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Baseball’s sticky situation: What to know about MLB’s ‘crisis’ with pitchers and foreign substances

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Baseball's sticky situation: What to know about MLB's 'crisis' with pitchers and foreign substances

Chances are, you’ve heard a lot about baseball’s sticky issue lately. Rumors of “crackdowns” and mentions of “foreign substances” and “cheating” have been common on social media.

But what’s it really all about? Let’s take a look. 

What’s happening with pitchers and foreign substances?

It’s always been illegal for a pitcher to apply pretty much anything to a baseball in an effort to get more movement on the ball, but for the most part it’s been a rule without much teeth, just an occasional suspension here or there when a pitcher blatantly breaks the rules and an opposing manager asks the umpire to check. 

That’s ending soon(ish). 

Baseball announced this past offseason that it was taking a closer look at the issue, and spent the first few months of the season collecting baseballs from pitchers across the sport — not just Trevor Bauer — in an attempt to get a handle on how widespread the problem actually is. ESPN reported on June 5 that a plan is being “swiftly advanced” to start the actual cracking-down process, possibly being implemented as soon as “10 days to two weeks,” which would start June 15. 

MORE: Gerrit Cole stumbles with answer to question about sticky subtances

Exactly how it will work hasn’t been revealed. Josh Donaldson, a former MVP, has an idea, though. 

“If you want to clean the game up — because to me, this is going to be the next steroids of baseball ordeal, because it is cheating and it is performance-enhancing — the only way they get it through and to get it out of the game is if they get checked every half-inning,” Donaldson told The Athletic. “If a new pitcher comes out, they get checked immediately by the umpire. Once they start doing that, it’ll be gone, and you’re going to start seeing offense come back into the game.”

Checking every half-inning isn’t going to help pace-of-play issues in the short term, but if the goal is to get rid of the sticky stuff, maybe that’s a short-term price MLB is willing to pay.  

“They want to make it so whatever we do, we do it consistently, so it doesn’t look we’re targeting any one pitcher, which I think is very important,” senior umpire Joe West told The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal this week. “Baseball wants everything to be above board.”

Why are sticky substances illegal for pitchers?

The tenet of fair play says every player is operating with the same equipment, with the same set of rules. So when it comes to pitchers, nothing other than a short list of approved items can be used or added to a baseball. All MLB baseballs are rubbed up with mud from a secret spot on a tributary of the Delaware River, so they’re not super slippery. Pitchers are allowed to use a bag with rosin — a sticky substance made from fir tree sap — to get a little extra grip. The bags are behind the mound at all times. 

But here’s the thing: Pitchers have always tried to cheat. Not every pitcher, of course, but it’s not a stretch to say that in every single MLB season, at least some pitchers have tried to circumvent the rules to add a little movement to the baseball. In some cases, especially in the first century of the sport, the idea was to either scuff up the surface of the baseball or add something to the surface of the ball to add movement. A baseball with uniform leather/seams will move in a way that’s familiar to the pitchers and the hitters. But one that’s scuffed or cut or otherwise altered will move in an unpredictable way, and that unpredictability is a huge benefit for the pitcher.

But that’s not the case with this current “crisis.” This is about grip, especially on four-seam fastballs. Added grip means added spin, and that means added movement. Added grip also means pitchers can throw harder because they have more control of the baseball as it’s leaving their hand. That extra velocity means extra spin and extra movement, and extra movement means missed bats and baffled hitters, which means more strikeouts for pitchers. 

Think of it this way: Relying on the Delaware River mud and rosin for grip is like driving a go-cart. They get the job done, kind of. But the new stuff pitchers are using, the reason we’re having this conversation today? They’re like driving a damn IndyCar vehicle. 

Why are foreign substances a big deal for MLB now? 

This, folks, is a loaded question. Let’s start with this: MLB has a long history of ignoring a problem until it just becomes too much to ignore. It’s not just this current administration. The steroid era is the most recent parallel. Steroids were a part of the game for years, and MLB didn’t really do anything to try to stop the use, despite the known health risks. It wasn’t until records started to fall — big, huge important records — that MLB finally started to take steps to address the issue. You can bet that if Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa had stalled out at 55 home runs in the summer of 1998 and never reached the Maris/Ruth levels, things would have been different. Same thing if Barry Bonds never approached Hank Aaron’s career total. But they did, and then baseball acted. 

