⚾The MLB has a problem
QUOTE OF THE DAY
I reckon I tried everything on the old apple, but salt and pepper and chocolate sauce topping.
— Hall of Fame pitcher Gaylord Perry, who was notorious for doctoring baseballs and throwing a spitball. Appetizing.
🚨 History of cheating
Before we dive into baseball’s latest scandal, which involves pitchers using sticky substances to improve their game, here’s a little background on some of the sport’s biggest controversies over the years:
Black Sox scandal: The 1919 Black Sox scandal was one of the first controversies to rock the baseball world. Eight members of the Chicago White Sox conspired to throw (no pun intended) the 1919 World Series in exchange for money from a gambling syndicate.
- The players were indicted for conspiracy in October 1920, but were ultimately found not guilty after the paper records of the case mysteriously disappeared. Drama.
- Baseball’s newly appointed commissioner, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, had the final say, and permanently banned the eight involved players from the sport in August 1921.
Steroids: Today’s scandal has drawn comparisons to the steroid era of the ’90s and early 2000s, and for good reason. Now-retired baseball star Jose Canseco, who admits to having used performance-enhancing drugs (PED) himself, estimated that as many as 80% of playersused steroids.
- Many notable records were set during the steroid era, including Barry Bonds’ record for most career home runs, which will forever be tainted by an asterisk.
- We could (and probably will) write a whole newsletter on the impact of PEDs in sports. The MLB's steroid era left many fans frustrated and resulted in a huge drop in viewership. It’s a stain the league is still trying to wipe clean.
Sign-stealing: The act of observing and relaying the opposing team’s non-verbal gestures (aka signs) is frowned upon by baseball purists, though some instances of sign-stealing, such as when a player on base relays pitch locations to the batter, are technically legal.
- But with the evolution in technology, some teams (most notably the 2017 Houston
CheatersAstros) have taken things too far by using video cameras and other tech to steal signs.
- And while the MLB took out the trash when it came to the 2017 Astros, other tech-based sign-stealing scandals have since emerged. Houston, we have a problem.
⚾️ Today’s controversy
The 2021 pitching scandal revolves around pitchers using “foreign substances” to improve their grip on the ball. The enhanced grip enables pitchers to increase the spin and movement on their throw, making the ball harder to hit. Trouble is, those foreign substances are banned from baseball, and have been for over 100 years.
- Baseball first implemented a foreign substances ban in 1920 in response to pitchers throwing a spitball. Yes, it’s as gross as it sounds.
- But there were loopholes even back then, as 17 pitchers who relied on the spitball were “grandfathered” in, and could still use the pitch despite the ban. Rules are meant to be broken...except when they’re not?
Fast-forward to today, and spit has been swapped for everything from sunscreen and Vaseline to more advanced products like the super sticky Spider Tack, a chemical product developed to help weightlifters improve their grip on lifting stones.
- To be fair, some hitters are actually okay with pitchers using certain grip enhancers, such as the commonly used (and not illegal) rosin. The improved grip helps ensure pitchers won’t lose control and hit a batter with a 95 mph+ pitch.
- But most believe the advanced products have gone too far. Combine that with dismal batting averages this season, cameras capturing pitchers’ every move and unprecedented increases in spin rate, and this mess is impossible to ignore.
💔 The breaking point
As we mentioned, the foreign substances rule has been around since 1920, but has rarely been enforced. Previously, umpires would wait for a manager to ask that an opposing pitcher be checked. But managers wouldn’t flag their opponents since their pitchers would also be checked and likely caught cheating too.
- Last month, four minor leaguers were ejected and suspended for 10 games after being caught using foreign substances, but the last time major leaguers were penalized was back in 2015.
The use of foreign substances notably garnered attention in 2017 when a ball mysteriously stuck to St. Louis Cardinal Yadier Molina’s chest protector. It came up again in 2018 when then-Cincinnati Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer called out the Astros (we’ve since learned Bauer may need to take a look in the mirror). However, nothing changed...until now.
The MLB has been investigating the use of foreign substances since the season began in April. Following talks of a crackdown at a June 3rd owners’ meeting, Yankees pitcher and three-time All Star Gerrit Cole stammered through an answer when asked if he had ever used Spider Tack. Aca-awkward.
- The impending consequences immediately translated on the field. There’s been a dramatic reduction in spin rate and an increase in batting average since that June 3rd meeting. Hmm...
🔎 The enforcement
Enforcement of the MLB’s longtime foreign substance rule begins in earnest tomorrow. Umpires will inspect players as they come off the field ahead of TV commercial breaks. Starting pitchers will be checked multiple times per game while relievers will be inspected at least once.
