Add “sticky stuff” to the list of reasons why the MLB is dying in the 21st century

When we think of the word steroid, for the most part, everyone associates it with sports. But what sport? For me, and probably most everyone, it’s baseball. Specifically, guys who hit the long home runs and make the game so much more exciting. What if I told you that it is now the guys who are throwing the ball to those big hitters that might have the advantage? Of course, we have heard of different things pitchers might use to help their pitching, most of them outlawed or have become so minute that we don’t care. But this new “sticky stuff” might be a game changer…literally.

Some of you might have heard of the recent fiasco that went down Tuesday night between pitcher Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals and manager Joe Girardi of the Philadelphia Phillies. In case you haven’t caught wind of the situation, here you go:

As you can see, there are a number of things going on in a short span of time. Between Scherzer being checked 3 times for a “sticky substance” while he is on the mound to Scherzer and Girardi screaming their heads off at each other. Oh, and we cannot forget the general manager for the Nationals calling Girardi a “con artist” after what went down last night.

Now, you might be wondering, what the hell is this all about? And, if you’re like me, why should I even care about this? For a casual fan of baseball like myself, I sometimes keep up with the scores and may watch a few innings of I have nothing else to watch or do. I might ramp that up to checking the scores everyday and catching a game here and there during the playoffs…depending on the St. Louis Cardinals situation at that time of year, of course. So, a little drama coming from a Tuesday night, non-playoff game might be great for us casual fans who really don’t care, right?

To be honest, I have paid little to no attention to what is going on in the MLB regarding this “sticky situation.” With the NBA playoffs, PGA Tournaments, and the off-season for football full of story lines, who really has time for baseball right now? Nevertheless, there is something to think about when it comes to the precedent that is being set with these new rules and behaviors that are being regulated by the MLB, it catches your attention.

A real quick history of this “sticky stuff.” The MLB started to investigate this “sticky stuff” prior to the beginning of the 2021 season. There had been prior incidents of this “sticky stuff” being applied to baseballs in the dugouts, primarily in the National League. For example, as evidenced in the article, there was an incident where a foul ball ended up in a dugout and emerged covered in some sort of goo (could be combination of glue, sunscreen, rosin, etc.) and when the goo was pulled off, so was part of the seam of the baseball. See the problem, right? The league decided to add this “sticky stuff” to the list of foreign substances not to be used by players. Umpires are now allowed to use their discretion and regularly check pitchers for any sign of a foreign substance being used. Even checking the pitcher’s hair, as in Scherzer’s case, is permitted.

You can now add “sticky stuff” to the list of scandals plaguing the MLB and its spiral into oblivion from the rest of the sports world. Major League Baseball has been the subject of some of the biggest cheating scandals in sports history. The 1919 Black Sox scandal, the steroids epidemic, and, of course, the Houston Astros cheating scandal. Luckily, unlike most of baseball scandals, the MLB has taken strides in cracking down on this sort of cheating. Whether or not players put up with these new rules and conditions will be another story as evidenced by Tuesday night’s tirade.

Of course, there are questions regarding player’s morality and the use of the “sticky stuff.” Some probably don’t have a personal view one way or the other and use it anyway. And others might not be able to stomach using the substance knowing that it gives them an unfair advantage. Regardless, MLB needs to figure this thing out now and they need to have a game plan not for just this season but for the future.

Sports fans don’t like cheating. Whether it’s the many issues plaguing the MLB, spygate or deflategate in the NFL, the pay-for-play issues in the NCAA, or the countless other scandals we hear about. But at the same time, we love it. Some of these “cheating” scandals 1. give notoriety to that sport and 2. sometimes give a spark on the playing field, more so for baseball. For example, people will tune into Astros games just to see opposing pitchers peg Astros’ batters. See Dodgers’ pitcher Joe Kelly in 2020. I don’t condone cheating. I believe you should win the right way by demolishing your opponent within the rules of the game. I am just saying the consequences of cheating, as in the case of baseball, might bring the sport some viewership.

Baseball is a dying sport in America. As you can see from this article, I am part of the reason why. I will “watch” baseball when it is the only thing on TV and I have nothing else to do, or when it is the playoffs. I know I am not the only one. A typical summer weekend will have baseball as the third most-watched sport behind the NBA and NHL… and possibly the NHL. I know that both the NBA and NHL are in their playoff series this time of the year, and the PGA has some of its biggest tournaments. However, baseball is supposed to be America’s past time. To me, that ship has sailed. I understand that numbers are up for all sports since 2020. But, I think we all had our own problems to deal with and didn’t have too much sympathy for million-dollar athletes in 2020.

MLB has to change in the 21st century. They have made some changes to speed up the game in 2021, but it is still not enough to trend an upward trajectory in regular season viewership. However, to me, these cheating scandals and the MLB’s failure to effectively take a proactive approach in deterring this conduct, will be its demise. Yes, like I said, cheating scandals can make the game more exciting. But that is in the moment, not long term.

Looking at the World Series ratings over the years, the MLB is in trouble. The sports biggest event cannot garner half the viewers it could 10 years ago. Maybe that is a sign of the times. But with steroids, banging on trash cans, the use of pine tar, and now this “sticky stuff” all happening in the 21st century, it is hardly a coincidence the MLB is just tanking in ratings. As someone who casually watches the sport, there might be a little more to the low number of viewers than just one cheating scandal after another. But I think we can all agree that the one thing that will turn viewers away from the sport for quite awhile, besides politics, is cheating.

This new “sticky stuff” and the MLB rules that are in place are sure to make for some TV drama and excitement for MLB regular season play. But for the long term, it is hard to see it playing out well for the MLB and it’s marketing to fans. I don’t have the answers right now for how to save baseball other than for them to listen to the fans and curb the game to what they want. Everyone wants to talk about the players but, at the end of the day, the fans are who put money in the pockets of every single member of the MLB. If baseball is really America’s past time, then there needs to be some urgency in play by the MLB to figure out what needs to be put in play to keep baseball alive. Either way, of the big four sports leagues in the U.S., the MLB has the most cheating going on. I don’t think it’s too far of a stretch to say that this “sticky stuff” pitchers are using could be another nail in the coffin of an already dying sport.

My next column, probably after the season, will examine the numbers of viewership, participation, and money within the MLB throughout the years.

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