The Sunday Brief: Top Storylines to Follow This Week

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

The baseball world continues its reckoning with sexism, racism, and its own historical tradition. Multiple news stories illustrate the ongoing battle with MLB to come to terms with a greater sense of equity and equality, while simultaneously navigating its status as the emblematic sport of the United States.

Let’s take a bit more of a serious tone while we dive into this week’s stories.

 

Offender Ozuna

Content Warning: Domestic Assault

Sandy Springs, Georgia police arrested Atlanta Braves’ outfielder Marcell Ozuna this week for assaulting his wife at their home. Reports indicate that Ozuna threatened to kill his wife and continued to abuse her –with reports of strangulation — even after the arrival of police officers on the scene.

Following the arrest, Ozuna was released from jail on $20,000 bail. Ozuna will likely face criminal charges and MLB has the authority to further discipline Ozuna even if the victim drops charges or refuses to charge Ozuna (as happened with the Phillies’ Odubel Herrera).

Readers wishing to learn more about the Ozuna incident can read Jeff Passan’s summary on Twitter, or the local news’ summary of the crime. It’s more than reasonable to assume that Ozuna never plays in Major League Baseball again, or at the very least, will miss the rest of the season and parts of next season.

 

Sticky Fingers

In last week’s update, I covered how umpire Joe West began enforcing what he deemed to be improper use of sticky substances by pitchers by making them switch hats before taking the field.

This week, Sports Illustrated reported what they called “the biggest scandal in sports”: pitchers doctoring baseballs with sticky substances to increase spin. They lead off the article with descriptions of baseballs so doctored that they stick to hands almost magically, and balls covered in goo to the point of leaving visible imprints of fingers or tearing off the seams. They surround this report with the word “cheating” and “new steroids” and deliver the evidence under the condition of anonymity so as not to out the “cheaters” in the clubhouse.

So somehow, the umpires, ball boys and girls, fans catching foul balls, the Hawkeye cameras, the grounds crew, and the opposing teams all managed to not notice these sticky balls?

It kind of seems like if everybody’s doing it — and we’re getting increasing transparency from past pitchers that they were doing it as well — then maybe it’s not cheating, but culture. Sort of like hitting a home run on a 3-0 pitch when your team is dominating. If a rule has been ignored or selectively enforced, that’s not so much a rule as an option. Plenty of discourse to be had on the situation, and given that the sticky stuff will likely be a point of discussion for years to come, get ready for more!

 

Gonzo Giolito

It wouldn’t be a weekly update without some White Sox drama, would it?

On Thursday, Chicago White Sox pitcher Lucas Giolito was ejected from the game while arguing strikes¬†from the dugout. Late in the game, the White Sox had a 4-1 lead over the Tigers, when Tigers pitcher Daniel Norris managed to strike out Yoan Moncada looking. Giolito, however, could tell from the dugout that the call was bogus and voiced his opposition. The play-by-play announcers watching the replay agreed, saying the pitch was “clearly low.”

Yet, as White Sox manager Tony LaRussa went to the field to discuss with the umpire, LaRussa eventually stated his support for the umpire rather than his players. After the game, LaRussa said to the media, “He was having some fun, but you can’t have it at the expense of umpires…”.

LaRussa’s abandonment of his players comes after he famously approved of Minnesota Twins reliever Tyler Duffey retaliating at White Sox utility player Yermin Mercedes with an intentional pitch aimed at his back; Mercedes had homered off of Twins’ position player Willians Astudillo the previous night during a blowout. On Twitter, White Sox fans have seemingly given up on LaRussa as the manager, and many have pointed out that players like Tim Anderson and Lucas Giolito seem to be holding the team together.

 

Flow with the Str0 

Marcus Stroman found a new option to market for his HDMH clothing line: Du-rags.

Stroman took the power into his own hands after Arizona Diamondbacks announcer Bob Brenly attempted to make a joke about Stroman’s headwear on TV. Stroman admitted that Brenly’s comment had racist undertones, but he also turned the situation in his favor by celebrating his Du-rag.

In the midst of the controversy, former Chicago Cubs player Aramis Ramirez stated that Latino players had long-known that Bob Brenly critiqued non-white players heavily, often establishing an unverified narrative that cost Latino players opportunities for career advancement. Ramirez’ interview with¬†The Athletic¬†can be read here. Bob Brenly has taken a leave from the broadcasting booth and promises to better understand the power of his language in shaping the narrative of the players he covers.

Universal DH Please

The debate about the Universal DH gained a few followers this week when Jack Flaherty and Elieser Hernandez fell victim to injuries during the offensive part of their games.

Flaherty had been 8-1 on the year with a 2.90 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP before straining his oblique while trying to bat against Trevor Bauer (who, by the way, has admitted to using sticky substances and has the highest spin rate of his career this year). Flaherty will miss around 8 weeks as a result of swinging at a pitch that even the senior Vladimir Guerrero wouldn’t have a chance at:

Elieser Hernandez, meanwhile, had just returned from the 60-day injured list with a biceps strain. Running from third to home, Hernandez clutched his quad as he crossed the plate and slumped to the ground. With help from two trainers, he left the field and was later diagnosed with a quad strain and put back on the IL.

Certainly, players like Shohei Ohtani make people want to see pitchers hit (overlooking the fact that Ohtani has been injured for the majority of his MLB career). However, across MLB in the 2021 season, pitchers are hitting .106 with a .131 wOBA and a 47% strike-out rate. Put in a broader perspective, pitchers account for 2% of plate appearances in MLB but account for 5% of the total strikeouts.

Perhaps rather than moving the mound around and arbitrarily enforcing pine tar rules to improve total offense, MLB could just implement the Universal DH and keep pitchers healthier, rather than having fans wait for the inevitable out against a hitting pitcher that will most often come from a strikeout.

 

Required Reading

The professor has some homework for you! As part of this weekly series, I’ll be offering a reading list to help catch you up on the best reading over the past week, both from Pitcher List and elsewhere in the interwebs.

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.

  • Avatar Man-With-No-Name says:

    I personally don’t understand dismissing the foreign substance scandal as “culture.” Players are clearly not all okay with it, heck even Trevor Bauer was extremely outspoken about how it was cheating in the past. Josh Donaldson has talked about releasing his own personal video catalogue of pitchers cheating, Scott Van Slyke has made comments about Cole as well. And people have noticed, that is why MLB are collecting baseballs, hats et. And it isn’t like pitchers haven’t been called out in the past (Bucholtz and Pineda to name a few).

    I think it would be worth PitcherList doing a deep dive on the pitchers that have been implicated in the “sticky” cheating scandal. There are a number of pitchers that have been highlighted on the website (Cole, Means, Bauer) that have been implicated both by video evidence and the dramatic increases in their spin rates that have correlated with their dramatic success. If the MLB does crack down on these pitchers (as in my opinion they should) then their fantasy value will take a huge hit. Would anyone want the old clean Trevor Bauer on their fantasy team with his 4.48 ERA and fastball with ~400 RPM lower spin or curveball with ~500 RPM lower spin? At the very least we should acknowledge what their success is likely based on the way we do with Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and even HOF Gaylord Perry.

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