Some Dare Call it Cheating (Special from the IBWAA)
Some Dare Call it Cheating
MLB Continues Call Experiments, Maybe For TV Ratings
By Jeff Kallman (Special from the IBWAA)
This article was featured in “Here’s The Pitch” the newsletter of the IBWAA and is shared with permission. This article was published in May 2022.
Eric Chavez is a 17-year major-league third baseman who is now the hitting coach for the National League East-leading Mets. He has heard his charges say they think enough of this year’s baseballs may be selectively dead — depending upon the needs of nationally broadcast games.
Chavez told Newsday’s Tim Healey that he didn’t believe the complaints at first, until the Mets played the Phillies May 1 in a game shown on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball. “I thought for a second, ‘You guys are full of it’,” Chavez said.
But the ball was traveling farther—balls that weren’t hit as hard. And I’m like, wait a minute, that shouldn’t have happened. The ball was just traveling better. That was the eye test, but then we lined it up with what the analytics were telling us.
This is the one thing about analytics. You can’t really argue, right? You can’t argue. These are facts. We’ve been hitting balls 104, 105 [mph] at the right launch angle that aren’t leaving. And all of a sudden, now we’re hitting balls 95 — a little less hard than the other balls — and those are traveling Sunday night.
For the record, the Mets defeated the Phillies, 10-6, in that game. For almost a full week as I write, all four teams from New York and Los Angeles are in first place in their respective divisions. And the Mets aren’t the only ones complaining that the baseballs themselves remain anything but innocent or uniform.
Never mind the hitters. The pitchers continue complaining about the badly- inconsistent balls and their badly-inconsistent grips. Last month, it seemed you couldn’t spend an hour without hearing about another Mets batter being hit by a pitch. They’ve been plunked, kissed, drilled, and coned 23 times since the season began, 19 times in April alone.
“The MLB has a very big problem with the baseballs—they are bad,” fumed Mets pitcher Chris Bassitt to the New York Post’s Mike Puma. “Everyone knows it. Every pitcher in the league knows it. MLB doesn’t give a damn about it. They don’t care. We have told them our problems with them, they don’t care. There is no common ground with the balls. There is nothing the same, outing to outing.”
Through this writing, 377 batters have been hit on the season. That, folks, is an average two batters a game so far. The Cubs and the Twins have caught and passed the Mets for batters taking one for the team with 29 each. The average plunk per team is 12.5. Some of the immediate consequences have run the range from the ridiculous to the absurd and back.
Yimi Garcia, Blue Jays relief pitcher, can tell you. He learned the hard way against the Yankees earlier this week. One moment, Giancarlo Stanton tied the game with a single swing, a monstrous one-out, three-run homer. The next, Garcia hit the next Yankee batter, Josh Donaldson, on an 0-1 pitch. As Donaldson made his way to first base, umpiring crew Alfonso Marquez issued no warnings but ordered Garcia to make his way to the clubhouse and out of the game.
Pitchers have been known to drill the next man up at the plate immediately after they’ve been hit for long home runs, but even the most head-hunting among the head-hunters isn’t foolish enough to do it when it means the tie-breaking run reaching base and the team at the plate still having two outs with which to work.
The television commentators for that Blue Jays-Yankee skirmish had observed all game long that you could be blind and see the pitchers on both sides struggling to grip the balls. But according to Marquez in a post-game interview, it was all the fault of Donaldson and Blue Jays catcher Tyler Heineman.
Earlier in the game there were some words exchanged between Donaldson and Toronto’s catcher, so that definitely played into it. There were pretty strong words. Then you have a game-tying home run and the second pitch, which we deemed intentional, which was the reason for the ejection.
If it crossed Marquez and his crew’s minds even once that no pitcher is going to put a tie-breaking run aboard with malice aforethought, the evidence doesn’t exist.
An inning later, a pitch from Jonathan Loaisiga bent the Blue Jays’ Bo Bichette backward when it sailed past but not into his head. Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoya didn’t appreciate the further lack of warnings over Loaisiga’s chin musicale. Marquez’s lack of appreciation for Montoya’s review ended with Montoya’s closing for the night.
Things didn’t work out for anyone but the Yankees in the end, after Aaron Judge ended the game with a three-run homer of his own. But the ball issue remains.
This isn’t the kind of amusement we once derived from the mound Houdinis throwing anything from emery balls (Joe Niekro), K-Y balls (Gaylord [It’s a Hard Slider!] Perry), ring balls (Whitey Ford), soap balls (Jim [Mudcat] Grant), or sweat balls (Phil [The Vulture] Regan). This is baseball’s government itself deciding the baseballs themselves should be experimented upon by Rube Goldberg for particular ratings.
If it’s not an average two batters hit per game thanks to barely controllable balls, it’s the prospect of MLB itself choosing which among suspect baseballs to provide teams based upon whether the match-up is boffo enough to warrant more or less travel, or more or less stingy pitching.
Some dare call it another kind of cheating. I dared last December, when I wrote about the ball inconsistencies discovered in last year’s baseballs. And, when astrophysicist Meredith Wills, Ph.D., discovered upon her own unsolicited but detailed analyses that both deadened and juiced balls were in play and may have been put there depending on whose game was going to be a smash hit on television.
We’ve known long enough that the current baseball regime believes the common good of the game is little more than making money for it. We should have a harder time accepting without recourse or demands for investigation that it also includes the Manfred regime—about which “incompetent” is almost high praise—all but sanctioning cheating even more egregious than Astrogate.
Jeff Kallman is an IBWAA Life Member who writes Throneberry Fields Forever. He has written for the Society for American Baseball Research, The Hardball Times, Sports-Central, and other publications. He has lived in Las Vegas since 2007 and, alas, has been a Met fan since the day they were born.