JUNE 13: Umpires will check starting pitchers at least twice per game and will examine relievers at least once during each contest, reports Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic. A position player will only be checked if umpires believe him to be altering the ball on his pitcher’s behalf. If the umpire finds illicit substances on the pitcher, his equipment will be confiscated and he will be ejected from the game, per Rosenthal.
JUNE 12: Within the next few days, Major League Baseball will send a memo to teams detailing the existing rules against the use of foreign substances on the baseball and how the league will plan to enforce these rules going forward, ESPN.com’s Buster Olney reports. The official order to umpires is expected to come around June 21, since according to one league source, “It’d be great if we could get it cleaned up before they actually start enforcing the rule. The enforcement has not started yet because all parties involved want to give pitchers time to adjust.”
With so much focus and controversy surrounding the illegal-substance problem, there has already been some indication that this pressure might be having an impact on the field. (To name two high-profile examples, Trevor Bauer and Gerrit Cole have had recent drops in their spin rates.) It’s safe to assume that MLB would prefer to avoid the spectacle of suspending multiple pitchers or even one pitcher for doctoring baseballs, though the league is also planning to take a firm hand in the event of a rules violation. As another source tells Olney, “Nobody wants to see suspensions. But it’s going to happen if somebody is found with something.”
The most visible enforcement of the rule will come in the form of on-field checks, as umpires will make somewhere in the neighborhood of 8-10 checks per game looking for any foreign substances — essentially anything that be applied to a baseball, except rosin — on both pitchers and position players, with the idea that a position player could secretly sneak something to their teammate on the mound. As to how “visible” these checks will be to fans who aren’t in attendance at the ballpark, umpires will likely conduct their checks between innings, when there is already a natural break in the action.
Olney’s piece also contains the interesting (and perhaps ominous) detail that MLB and the players’ union haven’t had many direct communications about the foreign-substance situation. “Much like estranged spouses speaking through a mutual friend,” Olney notes that the league and the MLBPA have been discussing the issue using the umpires’ union as a go-between. In the wake of last year’s disputes over the abbreviated season and the lack of an agreement over a universal DH this past offseason, this is the latest note of discord between the league and the players, which certainly doesn’t bode well heading into Collective Bargaining Agreement talks this winter.