You’re seeing the same things now. Strikeout numbers have been up for the past decade-plus, but they’re reaching mind-boggling levels now, levels that can’t be explained away with mentions of launch angles and hitter approaches. Think about this: In his storied career, strikeout king Nolan Ryan topped the 11.0 K/9 mark twice in 27 seasons. In 2020, there were 17 pitchers with at least nine starts who had a K/9 of 11.0 or better. And there’s this: The MLB-wide strikeout percentage for batters last season was 23.4 percent; in 2021, it’s up to 24.1 percent. Read that again. Basically, one of every four plate appearances ends with a strikeout. That’s not good for the game. And people will point to the no-hitters, too — six in the first two months of the season. That’s a good talking point, but the truth is these new crackdowns were coming before those no-hitters happened. 

Baseball wasn’t worried so much about the cheating itself; baseball only really became concerned when the cheaters became too good at the cheating. 

Too much blame is going to be heaped on the pitchers who are caught with substances, or when it’s noticed that spin rates drop dramatically. That sucks, honestly. MLB has turned a blind eye to the situation for so long that it’s just been an accepted part of the sport. We drew a parallel to PEDs, but let’s be clear: This doesn’t have a moral element like steroids. There’s no health component. For decades, a thing was allowed to happen, and now suddenly it’s not. That’s on MLB. 

And there’s also this: The Collective Bargaining Agreement between MLB and the MLB Players Association expires on Dec. 1, and the negotiations are not going to be pretty. You’ll certainly hear talk of work stoppages, and it’s not unrealistic to think that might happen. And one tried-and-true tactic heading into a contentious negotiation is to attempt to erode unity on the other side. In this case, the theory goes, MLB is trying to pit pitchers vs. hitters against each other in hopes that it will impact the MLBPA’s solidarity. MLB powers-that-be will deny it to their last breaths, of course. 

What exactly is the ‘sticky’ foreign substance?

The rosin bag, as you know, is legal. Encouraged, even. Pitchers without any sort of grip tend to throw baseballs that accidentally strike hitters. But when a little rosin is mixed with a little extra sunscreen, that’s where things start to get complicated. Again, though, if it had just stopped there — it resided there for a long, long time — we wouldn’t be having these conversations. Same thing, honestly, with pine tar. It’s long been a “bonus” part of a pitcher’s bag of sticky tricks. Just don’t blatantly use it (as Michael Pineda of the Yankees did in 2014).

Lots of things get sticky, quickly. Any parent can tell you that. And I feel safe saying we would all be shocked — and pretty amused — at some of the things pitchers have used over the decades to get a little extra movement. You put snot on the ball? 

The might-have-pushed-it-over-the-line stuff, though? That’s stuff like Spider Tack, a substance developed to help power-lifters hold on when lifting stupid amounts of weight, and Pelican Grip Dip. Neither of these things were designed specifically for pitchers, but they create an incredible amount of friction, which leads to an incredible amount of spin. And, again, an incredible amount of spin leads to an incredible amount of movement and an incredible number of swings and misses. 

This quote, from Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon to Sports Illustrated, is eye-opening. 

“There’s some [pitchers] where, if you swing where your eyes tell you, you won’t hit the ball, even if you’re on time,” Blackmon says. “I have to go out there and if my eyes tell me it’s in one place, I have to swing to a different place. Which is hard to do. It’s hard to swing and try and miss the ball. But there’s some guys where you have to do it, because their ball and the spin rate or whatever is defying every pitch that you’ve seen come in over the course of your career. … I basically have to not trust my eyes that the pitch is going to finish where I think it’s going to finish and swing in a different place, because the ball is doing something it has no business doing.”

How will guilty MLB pitchers be punished?

