As MLB threatens to start enforcing its long-standing ban on doctoring baseballs, New York Yankees ace Gerrit Cole found himself in the crosshairs on Tuesday.
He wasn't ready.
Amid an accusation that he's among a profusion of MLB pitchers using illegal foreign substances to gain an edge on the mound, Cole was asked directly if he uses a sticky substance called Spider Tack. Here's what he had to say:
"I don't," Cole started before a long pause. "I don't know if, uh ... I don't quite know how to answer that to be honest."
'Customs and practices that have been passed down'
After taking a moment to gather his thoughts, Cole continued without answering the question or issuing a denial that he in fact uses a banned substance on baseballs to gain an edge.
"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," Cole continued. "I think there are some things that are certainly out of bounds in that regard. I've stood pretty firm in terms of that, in terms of the communication between our peers and what not.
"This is important to a lot of people who love the game including the players in this room, including fans and including teams. If MLB wants to legislate some more stuff, then that's a conversation we should all have. Because ultimately we should all be pulling in the same direction on all of this."
Josh Donaldson accused Cole last week
The question should not have arrived as surprise to Cole. Minnesota Twins third baseman Josh Donaldson called Cole out by name when discussing pitchers doctoring baseballs on Friday. He also called the alleged abundance of sticky substance use "the next steroids of baseball."
“What these guys are doing now [is] performance enhancing to where it is an actual super glue type of [deal]," Donaldson said, per the New York Daily News. “It’s not about command. Now, it’s about who’s throwing the nastiest pitches.
“Is it coincidence that Gerrit Cole’s spin rate numbers went down after four minor-leaguers got suspended for 10 games? Is that possible? I don’t know. Maybe. At the same time, with this situation, they’ve let guys do it.”
Donaldson referenced a report last week that MLB suspended four minor league pitchers for using substances to doctor baseballs. Cole was certainly aware of Donaldson's accusation ahead of his scheduled news conference Tuesday leading into his Wednesday start against the Twins.
What exactly is the rule on foreign substances?
The minor league suspensions are an anticipated precursor to a crackdown at the major league level for rules that have been on the books since the 1920s but are rarely enforced.
“No player shall intentionally discolor or damage the ball by rubbing it with soil, rosin, paraffin, licorice, sand-paper, emery- paper or other foreign substance.
"PENALTY: The umpire shall demand the ball and remove the offender from the game. In addition, the offender shall be suspended automatically for 10 games. "
What is Spider Tack?
Spider Tack is a star player in the sticky substance controversy, believed to be an impetus for the expected MLB crackdown. Designed as a grip enhancer for strongmen lifting Atlas Stones, the substance is difficult to detect and reported to give pitchers a higher spin rate on balls than more traditional enhancers like a rosin and sunscreen mixture.
“Get Spider Tack out of the game and I don’t care about anything else,” an anonymous MLB pitcher told The Athletic. ... "Spider Tack is there to have on your glove for when you need that slider or heater to really rip.”
While Cole didn't admit to using Spider Tack on Tuesday, his lack of a denial puts his dominance on the mound in recent years in a new perspective and places him at the center of the game's brewing controversy.
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