field arbiter not only of ball doctoring, but they also become the judges of whether managers are asking for inspection of balls for other reasons than inspecting balls. I know, confusing, right?

Of course, the final word in this whole discussion goes to none other than Pedro Martinez, one of the greatest pitchers ever, who said this on TV:

 

Recognizing the Negro Leagues

 

In the winter of 2020, MLB announced they would “promote” the Negro Leagues to the “Major Leagues.” Casual fans may wonder why the symbolic “promotion” of a long-extinct league would be newsworthy, and it’s because this elevation changes many of baseball’s statistical records. A first step in popularizing this elevation of the Negro Leagues happened this week when Baseball Reference incorporated the Negro Leagues into their Major League database. Baseball Reference includes a bit of history along with series of selected readings for interested readers. Take a look at the link above and start playing around with the historical databases!

 

The Mets Trainers

 

The Mets already have a little league team worth of players on the Injured List, and they’ve been struggling to rehab pitchers Noah Syndergaard and Carlos Carrasco. Meanwhile, they also oversee the greatest pitcher in recent MLB history, Jacob deGrom. Problem is, deGrom’s been struggling with injuries all year, and now pundits and fans are worried that the Mets trainers are going to cost deGrom significant time on the IL. Earlier this year, deGrom missed time with a sore oblique that the trainers didn’t manage well; instead of having deGrom rest, they let him pitch and he ended up on the IL. Two starts ago, deGrom left with flexor tendinitis; the trainers let him make his next start. During this week’s start, deGrom dominated batters before leaving early with shoulder discomfort. The Mets trainers agree that deGrom is still OK to pitch. So, the greatest pitcher in MLB, who has both an injured elbow and shoulder, will be making his next start, and hopefully not joining his teammates Noah Syndergaard and Carlos Carrasco on the 60-day IL.

I’ll see you down in the comments! Let me know what articles you’re reading so we can share more knowledge among the community.

 

Featured image by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)

Blair Williams

Blair holds a PhD in Japanese history and is the author of "Making Japan's National Game: A Cultural History of Baseball." He's a fan of sci-fi, prog metal, and sipping rums.

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