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Couch: MLB’s Substance Rules Changes Have Left One Sticky Mess

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And there goes Jacob deGrom. The New York Mets pitcher struck out eight of the first nine batters Wednesday night against the Chicago Cubs, had a perfect game going, and then. . .

He left the game with a sore shoulder. He left his previous start with a sore elbow.

So, this might just be coincidence and bad timing for deGrom. But pitchers are having a historically great season, and deGrom is the best pitcher. All of baseball’s amazing pitching numbers and no-hitters are now impossible to believe because of the sticky-stuff cheating scandal. So baseball decided to crack down. 

And there goes Tampa Bay ace Tyler Glasnow. We are about to change from an epidemic of cheating pitchers to an epidemic of injured pitchers.

Just watch. 

Now, I don’t know which pitchers are cheating and which ones aren’t. Most are, but deGrom might well not be one of them. Glasnow has basically admitted it.

But baseball’s solution was all wrong and dangerous. Yes, pitchers were putting concoctions on the ball, suntan lotion, spider tack and all sorts of other goop and glop. That way, they can get a better grip on the ball and spin it harder, meaning more curve in the curveball, more sink in the sinker. Despite what baseball writers insist, I also say pitchers can throw faster fastballs, too. So under orders from the league, umpires will now basically frisk pitchers throughout the games. Busted pitchers will get a 10-game suspension.

Why will pitchers get hurt? Well, I’m a college tennis coach, and let me explain it this way: In the old days, players such as John McEnroe held their racquet with a leather grip. Their hands would sweat and the racquet would slip around while they played. Today’s players use a rubber grip.

Nothing slips. So tennis players have moved their hand around into a completely different spot on the grip. That allows them to swing as hard as they want for more spin and power. If tennis went back to leather, players would have to go back to the old way of holding the racquet. But they aren’t used to that now. They would be swinging as hard as possible in a different motion than they’re used to.

Their arms would blow up.

That’s what’s going to happen now in baseball. Pitchers are going to have to grip the ball differently. That means their motion and arm slot will be just a little different while they throw as hard as they can.

Their arms will blow up. 

You can say, “Too bad. They were cheating. Now they have to pay the price.’’ Sure, but this isn’t a handful of bad guys. Cheating is baseball’s culture. A big part of the game is just trying to avoid getting caught.

Baseball likes to talk about unwritten codes as if it’s an honor-bound sport. It wasn’t just the Houston Astros stealing signs and banging on a garbage can to alert hitters what pitch was coming. The New York Giants did a similar thing in 1951 when they won the pennant on Bobby Thomson’s shot heard round the world.

I asked several former Cubs about the Giants’ sign-stealing scam, which became public years later. The Giants manager had been Leo Durocher, who then went on to manage the Cubs. The ex-Cubs skipper said they had a spy looking in, and then, based on the sign, had a certain number of pitchers standing up in the bullpen.

The unwritten code then said it was OK to steal signs as long as you didn’t use electronic measures. Also, steroid cheats dominated baseball not long ago. And Gaylord Perry got to the Hall of Fame throwing spitballs.

That’s basically what happened with baseball’s current sticky situation. They built a better spitball.

So this was sort of a generally accepted form of cheating in baseball. New York Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole was asked the other day if he’d used illegal sticky stuff, and his answer made people laugh because they thought he just didn’t want to admit anything. Really, he was just saying that that’s what players do.

“I don’t quite know how to answer that, to be honest,’’ he said. “I mean, there are customs and practices that have been passed down from older players to younger players, from the last generation of players to this generation of players.”

Batters are striking out at a record pace and hitting a record low average. Not all of that is on the modern spitball, though. Analytics have also told batters to swing for home runs all the time, so they do.

And they miss. A lot.

Baseball should have let this season go and enforce this stuff next year, giving pitchers a chance during the offseason to get their arms used to the new way they’re going to have to hold the ball.

Cole came back the other day and said it’s now so hard to hold the ball at all and that he has changed grips throughout the game. Glasnow partially tore a ligament and blamed having to change his handle on his pitches.

“To tell us to do something completely different in the middle of a season is insane. . .’’ he said. “Give us a chance to adjust.’’

I agree. Plenty of pitchers are going to have plenty of time to adjust now. . .after rehab.

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Written by Greg Couch

Greg earned the 2007 Peter Lisagor Award as the best sports columnist in the Chicagoland area for his work with the Chicago Sun-Times, where he started as a college football writer in 1997 before becoming a general columnist in 2003. He also won a Lisagor in 2016 for his commentary in RollingStone.com and The Guardian.

Couch penned articles and columns for CNN.com/Bleacher Report, AOL Fanhouse, and The Sporting News and contributed as a writer and on-air analyst for FoxSports.com and Fox Sports 1 TV. In his journalistic roles, Couch has covered the grandest stages of tennis from Wimbledon to the Olympics, among numerous national and international sporting spectacles. He also won first place awards from the U.S. Tennis Writers Association for his event coverage and column writing on the sport in 2010.

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