Nothing’s been announced yet, but we can look at past precedents. Last week, four minor league pitchers were suspended for 10 days each when they were caught using illegal foreign substances on baseballs. Minor league players are subjected to vastly different standards, of course, partially because they don’t have a union — that’s an entirely different column — but the length of those were consistent with past MLB suspensions. In 2014, Pineda was suspended 10 days when he was found with pine tar smeared on his neck. In 2004, Cardinals pitcher Julian Tavarez was suspended 10 days for applying a foreign substance to the baseball. 

“Believe me, whenever you do something like this, there’s going to be pushback. There are going to be complaints. And there will be mistakes made,” West told The Athletic. “Don’t think everything is going to be perfect. It doesn’t happen that way.”

So 10 games makes sense for a first suspension. But what about repeated violations? Let’s not pretend that PED infractions (those are a health risk) and sticky substance issues are the same, but it’s an established guideline to use as a guide. The first PED suspension is 80 games, the second is a full season (Robinson Cano is currently serving a 162-game suspension), and the third is expulsion from baseball. 

It’s hard to imagine expelling a pitcher for sticky fingers, right? Doubling the suspension each time would make sense, though. First 10 days, then 20 (add a postseason ban), then 40 plus postseason, then 80 plus postseason and so on. But, again, that’s just an educated guess. 

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NBA Mock Draft 2021: Pistons lock in Cade Cunningham pick; Cavs, Raptors win big with lottery jumps

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NBA Mock Draft 2021: Pistons nab Cade Cunningham; Cavs, Raptors win big with lottery jumps

Welcome to the 2021 NBA Draft. The Pistons are on the clock.

After winning Tuesday night’s NBA Draft lottery drawing, Detroit is in position to land a franchise-changing prospect with the No. 1 overall pick. But the Pistons aren’t the only team whose fortunes may have been changed by some ping-pong balls.

The Rockets, Cavaliers, Raptors and more could end up selecting key pieces of their rosters on July 29. This year’s draft class has some tremendous talent at the top, and a few of these young players will be expected to contribute immediately upon entering the league.

With just over a month to go until the picks start rolling in, here is Sporting News’ best attempt at a mock draft.

NBA DRAFT BIG BOARD: Ranking the top 60 prospects in 2021

(Getty Images)

NBA Mock Draft 2021, post-lottery edition

1. Pistons — Cade Cunningham, G, Oklahoma State (19 years old)

Cunningham is viewed as the consensus top pick because he has the size and skill set that all NBA teams covet. He averaged 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.6 steals per game, and he shot 40 percent on 155 3-point attempts in his lone season with the Cowboys. The turnover numbers weren’t great (4.0 per game), but it should be noted that Cunningham was carrying a largely limited roster.

2. Rockets — Evan Mobley, C, USC (19 years old)

Mobley is the kind of big man that is built to excel in the modern NBA. He can protect the rim (2.9 blocks per game) but moves fluidly enough to stick with guards in the pick-and-roll. He also has the potential to grow as a perimeter threat offensively. The key to his development will be adding muscle to his frame (7-0, 215 pounds).

3. Cavaliers — Jalen Green, G, G League Ignite (19 years old)

It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Green emerge as the best pure scorer from this class, as he averaged 17.9 points on 46.1 percent shooting in 15 G League games. He is an outstanding athlete capable of finishing at the rim, even when he has to fight through contact. He needs to improve his playmaking and be more active defensively, but Green undoubtedly possesses tremendous upside.

4. Raptors — Jalen Suggs, G, Gonzaga (19 years old)

One of the biggest stars in college basketball last season, Suggs showed himself to be a terrific leader capable of functioning as a team’s primary offensive creator. While Suggs isn’t a long-range sniper (33.7 percent on 3-pointers), he should be able to develop into a more consistent shooter, and he is a smart off-ball cutter and screener.

5. Magic — Jonathan Kuminga, F, G League Ignite (18 years old)

Much like Green, Kuminga is one of the best athletes from this group of prospects. His size, strength and wingspan could allow him to eventually become a legitimate two-way wing, but he will need time to develop. Kuminga can be a ball-stopper offensively and doesn’t always bring the required intensity defensively. His shooting splits weren’t exactly inspiring (38.7/24.6/62.5 on field goals, 3-pointers and free throws), though it wouldn’t be fair to say his shot is completely broken. 

