Spider Tack, goo cops and an open secret: Answering 20 questions about MLB’s foreign-substance mess
- ESPN MLB insider
Author of “The Arm: Inside the Billion-Dollar Mystery of the Most Valuable Commodity in Sports”
Gerrit Cole, the New York Yankees’ ace and owner of the biggest contract for a pitcher in baseball history, paused for an extremely awkward five seconds Tuesday and didn’t answer a yes-or-no question about whether he had ever used a foreign substance. And in the process, amid his Elaine Benes dance around the truth, he told on the entire sport.
By not denying that he had dabbled in Spider Tack, the viscous grip agent that has become the substance du jour for those looking to improve the spin they create on pitches, Cole validated the concerns that have increasingly dominated conversations around the sport in recent months. For years, the use of foreign substances has been not so much a “dirty little secret,” as St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Shildt called it, as an open one.
Now, Major League Baseball — which has been aware of the use of foreign substances but has sparingly enforced its own rule banning them — is finally acting. Within a week or so, the league will hatch a plan to crack down on their use. After gathering evidence over the first two months of the season, MLB will arm umpires with information on the likeliest users, then ask them to add another responsibility to their jobs: goo cop.
MLB almost certainly will levy suspensions, adding more faces to the foreign-substance conversation. After Cole’s response to a simple yes-or-no question of whether he had ever used Spider Tack while pitching — “Um … I don’t … I don’t know … I don’t know if, uh … I don’t — I don’t quite know how to answer that, to be honest,” he said — his is, for the moment, front and center. Cole is an easy target because of his success and salary, yes, but his precipitous spin-rate growth — his average four-seam fastball spin jumped from 2,164 rpm to 2,379 to 2,530 over the 2017-19 seasons — put him on the league’s radar long before the cat got his tongue.
Here’s the reality: MLB has treated foreign substances like Bunny Colvin treated drugs in “The Wire.” And now, like with Hamsterdam, the cops are primed to descend and break up what for so long the establishment enabled. There are naturally plenty of questions about foreign substances, both basic and complex, for fans casual and rabid, and they deserve answers. Here are 20.
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