Sports

This is what happens when you’re always reacting

Gerritt Cole in a sticky situation with league cracking down on foreign substances.

Gerritt Cole in a sticky situation with league cracking down on foreign substances.
Image: Getty Images

I’ve remarked numerous times that MLB owners can only see the one dollar right in front of their face instead of the three that might be waiting down the road. Most of the decisions that were just about cashing in now are why baseball’s popularity is currently diving down in a way that DC won’t let Batman (See?, I’m current).

But that also extends to how the game is governed and administered. It feels like MLB and Rob Manfred are just never ahead of anything, which means they’re always diving head first into changes they never anticipated and hence don’t know all the outcomes and side effects.

Before pitchers using flubber or whatever it is to increase spin rate this season became the rage d’jour, it was the baseball itself. MLB thought there were too many homers, so it changed the ball. And it’s led to higher exit velocities…and a lot of balls dying on the track. It didn’t lead to more contact, it didn’t lead to more action on the field, and in fact strikeouts and walks are as big of a problem as they’ve ever been. The only thing MLB did was curb the one outlet of salvation hitters had, given just how hard it is to get bat to ball these days.

Then baseball got caught cold on foreign substances. At least it got caught cold in the public outing of it all, because it had to know what was going on in its game for a while. If it didn’t, there were plenty of people to ask, and it would be an even bigger indictment.

So it’s led baseball to try and change the rules midseason, which is never perfect and usually far from it (ask soccer). Baseball is going to announce its new policies when it comes to trying to add goop to the ball, starting with 10-day suspensions. The list of banned substances spreads all the way down to a sunscreen-and-rosin mixture, but it’s hard to see that MLB will ask its pitchers to risk melanoma to participate. And as we’re heading into summer, guys are going to sweat because it’s going to be balls hot just about everywhere (except San Francisco and Oakland, of course. That’ll wait until September). So is there an acceptable amount of sunscreen? Some amount of time before the game they’ll be allowed to use it?

Pitchers, and hitters, will tell you that some level of substance is needed to get a good grip on the ball so as not to start sending it every direction except the one they mean to. Especially as the ball has been made lighter with the seams not as pronounced as they used to be. There is some argument for that, but there’s also one against. While hitters might be in for a very dicey few weeks and more and more might be reaching for the full face shield that a lot of players already use, pitchers who can’t control what they throw don’t tend to last long in the league. Or pitchers will have to find a gear to which they’ll have to throttle back to and hence will be easier to make contact on. But it’s going to be a rocky road to get there, and people will start complaining as soon as it starts this week.

And there are going to be consequences here that baseball can’t see, because it had to rush to this policy change when it became public. The answer is clearly a different type of baseball that’s tackier, like the one they use in Japan or South Korea but Rawlings has never been able to nail down (to be fair, they only really tried in 2019’s spring training, and it did not go well).

How many hitters being hit in the head will it take before MLB buckles on this? Or just starts looking the other way like they always do? When will umpires tire of it, just as they have with calling the strike zone how it’s supposed to and yet MLB hasn’t really done much about? Does it have the tires to wade through the next few weeks and see if that improves baseball’s action problem? You wouldn’t think so, though having the shroud of the delayed NBA and NHL playoffs might provide enough cover.

If only MLB could ever look down the road, the problems it can solve. Instead, it always seems to be causing new ones by trying to solve the old ones.

The pain in Spain

We’re going to have to coin the term “Spain’ing” to describe a team dominating a game and yet finding a way to draw or lose in the most predictable fashion. While they had a four-year run of dominance that may not be matched from 2008-2012, this is the Spain that most elder watchers of the game are used to as they drew with Sweden 0-0 after 90 minutes of pulling oblique muscles trying to fellate themselves.

Spain had 85 percent of the possession, a simply unheard of figure. They conjured 2.35 expected goals given the shots they created and took. And yet they didn’t score. Because they’re Spain, and this is what they do. They pass the ball forever, and when just about everyone is ready to fall over they spring into the box only to watch their legs and brains go into vapor lock and miss. As Elaine Benes said, “It’s like a big budget movie with a story that goes nowhere!”

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