- But hurlers aren’t the only ones who will be investigated. Catchers will be regularly inspected while other position players will be subjected to random checks.
As for punishment, pitchers caught using foreign substances will be ejected from the game and suspended for 10 days…with pay. *eye roll* Position players will only be ejected if they’re caught using a substance to help a pitcher, and the pitcher will also be held responsible. And there’ll be increasingly harsher punishments for repeat offenders.
➡️ What’s next
Cracking down on foreign substances is a small stepin tackling the many problems in the MLB, but, as seen recently with Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Tyler Glasnow, the midseason implementation of this change will likely lead to other unforeseen issues, like pitcher injury.
- It serves as a reminder that the MLB has a history of responding far too late and ignoring players when it comes to making necessary changes to the game.
- Tomorrow marks the beginning of a new era in baseball, and with the sport’s Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) set to expire at the end of this year, this conversation is far from over.
Motherhood and Maternity Leave in Sports
Quote of the Day:
"I’m like, ‘Wow, there’s a lot of hats.’ It’s the former WNBA [player], it’s the Black woman, it’s the mom. But it’s a privilege for me. You can be great at all these things. You can be someone representing, and doing it with class, and professionalism, and doing well at your job. You can be a mom; you don’t have to stop coaching."
— Arizona women’s basketball coach Adia Barnes, who led her Wildcats to the NCAA title game six months after giving birth to her daughter Capri...and graciously handled () sh!t along the way. Can you say super mom?
Queen of the court
When it comes to moms changing the game, we have to start with tennis legend Serena Williams. After winning the 2017 Australian Open while eight weeks pregnant (imagine?), Serena faced life-threatening health complications soon after the birth of her daughter in September 2017.
- Serena, who has a history of blood clots, her emergency C-section delivery and subsequent postpartum depression just months later.
- Since then, she has on the Black women face in medical care.
Williams also led the way on the court. Prior to taking mat leave in April 2017, she was ranked No. 1 in the world. But upon returning to competition in February 2018, the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) ranked Williams No. 453. Sorry, WTF?
- Luckily, Serena prompted change. Now, if a player takes a leave of absence due to pregnancy, injury or illness, their ranking freezes and that “” can be used to gain entry into tournaments upon return.
Along with the rankings rule change, the WTA also made dress code-related policy changes in 2019. After Williams received backlash for wearing her during the 2018 French Open (to help with her blood clots), the WTA updated their policy, lifting their backwards restrictions on what players wear. .
Racing toward change
Back in 2018, six-time Olympic track & field gold medalist Allyson Felix was negotiating a new contract with Nike when she announced her pregnancy. And when Felix asked for pay protection surrounding maternity leave, Nike declined, instead planning to reduce her salary by 70%. Once again, WTF?
- Along with fellow Olympic runners and Kara Goucher, Felix Nike’s ridiculous policies. Thanks to their activism, Nike eventually changed its tune and enacted in 2019.
- As for sponsorships, at the Outdoor Track & Field Championships in 2019 — her first competition after mat leave — Felix signed a deal with Athleta, a company . HYFR.
Progress to praise
Even with Williams and Felix leading the way, the fight for sufficient maternity leave policies in sports is ongoing. We’ve already covered the WTA’s progress, so now it’s time to talk about how mat leave policies have changed (or haven’t...) across the other major women’s organizations. First, the good:
WNBA: The W leads the way (of course) when it comes to maternity leave, but even their progress is only recent. Storytime: In 2018, WNBA star Skylar Diggins-Smith played while pregnant and “.” And Diggins-Smith didn’t just play, she averaged 17.9 points per game for the Dallas Wings and was named an All-Star. What can’t moms do?
- Part of the reason Diggins-Smith kept her pregnancy a secret is that under the WNBA’s old collective bargaining agreement (CBA), players were only guaranteed half of their (already small) salary if they took mat leave.
- Luckily, the league made herstory with their in 2020, which includes fully paid maternity leave, guaranteed two-bedroom apartments for players with a child under 13 and a $5,000 annual child care stipend. Oh, baby!
LPGA: Prior to 2019, any player who left the tour for maternity leave was restricted to play only 10 events during their leave year. But, because women can make their own decisions (what a concept!), players are now allowed to compete in an unlimited number of tourneys.
- We also have to shoutout Stacy Lewis and her sponsor KPMG. When Lewis announced her pregnancy in 2018, KPMG stepped up to pay , regardless of the number of events she competed in. More of this, please.
NCAA: In 2001, former Sacred Heart basketball player Tara Brady had her scholarship revoked after informing the school of her pregnancy. The heck? Brady’s case went to the U.S. federal court, where lawyers argued that her pregnancy should have been protected under .
