Gerrit Cole’s “Sticky Situation”
By Owen Hetherington, January 9, 2021
Yesterday, it was reported that former Clubhouse Attendant for the Los Angeles Angels, Brian “Bubba” Harkins, submitted text messages as evidence in a lawsuit against his former team. Harkins spent four decades with the Angels and was relieved of his duties after an MLB investigation was filed against him for distributing illegal substances to pitchers on opposing teams to aid their grip on the baseball. Harkins lawsuit against the Angels argues that he was used as a scapegoat to prevent further bad publicity for Major League Baseball and the Angels organization. In short, he claims that he was not the only person to do this and he is being singled out.
Harkins’ lawsuit against the MLB and Angels is due to his reputation being destroyed, Major League Baseball’s lack of communication with Harkins by not warning him to stop creating foreign substances has left him unable to find employment on another team. It would make sense that another team would not want to bring on the unnecessary negative press that would come along with hiring Harkins.
Notably headlining the news yesterday was none other than New York Yankees’ ace Gerrit Cole. Cole was the talk of baseball yesterday for text messages he had sent to Harkins on January 17, 2019, at 11:39 am while he was still a member of the Houston Astros. The text messages, in part, said:
“Hey Bubba, it’s Gerrit Cole, I was wondering if you could help me out with this sticky situation…We don’t see you until May, but we have some road games in April that are in cold-weather places. The stuff I had last year seizes up when it gets cold”.
The lawsuit against the Angels was presented by Harkins’ attorneys in late August and was requested to be dropped by the Angels in early November. Harkins opposed the motion on Thursday, which brought forth the text messages between Cole and Harkins.
It was not a shock to see Cole’s name headlining the list of All-Star pitchers who had reached out to Harkins. Justin Verlander, Edwin Jackson, Max Scherzer, Felix Hernandez, Corey Kluber, Joba Chamberlain, and Adam Wainwright were all named by Harkins as players who have previously requested the sticky substance. However, Cole’s name grabbed the media’s attention because of the specific dialogue in the text messages sent to Harkins by Cole.
In a previous article, I wrote about my suspicions against the 2020 Cy Young winner, Trevor Bauer, for using pine tar (or another sticky substance) during the 2020 season. Although I could’ve picked several players to look at, Trevor Bauer seemed appropriate because he led the league in RPMs on his fastball in 2020.
I also stated in my article that Bauer was not the only pitcher possibly using foreign substances to gain a competitive advantage on his pitches. As we have seen from Harkins lawsuit, many pitchers have been identified for reaching out to him looking for a competitive advantage.
What interests me about the MLB investigation is how Harkins was singled out as the only person to be terminated from their job because he was distributing the substance to pitchers on other teams. Had he not distributed foreign substances to opposing players, would the MLB have filed an investigation against him?
I believe Major League Baseball would not have filed an investigation, had Harkins been only creating the substance for Angels’ pitchers. There are likely staff members in other organizations creating similar substances for their players, but clearly, Harkins was the best at it, which is why so many players went to him.
Following the Astros cheating scandal occurring at the beginning of last year, Major League Baseball was likely trying to avoid any negative press about cheating in the sport. Instead, the Angels firing Harkins was likely a decision by the organization and influenced by Major League Baseball’s investigation on him, setting a precedent as a warning to teams to avoid using sticky substances.
I am eager to see whether or not this lawsuit will cause the MLB to make changes to their current rules by strictly enforcing the foreign substance policy or to remove it completely. Although the rules clearly state, “No player is permitted to intentionally damage, deface or discolor the baseball by rubbing it with any type of foreign item or substance, including dirt or saliva”, it is rare for managers to call out opposing pitchers because their pitchers are doing the same.
From what we found out yesterday, I don’t see any suspensions to players involved in the Harkins incident. If Major League Baseball wouldn’t suspend any hitters on the Astros during the sign-stealing scandal, I don’t see someone like Cole facing any discipline.
Heading into Spring Training, I am sure Cole and the rest of the players who were involved with Harkins will be questioned by the media about using foreign substances. Whether or not the MLB will regulate a legal foreign substance for pitchers to use or tighten up their policy is the question that needs to be answered.
In my own opinion, I think pitchers should be able to use some type of foreign substance on the mound to get a better grip on the baseball. It gives pitchers more control out of their motion, which decreases the chances a batter will get hit in the head with a baseball.
It’s time to either control foreign substance use or start strictly enforcing their own rules.