MLB to give 10-game suspensions over doctored baseballs, issue new guidance

The new guidance deterring pitchers from doctoring balls will go into effect on June 21

Major League Baseball on Tuesday issued new guidance in hopes of deterring pitchers from using foreign substances to gain an advantage while playing.

MLB said in a press release pitchers caught with foreign substances will be ejected from the game and automatically receive a 10-game suspension. The league will increase the suspension for repeat offenders and clubs and team staff will also be disciplined for failure to "ensure compliance."

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The league explained in its release that it has collected a series of complaints from players, pitchers and umpires alike who have said there was a prevalence of foreign substances to enhance the spin rate of baseballs.

"Many baseballs collected have had dark, amber-colored markings that are sticky to the touch. MLB recently completed extensive testing, including testing by third-party researchers, to determine whether the use of foreign substances has a material impact on performance. That research concluded that foreign substances significantly increase the spin rate and movement of the baseball, providing pitchers who use these substances with an unfair competitive advantage over hitters and pitchers who do not use foreign substances, and results in less action on the field," MLB said.

MLB also said the prevalence of increased spin rate has also led to an increase in batters who have been hit by pitches.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred added a statement on the new guidance.

"After an extensive process of repeated warnings without effect, gathering information from current and former players and others across the sport, two months of comprehensive data collection, listening to our fans and thoughtful deliberation, I have determined that new enforcement of foreign substances is needed to level the playing field," Manfred said.

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"I understand there’s a history of foreign substances being used on the ball, but what we are seeing today is objectively far different, with much tackier substances being used more frequently than ever before. It has become clear that the use of foreign substance has generally morphed from trying to get a better grip on the ball into something else – an unfair competitive advantage that is creating a lack of action and an uneven playing field. This is not about any individual player or Club, or placing blame, it is about a collective shift that has changed the game and needs to be addressed. We have a responsibility to our fans and the generational talent competing on the field to eliminate these substances and improve the game."

The new guidance will go into effect on June 21. The new enforcement includes periodic check-ups with starting and relief pitchers, starting pitchers will have more than one mandatory inspection while relievers will either be checked at the end of games or when they are removed from games. Umpires will be allowed to inspect pitchers at any point.

Pitchers are also responsible if a teammate is found to have doctored a ball.

"Although the foreign substance prohibitions do not apply exclusively to pitchers, the pitcher ultimately will be responsible for any ball that is delivered with a foreign substance on it," the league said. "If a player other than the pitcher is found to have applied a foreign substance to the baseball (e.g., the catcher applies a foreign substance to the baseball before throwing it back to the pitcher), both the position player and pitcher will be ejected and automatically suspended."

Failure to comply with the inspections would be assumed to have violated the rules and will be ejected and suspended, the league said.

A 10-game suspension would amount to two starts for a starting pitcher.

The latest guidance comes after Bubba Harkins told Sports Illustrated in a story published Monday revealed more about the ongoing ball doctoring in baseball. He claimed pitchers like Max Scherzer, Gerrit Cole and others are using certain "sticky substances" to get a better handle on the ball.

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Harkins was fired as a clubhouse attendant for the Los Angeles Angels in March 2020 after 30 seasons with the team. He had since filed a lawsuit against MLB and the team for defamation. Both MLB and the Angeles declined to comment to Sports Illustrated, citing ongoing litigation.