- Brady and Sacred Heart ultimately settled out of court in 2003, but the case shed light on the NCAA’s lack of adequate protections. In 2019, the NCAA produced for pregnant and parenting student athletes. About time.
Looking for change
We know progress can take time, but what better time than the present? Here are the organizations that still have some work to do when it comes to mat leave policies and supporting moms in their sports. Change would be the perfect Mother’s Day gift.
NCAA: Player progress aside, the NCAA has to do better at supporting coaches who are parents. We already know the NCAA , but this goes beyond weights. Under the tournament’s COVID-19 guidelines, teams were only granted a 34-person travel party and despite young kids not needing a plane ticket to travel, they did count against group.
- That means coaches were between bringing their kids into the bubble or bringing along a trainer or coach who had been with the team all season. Ugh.
- And if a coach did decide to bring their child into the bubble, . There was no space for kids to play, no guaranteed suites for families and no child-care stipend offered. Clearly, there’s still a long way to go.
NWSL: The NWSL doesn’t have a CBA, so maternity leave is handled on a case-by-case basis. Chicago Red Stars defender Arin Wright recently returned to the league after giving birth to her son in April 2020, and is on the NWSL’s lack of support. And finally, for the league’s first-ever CBA are underway.
NWHL: When the U.S. women’s hockey team boycotted the International Ice Hockey Federation () world championships in 2017 to protest unequal pay and treatment, maternity leave and child care were on their . And while a deal was reached in that situation, it’s not clear their fight impacted how things operate over in the NWHL.
- Similar to the NWSL, players in the NWHL do not have a CBA. Hopefully the recent is a sign of even more progress to come.
As we know, there’s still a long way to go to achieve gender equity in sports, and motherhood and maternity leave must be considered in this fight. Athletes should not feel like they need to put their career “on hold” to become a mother, nor be punished for choosing to become a parent.
Sports Quick Hits: June 17th, 2021
🏒NHL: Thanks to a perfect combo of and , the Montreal Canadiens are back in it. Last night’s 3–2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights tied up the series 1-1, and the Habs have a chance to take the lead in Game 3, tomorrow night at 8 p.m. ET.
🏀WNBA: Not only has the W been off the court, the on-court action’s just heating up. On Tuesday, Sue Bird on the all-time three-pointers list. Meanwhile, the race is still tight with under a month remaining. And, lucky for us, 10 of the league’s 12 teams play tonight. and tune in.
⛳️Golf: Oh, you want more drama? We got you. Check out yesterday’s , including all the tea on the spiciest golf feud since . And then tune in to today’s live coverage on TSN to watch Canadians Corey Conners, Adam Hadwin, Mackenzie Hughes and Taylor Pendrith vie for their first majors.
⚽CanWNT Scoreless in Latest Set of Friendlies
Euros: It’s been a wild few days in Europe. Tuesday’s matches saw a into Germany’s stadium, injuring fans during Germany’s 1–0 loss to France, and Portugal's 3–0 win over Hungary made Cristiano Ronaldo (who we , BTW) the Euros’ .
- Yesterday was a touch tamer, with wins for Wales, Italy and Russia, and three more matches are on deck today. Check out all the results and the full schedule .
- Also, we’re pleased to report that Denmark’s Christian Eriksen after against Finland last Saturday. His team takes the pitch today at noon ET to face .
CanWNT: Both of CanWNT’s latest friendlies ended in scoreless draws, and though we’re a bit nervous about their offense, the games proved the team’s defense is solid as a rock. Let’s hope in futbol too.
- Speaking of, stay tuned for head coach Bev Priestman’s Olympic roster announcement, expected over the next couple of weeks.
CanMNT: The guys can hang, too. They’re riding a six-game winning streak, including , and for the first time in
forever 24 years, they made it to the final round of World Cup qualifiers ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup.
🏀NBA Playoffs Can't Escape Influx Injuries
The injuries: LA Clippers star Kawhi Leonard? . Brooklyn Nets phenom Kyrie Irving? . Phoenix Suns’ Mr. Playoffs himself, Chris “CP3” Paul? Out indefinitely due to . In total, eight All-Stars have missed at least one postseason game, an all-time high. Yikes.
- The playoff injury bug is not uncommon, but seeing so many big names on the sidelines is. The reason? LeBron thinks it’s because of the shortened offseason.
The series: Despite the injuries, the playoffs must go on. The conference semifinals will wrap up this weekend as the Clippers vs. Utah Jazz (3-2), Atlanta Hawks vs. Philadelphia 76ers (3-2), and Nets vs. Milwaukee Bucks (3-2) each conclude their series. Check out the bracket .