Major League Baseball is expected to announce Tuesday that it will suspend players caught with any foreign substance for 10 days with pay to help curtail the widespread use of grip enhancers by pitchers around the league, sources familiar with the plans told ESPN.
The league is expected to distribute a memo to teams -- which have been briefed on the broad strokes of the policy change -- that outlines its plans to penalize all players caught by umpires with any foreign substance on their person, from the widely used sunscreen-and-rosin combination to Spider Tack, an industrial glue that has become a favorite among pitchers who want to generate more spin on the ball.
The liberal interpretation of Rules 3.01 and 6.02(c), which ban the use of foreign substances, would discipline all substances the same. While there is a "broad consensus among players that Spider Tack is over the line," a high-ranking person on the players' side told ESPN on Monday, the full ban of all grip agents could rankle players. A longtime umpire told ESPN the hard line is vital as he and his brethren attempt an on-the-fly enforcement of a rule that for years has been ignored.
However significant players' reliance on sticky stuff has become, and regardless of how responsible teams and the league were for enabling another cheating scandal to burrow its way into baseball, the efforts to rid the game of grip enhancers have arrived and will begin in earnest June 21, sources said.
Until then, players will continue trying to unlearn years of using various substances. Some teams already have asked pitchers who relied heavily on foreign substances to throw bullpen sessions without any grip enhancers to prepare for the future, two players and an official told ESPN. Teams recently received reports from the league of pitchers on their team that had been caught using substances, two general managers told ESPN.
That sort of preparation portends a change that already has taken root. Multiple pitchers who asked for anonymity to avoid any punishment from the league told ESPN they either have stopped using foreign substances altogether or shifted from Spider Tack to pine tar -- from a relatively new and controversial product to one whose place in baseball dates back decades.
Between the impending memo and the climate of baseball seemingly growing colder to foreign substances since umpire Joe West forced St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Giovanny Gallegos to remove his hat May 26 because of one, the issue of sticky stuff -- and how to solve the consequences it causes -- remains at the game's forefront. From debates about the morality to discussions about a league that hasn't issued a foreign-substance suspension in more than six years suddenly primed to levy multiple to the acknowledgment that a starting pitcher could essentially lose only one start over 10 games, conversations about the league's plan have grown spirited.
Multiple players said they were hopeful that MLB would differentiate among the substances and buy time before the potential issuance of a legal, universal substance pitchers can use for grip. While MLB has explored creating such a product, it has yet to formulate one that serves as a grip enhancer while not being a performance enhancer. Between the grip issue and the league changing the composition of the ball itself this winter, players said they hope to have more input in the future.
Asked for comment on the pending memo, the MLB Players Association said in a statement, "The Players Association is aware that Major League Baseball plans to issue guidance shortly regarding the enforcement of existing rules governing foreign substances. We will communicate with Players accordingly once that guidance has been issued. We anticipate future discussions with the League regarding on-field issues, including the foreign substance rules and the baseballs themselves, as part of ongoing collective bargaining. Our continued focus will remain on fundamental fairness and player health and safety."
Through a spokesman, MLB declined comment.
While the sample is small, the leaguewide batting average since June 3 -- when the first reports about the league's crackdown surfaced -- is .247, a substantial jump from the .236 to that point in the season. The leaguewide spin rate on fastballs is down substantively, too, a sign that already some pitchers have stopped using foreign substances altogether -- or at least switched grip agents.
The use of foreign substances in baseball dates back well over a century, though the sticky-stuff scandal is especially modern. With the knowledge that four-seam fastballs that spin more drop less, high-RPM fastballs at the top of the strike zone became a go-to pitch across the game. Meanwhile, the massive RPMs generated on breaking balls caused them to have never-before-seen movement.
Baseball, which started studying the use of foreign substances at the beginning of the season, determined two months into the season that it had ample evidence and reason to penalize foreign-substance use this season. The onus for that will start with umpires, who are expected to check players between innings for substances on the uniforms as well as their hands.
Over the next week, players, teams, umpires and the league will get to process the specifics and prepare for baseball's next iteration: one without foreign substance and with questions about just how realistic that might be.