6. Thunder — Scottie Barnes, F, Florida State (19 years old)

There is a future in which Barnes makes multiple All-Defensive teams. Florida State threw him on just about every type of player, from lead ball handlers to back-to-the-basket big men. He has demonstrated an ability to be a good facilitator, but his shot must improve in order for him to earn respect from opposing defenders (27.5 percent from beyond the arc, 62.1 percent on free throws).

7. Warriors (via Timberwolves) — Davion Mitchell, G, Baylor (22 years old)

Mitchell made a real impression during Baylor’s championship run, stifling any player put in front of him. While he is known as a tenacious defender, Mitchell’s most notable improvements came on the other end of the floor. He became an excellent playmaker (5.5 assists per game) and saw a dramatic jump in his 3-point shooting (32.4 percent in 2019-20, 44.7 percent in 2020-21).

8. Magic (via Bulls) — Keon Johnson, G, Tennessee (19 years old)

Perhaps the best word to describe Johnson is explosive. When this guy drives down the lane and takes off toward the basket, good luck trying to stop him. He also uses that quickness and athleticism well on the defensive end to give opposing guards problems. Johnson’s main focus should be on extending his range, as he shot just 13 of 38 from beyond the arc at Tennessee. 

9. Kings — Franz Wagner, F, Michigan (19 years old)

Wagner displayed versatility on both ends of the floor while at Michigan. He is a smart team defender who can bang with frontcourt players but hold his own against smaller guards. He can also affect the game offensively without eating up possessions, operating as an elbow passer, screener or spot-up shooter. He may not have the ceiling of the guys in front of him, but he could play in the league for a long time.

10. Pelicans — Corey Kispert, F, Gonzaga (22 years old)

One of the top shooters in this class (44 percent on 6.5 3-point attempts per game last season), Kispert’s accuracy and quick trigger should allow him to make an immediate impact at the next level. He isn’t an exceptional athlete, but he battles on the defensive end. He must continue to develop his dribbling skills so he can punish opponents who close out hard to the 3-point line. 

11. Hornets — Alperen Sengun, C, Besiktas (18 years old)

An old-school, post-up big man, Sengun dominated the Turkish Super League, averaging 19.2 points, 9.4 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game while shooting 64.6 percent from the field. He has great touch around the rim and has shown a willingness to hit the open man. There are questions about his lack of shooting and defensive limitations.

12. Spurs — Jalen Johnson, F, Duke (19 years old)

Johnson only played 13 games at Duke, leaving the team in February in order to focus on preparing for the NBA Draft. His tantalizing talent was on full display at times, particularly his ability to create for himself and others in the open floor. Will those flashes of brilliance outweigh possible concerns about his maturity?

13. Pacers — Josh Giddey, G, Adelaide (18 years old)

Giddey won NBL Rookie of the Year after averaging 10.9 points, 7.5 assists and 7.4 rebounds per game. He understands how to manipulate defenses and create passing lanes. He isn’t a lights-out shooter (29.3 on 3-pointers) or out-of-this-world athlete, but there is reason to believe he will develop into nice piece of an NBA rotation.

14. Warriors — James Bouknight, G, Connecticut (20 years old)

Bouknight gets buckets. A natural scorer (18.7 points per game), the UConn star can find his way to the basket and hit contested jump shots off the dribble, an important skill for NBA guards. He will have to work on his passing and provide more consistent resistance on the defensive end, but he should provide plenty of offensive firepower.

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USA Olympic gymnastics trials 2021: TV schedule, live streams to watch qualifying for Tokyo

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USA Olympic gymnastics trials 2021: TV schedule, live streams to watch qualifying for Tokyo

There may be somewhat of a changing of the guard on the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team for the 2021 Summer Games in Tokyo. Simone Biles will be a constant for the women’s team, but aside from her, little will remain the same.

