eave it to baseball to have a multitude of right options and choose the dumbest one. This is a story about leadership and cheating and bodily fluids. So buckle up.
Major League Baseball had just endured an abbreviated season due to the pandemic. A season without fans in the stands. Yet, baseball, says the voice of Darth Vader, is an army of steamrollers or something. My point here is that Baseball with a capital “B” got through one of the worst seasons in its history. All the major professional sports did – with varying degrees of success, but hope sprung eternal in April and, today, baseball is back open to full stadiums and on televisions (unless you’re in Kansas City where half your fans still can’t watch their local team – but that’s a different cluster for a different day.)
Baseball started its season with hopes of new stars like Shohei Ohthani and Trevor Bauer to begin the post-Covid season anew. And, for the most part, the season got going, there were highlights, and the sport seemed like it was working through reopening pretty well.
Enter Rob Manfred, the commissioner of baseball, and the owners of the MLB teams who, I can only assume, are people who have scowl lines 100% of the day. All of a sudden, there’s this huge problem that was never brought up during the long off-season or during winter meetings or even spring training. Suddenly, it is reported, pitchers were using **gasp** foreign substances on the ball to increase their grip. Let’s ignore for the fact that batters utilize **gasp** foreign substances to increase their grip on the bat, or that batters also use the equivalent of Game of Thrones armor to increase their security at the plate. These weren’t crises. The foreign substances were something that needed to be addressed immediately.
People will say that the use of these foreign substances is akin to performance enhancing drugs because it tips the balance of power in the game between the pitcher and batter toward the one on the mound. People will also say that there are increased spin velocities that prove that pitchers who use these substances have an unfair advantage. People will also say that this is the cause of all of baseballs woes.
Those people are, of course, idiots. The foreign substances they’re talking about are readily accessible in every Major League dugout. Pine tar is one of them. Remember pine tar? Every Royals fan should be well familiar with the sticky stuff. There’s also stuff called Spider Tack. They mix that stuff with sweat which, last I checked, was also readily accessible and, finally, for the cherry on top, they use the bag that is ON EVERY MOUND and add a little rosin to grip the ball more easily.
Now, I can’t tell you how much of an advantage using this stuff is against a batter. I can, however, tell you that this was never an URGENT problem. And resolution could’ve easily been fixed with a memo, some education in the off-season, and working with the players to find a resolution where they can grip the ball better (they do get quite slick when they are new) and make everyone happy.
But that’s not what Commissioner Manfred did. He decided to make arbitrary checks of pitchers during every game. He decided to assume everyone was guilty. He furthered the widening gulf between owners and players and he didn’t really improve the game any other than make a bunch of confusion.
This was a slam dunk and he pitched the ball into the third deck. It seems just so silly that someone would take a sledge hammer to a problem that could’ve been solved with a thumbtack. But, that’s baseball. The only sport that could take the recipe for a simple problem, add a little bodily fluids to it and wonder why it stinks.
(Come sink Chris Kamler in the dunk tank in downtown Platte City on July 4th. He’ll await your best fastball toss from 10:30 to 11 a.m.)