Last March, the Angels dismissed visiting clubhouse manager Brian “Bubba” Harkins amidst allegations he’d been providing opposing teams’ pitchers foreign substances to aid their grip on the baseball. Harkins responded by filing a defamation action against both the organization and Major League Baseball. The Angels and MLB filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit last November.
Harkins’ opposition to the defendants’ motion for dismissal was filed in Orange County Superior Court yesterday and obtained by Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times. Therein, Harkins alleges widespread use of a rosin and pine tar concoction by MLB pitchers to alter the feel of the ball. Harkins’ assertions involve players from the Angels and opposing teams alike, spanning across the past two decades. In his court filing, Harkins names such players as Troy Percvial and Brendan Donnelly, who last played for the Angels in 2004 and 2006, respectively, as alleged users of the rosin/pine tar mix. Additionally, Harkins includes several recent or current Angel pitchers among those he claims have altered the ball.
Harkins further alleges that MLB has evidence of various high-profile pitchers from other teams using foreign substances to affect the baseball. DiGiovanna relays a text allegedly sent by Yankees starter Gerrit Cole (then with the Astros) to Harkins in January 2019 stating “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.”
It’s worth noting that none of these specific allegations have been substantiated. To this point, these allegations (more of which can be found in DiGiovanna’s full piece) are limited to Harkins’ pre-trial court filings. The case is set for a January 21 hearing on the defendants’ dismissal motion. If the case were to proceed to trial, Harkins’ attorney will seek at least $4MM in damages, notes DiGiovanna.
More generally, MLB pitchers’ supposed usage of ball-altering foreign substances has become a notable issue throughout the sport in recent months. Last February, then-MLB senior vice president Chris Young sent a memo to teams prohibiting club personnel “from providing, applying, creating, concealing or otherwise facilitating the use of foreign substances by players on the field” (relayed by Ben Lindbergh of the Ringer in July). Nevertheless, Lindbergh spoke with several players who estimated that at least 70% of pitchers were using some form of illegal substance. In November, Eno Sarris of the Athletic spoke with nearly twenty MLB players and coaches about ball-doctoring, and the “median answer was more than three-quarters of the league (uses illicit foreign substances).”
Lindbergh and Sarris note the correlation between the usage of a grip-altering foreign substance and higher spin rates for pitchers. (Both pieces are worth a full read for those interested). This figures to remain a topic of discussion for Major League Baseball, whether or not Harkins’ specific allegations are sufficient to warrant the continuation of his lawsuit.