That’s why there will be a level of intrigue surrounding the U.S. Olympic gymnastics trials, which take place from June 24-27 at The Dome at America’s Center in St. Louis, Mo. Notably, competitors like Jordan Chiles, Jade Carey and Suni Lee will look to earn spots on the four-gymnast women’s team while two others compete for individual specialist roles.

For the men, all four qualifiers will be chosen as well. Only Sam Mikulak remains from the 2016 Olympic team, so there will be a few new faces on that team, too.

Sporting News has you covered on how to watch each of the gymnastics qualifying events throughout the entirety of the trials:

MORE: Watch the Olympic gymnastics trials live with fuboTV (7-day trial)

How to watch USA Olympic gymnastic trials

  • TV channels: NBC, NBC Sports

NBC owns the exclusive rights to all Olympic broadcasts in the United States and will be airing the gymnastics trials from June 24-27.

TV Schedule

The USA Olympic gymnastics trials will take place in St. Louis, Mo. from June 24-27. Each day consists of several rounds of each of the four women’s events and six men’s events in gymnastics.

Here’s NBC’s full scheduled TV coverage for the USA Olympic gymnastic trials. For a full schedule of events for the trials, click here.

Thursday, June 24

Event Time (ET) Channel
Men Day 1 6:30-9 p.m. NBCSN

Friday, June 25

Event Time (ET) Channel
Women Day 1 7:30-8 p.m. Olympic Channel
Women Day 1 8-10 p.m. NBC

Saturday, June 26

Event Time (ET) Channel
Men Day 2 3-4 p.m. Olympic Channel
Men Day 2 4-6 p.m. NBC

Sunday, June 27

Event Time (ET) Channel
Women Day 2 8-8:30 p.m. Olympic Channel
Women Day 2 8:30-11 p.m. NBC

Olympic trials gymnastics schedule 2021

The gymnastics trials are unique compared to other Olympic qualifiers, as they will largely consist of the same 4-6 events on a daily basis with different gymnasts participating in them each day.

For the men, there are six Olympic events:

  • Vault
  • Pommel horse
  • Floor
  • Rings
  • Horizontal bar
  • Parallel bars

For the women, there are four:

  • Vault
  • Floor
  • Uneven bars
  • Beam

Throughout the televised coverage, you will see these events in action. Here are the big competitors to watch on each day of the 2021 U.S. Olympic gymnastics trials.

For a full look at the events and start lists, click here.

Thursday, June 24

  • Sam Mikulak
  • Brody Malone
  • Yul Moldauer
  • Akash Modi
  • Donnell Whittenburg

These five men will compete in all six events during Thursday’s competition.

Friday, June 25

  • Simone Biles
  • Jordan Chiles
  • Suni Lee
  • Jade Carey
  • MyKayla Skinner

These five women will compete in all four events during Friday’s competition.

Saturday, June 26

The same five men will bear watching on Saturday during the finals, including any other gymnasts that make noise during the qualification process.

  • Sam Mikulak
  • Brody Malone
  • Yul Moldauer
  • Akash Modi
  • Donnell Whittenburg

Sunday, June 27

The same five women will bear watching on Saturday during the finals, including any other gymnasts that make noise during the qualification process.

  • Simone Biles
  • Jordan Chiles
  • Suni Lee
  • Jade Carey
  • MyKayla Skinner

USA gymnastics live streams

All of Team USA’s gymnastics events will be available to stream on Peacock, NBC’s streaming platform. You can also stream the events with fuboTV when they are aired on NBC or NBC Sports. NBCSports.com and NBCOlympics.com will carry some of the earlier qualifying events. 

Olympic gymnastic trials results 2021

The top two all-around women’s gymnasts at the U.S. Olympic trials will automatically qualify for Team USA. The U.S. women’s Olympic gymnastics team will consist of a four-competitor team along with two additional individual slots, which the United States earned the right to bring to the Summer Games as individual athletes to compete as specialists in line with new rules that allow smaller nations to be competitive.

The men’s side is simpler. The top four finishers at the Olympic trials will make the roster, while they have earned one extra spot for a specialst. 

