Jerry Blevins pitched in the Major Leagues from 2007-2019, including four seasons with the Mets. The 37-year-old southpaw retired on April 27, 2021.
I in the big leagues for 13 seasons. I threw 8,342 pitches in the regular season and not nearly as many in the postseason as I would have liked. Of those 8,000-plus pitches, I had sunscreen and rosin on my forearm for 95 percent of them. Is it cheating? Technically, yes, it’s against the rules. Did it give me an advantage over the hitter? No.
Why would I use it then? The answer is simple: The MLB baseball is slippery. Dangerously so.
From Little League through the minors, I never had to think about the baseball. I “choked” the baseball when I pitched. Meaning, I held the ball deeper in my hand and squeezed it hard through my delivery. Most guys hold the baseball like an egg. Firm enough for control, but not too hard as to break the egg. I tried it and didn’t feel comfortable doing it that way. So I switched back to a deeper grip and the ball felt great in my hand again.
Then I got called up. The big league baseball is slippery! More dusty than slippery. Like “sitting in your grandma’s curio cabinet next to her Precious Moments collection for the last 25 years” dusty. No matter how tight I held the ball, it felt slippery and unpredictable. It felt like it did in the minor leagues when I tried holding it like an egg. I didn’t feel confident with the baseball.
I struggled. Then I asked my teammates if they had a tough time gripping the baseball, too.
“Oh, yeah,” they said, chuckling. “The big league baseball is trash.”
“What do you do about it?” I asked.
Enter the gray area.
Sunscreen and rosin. You spray sunscreen on your arm, a normal amount to fight UV rays. Then you tap the rosin bag on it. That’s it. When you get the ball, you wipe your arm then rub the ball. The layer of dust is removed and the dusty cue ball is now a baseball again. It doesn’t make your breaking ball better. It doesn’t do anything except turn a flawed baseball into a usable one. That’s the fix.
Major League Baseball knows the ball is slippery. The players have been complaining about it for years. Did MLB change the baseball? Yes. But not for grip. They made the ball go faster and farther than ever before — because there weren’t enough homers, I guess. They completely ignored the real problem with the ball. But that issue was fixed by the players using sunscreen rosin. No reason to fix it.
Open the gray area.
Baseball players have proven time and time again that they are flawed human beings. If you give them an inch, they will take a mile. With the technology in today’s game, spin is in. The more you can spin the ball the better. And guys found out that adding sticky substances increases your spin rate. And as long as MLB doesn’t mind sunscreen and rosin, they won’t mind laboratory creations for grip.
Gray area turns to black.
Organizations have been proven to be run by flawed human beings, too. And if there’s a gray area created by MLB, teams will figure out the most efficient way to exploit it before another team does. It’s an arms race. Think M.A.D.: Mutually Assured Destruction. And that’s how a problem becomes systemic. It happened with sign-stealing. It happened with steroids. And it happened with sticky substances.
Now, MLB is going to crack down on all foreign substances. Great. If you’re adding spin to the ball with a concoction from a laboratory, that’s cheating. But the baseball is still slippery. It’s what started this whole thing in the first place. Rays ace Tyler Glasnow said he believes his UCL tear is because of the ball. Without sunscreen and rosin, he said, he had to change his mechanics. We could see more injured hitters, too, if the lack of grip increases wildness and yields more hit-by-pitches.
So MLB needs to sit down with the Players Association and agree to allow sunscreen and rosin for the remainder of the season. Then MLB needs to fix the baseball in the offseason.
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