MLB Tightening Up Policy on Sticky Substances to Stop Pitchers Cheating

It seems pitchers found ways to circumvent the checks umpires were administering late in the 2021 season

Umpire Tom Hallion checks Joe Smith of the Houston Astros for foreign substances
Umpire Tom Hallion checks Joe Smith of the Houston Astros for foreign substances.
Bob Levey/Getty Images

To help even the playing field last season as strikeouts in Major League Baseball increased to the point that all-time ace Nolan Ryan said he was uninterested in watching the game, MLB cracked down on pitchers using foreign substances on the mound to increase the spin rate on their balls and make them unhittable.

In addition to resulting in more balls being put in play, MLB’s sticky-substance crackdown resulted in some of the best moments of the season as pitchers routinely flipped out when umpires checked their gloves, hats and even belts for banned substances, including spider tack.

You may not remember who won the World Series, but you probably remember this:

The umpire checks, which were conducted between innings, after a pitcher came out of a game or between batters during an inning if suspicious behavior was noticed, apparently decreased in effectiveness late last season as players learned workarounds, according to Sports Illustrated.

So, the league is going to continue to have umpires carry out the checks they did last season but also wants the tops and bottoms of pitchers’ hands to be inspected between-innings at random. The league is also asking umps to be “more vigilant and unpredictable in the timing and scope” of their checks this season, per

“Moving forward, umpires have been given additional guidance to help them determine whether a pitcher’s hand or fingers contain a foreign substance in violation of the rules, which will make inspections more effective, and less invasive,” senior vice president of baseball operations Mike Hill wrote in a memo obtained by SI. “If an umpire’s inspection reveals that the pitcher’s hand is unquestionably sticky or shows unmistakable signs of the presence of a foreign substance, the umpire will conclude that the pitcher was applying a foreign substance to the baseball for the purpose of gaining an unfair competitive advantage. If an umpire observes a pitcher attempt to wipe off his hands prior to an inspection he may be subject to immediate ejection.” Pitchers who are ejected are also suspended automatically.”

Gerrit Cole, who will toe the rubber for the Yankees on Opening Day against the Red Sox in the Bronx on April 7, had a 1.78 ERA in 70 ²/₃ innings spread across 11 starts prior to MLB’s sticky-substance crackdown last June. In 10 starts following the change, Cole had a 4.68 ERA in 59 ²/₃ innings. Despite the impact the sticky-substance crackdown apparently had on him last season, Cole said he doesn’t expect the renewed focus to have a big effect on him. 

“Not much. It’s just touching your hand now,’’ Cole told The New York Post. “It doesn’t change anything for what I do. I like that it’s uniform across the league and you know what you’re getting when you show up to the park.”

Hopefully, fans who show up at the park will be getting more Romo-style meltdowns this season.

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