Women’s

Event Top Scorers
Vault
Uneven bars
Beam
Floor

Men’s

Event Top Scorers
Vault
Pommel horse
Floor
Rings
Horizontal bar
Parallel bars

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Islanders, Anthony Beauvillier force Game 7 in (possibly) last game at Nassau Coliseum

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Islanders, Anthony Beauvillier force Game 7 in (possibly) last game at Nassau Coliseum

UNIONDALE, N.Y. — The Islanders staved off closure of the Nassau Coliseum for at least a little longer with a 3-2, come-from-behind overtime win Wednesday night. Whether the ice can be melted one final time at the Old Barn is now labeled as “to be determined” as the home team forced a Game 7.

“We’re obviously a resilient group and we knew we had a lot of time on the clock still, so, just stuck with it and fortunate to get two goals and tie it up and obviously win in overtime,” said Mathew Barzal. 

Things started a little better for the Islanders than they did two nights prior when they were blown out of Amalie Arena in Tampa 8-0. The first goal of that game came just 45 seconds after the drop of the puck. In this game, they came out matching the tempo with the Bolts in front of a loud and boisterous crowd. But the fans were all hushed when Brayden Point did, well, Brayden Point things — again.

The Calgary, Alta., native lit the lamp for the ninth consecutive game; only Reggie Leach’s 10 straight games with a goal stands in his way of the record.

In the second period, the Lightning killed off a 5-on-3 for about a minute before Anthony Cirelli gave them a two-goal lead. His fourth goal of the postseason went five-hole through netminder Semyon Varlamov. But the Islanders, with the crowd fully behind them, got one back with under six minutes left in the middle frame. Jordan Eberle, who entered Game 6 with just three goals in the postseason and amid a six-game goal drought, threw a backhander on net and past the blocker of Vezina Trophy finalist Andrei Vasilevskiy.

The Islanders had their chances after that. Barzal controlled the puck for a Steve Yzerman amount of time in the first few minutes of the third period. Kyle Palmieri pulled Vasilevskiy out but couldn’t tuck the puck in behind him. Eberle had a chance for his second with just over 12 minutes to go.

Maybe they got a jump from Jets guard Greg Van Roten pounding a beer and then smashing the container on his head. Maybe it was because it seemed as if the crowd was standing the rest of the way. 

With 8:44 left on the clock, Scott Mayfield — who probably should have been called for cross-checking Nikita Kucherov in the back and knocking him out of the game after one shift— became an unlikely Islanders hero. He went down the right wing and beat Vasilevskiy top shelf to even things. It was just his third career playoff goal and his first since Game 3 of the first round against the Penguins.

The building was hopping after that, although things got dicey for the hometown team when Matt Martin took a high-sticking penalty with 5:57 remaining. Varlamov and his crew held the Lightning at bay, and with the fans chanting a deafening “Let’s Go Islanders,” the game went to a nail-biting overtime.

New York didn’t need much time in the extra session, however.

Just 68 seconds in, Anthony Beauvillier intercepted a pass deep in the offensive zone — he said postgame that he blacked out — and buried it.

“Feels amazing, to be honest. That building coming into overtime was smelling like cigarettes and now it smells like beers,” said the goal scorer. “That place was going crazy so everyone is happy we’re going back to Tampa.”

The building erupted as the Islanders flew off the bench to swarm the overtime hero. And as the team celebrated, so did the fans — by throwing beer cans and bottles onto the ice and sticking around long past the team had left the ice.

“I’ve never seen anything like that,” said Barzal with a smile before adding it was “a little dangerous.”

“It’s one of the best [moments],” said bench boss Barry Trotz when asked where Game 6 will rank among his career hghlights. “I love this group, the character of this group. And this building and what it’s meant to a number of players and more than anything, our fans. These are great moments. Going off the ice, everybody’s hugging each other, there’s beer cans flying all over. It’s quite a sight.  

“These are great memories to have. But we’ve got to get another one.”

It’ll now come down to that Game 7 on Friday night in Tampa to determine who will play for the Stanley Cup.

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