“Yes,” said Rob Friedman, an MLB and ESPN baseball analyst known on Twitter as “Pitching Ninja.” “The pitchers definitely cheat.”
They do so primarily by applying what the MLB rule book describes as a “foreign substance” to the ball. Such substances, such as saliva, sludge, pine tar or lubricants, alter the way the ball travels to the plate, allowing a pitcher to manipulate the ball in an unnatural way.
Pitchers also sometimes scrape the ball with a hidden object, such as a cardboard file or sandpaper to create the same effect. That is also prohibited by the rule book.
But that has not prevented pitchers from using these methods to gain an illicit advantage. Even in an era of the game when saliva balls are out of style, pitchers still routinely apply saliva to the ball or their gloves so that the ball flies from their hands to the plate.
Friedman said in a telephone interview that it is common for a pitcher to strain a pair of pine tar fingers under the edge of his cap or a spot on his forearm.
Friedman estimates that about 60 percent of major league pitchers use some kind of foreign substance on the mound, referring to their conversations over the years with MLB players. All substances are used to alter the natural spin speed of a launch, the amount of revolutions a launch makes on its way back home.
The more sticky substances, such as pine tar or a mixture of sunscreen and rosin, help the speed of the goose’s spin, which makes a fast ball fly more and a harder ball bite. The substances that make the ball more slippery make the fields slide around the strike zone and submerge themselves in the ground.
If caught by a referee, a pitcher will be ejected immediately from the game and will be subject to an automatic suspension of 10 games. But some of the best pitchers in the game have had no qualms about trying these unreasonable methods to gain an advantage over hitters.
“Now when you say ‘Cheat’ with pine tar to help your curved ball, things like that, those are things that are done in the game, that are accepted as part of the game,” said Hall of Fame Nolan pitcher Ryan told ESPN in an interview in 1993. “Then I wouldn’t sit here and say ‘No, I wouldn’t do those things.'”
“I think throwing is the only position you have to use from nails to hair,” Hall of Fame partner Pedro Martinez said in 2018. “And you wonder, why your hair? If you have a curl Jheri, sometimes when the ball doesn’t feel right, you rub [hair-care products] on the ball and the ball moves much more. “
So why don’t the referees spend more time watching the pitchers?
On the one hand, the tactic has been around for so long and has suffered with so few consequences that it is practically a tradition. Ryan wrote in his autobiography: “Cheating is accepted in baseball, so I participated.”
Because many pitchers have used foreign substances over the years, players and coaches are wary of complaining about an opponent, so that the pitcher of their own team is also not discovered.
“When it’s really obvious,” Friedman said, “[umpires] He will do something about it, but above all it is wink, wink, nod, nod. The referees don’t care. Players don’t care because their pitchers are probably doing it too. “
But some pitchers argue that its use of foreign substances is not harmful, it is necessary. A common complaint among pitchers is that baseballs (especially in the hot summer months) can become sweaty and difficult to grip. A small pinch of pine tar in your hand or a bit of sunscreen and rosin can mean the difference between throwing punches or a pitching slip and hitting a batter.
“It’s a bit mean because if you ask any hitter, I’d rather we have control of a baseball or we can hold on to it and not let it slip out of our hands, if that’s why you’re using sticky things.” The Philadelphia Phillies reliever, Tommy Hunter, told reporters in 2015 while he was a member of the Baltimore Orioles.
But in Major League Baseball, using a manipulated ball with noble intentions in mind remains against the rules, even if it is accepted as part of the game.