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Baseball

The MLB has a problem

June 20, 2021
SOURCE: ASSOCIATED PRESS
SOURCE: ASSOCIATED PRESS

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

SOURCE: DAVID ZALUBOWSKI/ASSOCIATED PRESS

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.

⚾️ Today’s controversy

SOURCE: GREGORY BULL/ASSOCIATED PRESS

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

SOURCE: MARK J. TERRILL/AP PHOTO

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

SOURCE: USATSI

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.
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Sports Quick Hits: Monday June 14th, 2021

June 14, 2021
Source: Darren Abate/AP
Source: Darren Abate/AP

🏀NBA: Sure, playoffs are cool, but the NBA action we’re excited about is behind the bench. The Portland Trail Blazers and Orlando Magic are both searching for new head coaches, and not one, but two women — San Antonio Spurs assistant Becky Hammon and University of South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley — are in contention. About damn time.

⚽️Soccer: Though world No. 8 CanWNT delivered a disappointing 0–0 performance against No. 27 Czech Republic on Friday (just a day before what should be a national holiday: Christine Sinclair’s birthday, who’s now 38), coach Bev Priestman expects a more energized showing against a tough No .7 Brazilian squad today at 3 p.m. ET. 

⚾️MLB: The Toronto Blue Jays 18-4 win over the Boston Red Sox yesterday looked more like a football score than baseball, with the Jays hitting eight home runs, the most ever by any visiting team at the Sox’ 109-year-old Fenway Park. Watch them close out the series at 7:10 p.m. ET tonight. Do we hear nine? 

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Sports Quick Hits: June 10th, 2021

June 10, 2021
Source: Matt Rourke/AP
Source: Matt Rourke/AP

 💪MMA: What do you do when you’ve already conquered an entire sport? You find a new one. That’s what boxing superstar Claressa Shields is doing. The only boxer in history, female or male, to simultaneously hold all four major world titles in boxing in two weight classes, is making her MMA debut tonight. Queen of the ring and the octagon.

⚽️Soccer: Even though the NWSL is on an international break so that national teams can play pre-Olympic friendlies (like our very own CanWNT playing the Czech Republic tomorrow), the league is still making moves. 

⚾️Baseball: It’s happening. Toronto Blue Jay Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is hitting dingers and having the season of his career. The 22-year-old slugger is tied for first in the league with 18 home runs in just 59 games, earning himself a spot on the MLB All-Star ballot. Don’t forget to vote!

Guide to Baseball

May 27, 2021
Guide to Baseball

The GIST

Baseball is America’s national pastime. Why? Well, it quite literally passes time. The average length of a baseball game is just over three hours of continuous fun. 

Baseball is played on a field shaped like a diamond (its other name) with a base on each corner. A team scores a point (referred to as runs) when one of their players is able to make it all the way around the diamond and back to home plate. The team with the most runs at the end of the game, wins!

Rather than periods or quarters, baseball is divided into nine innings, each with a top and a bottom half. At the beginning of an inning, the visiting team goes up to bat while the home team sends nine players into the field to play defence. Then the teams switch to play the bottom of that inning. It’s an advantage to be the last team up to bat because you have the last chance for a comeback win!

An inning is over after three outs (e.g., when a player strikes out on pitches, is thrown out at a base or their ball is caught in the air). And if the game is tied after nine innings, the game goes into extra innings until a winner can be decided. 

But our fave part of baseball? It’s got to be the seventh inning stretch.

How is baseball organized?

Baseball is played all over the world; however, the most popular league in the world is Major League Baseball (MLB) located in North America. There are 30 teams in the MLB and the league is divided into the National (NL) League and the American League (AL) which are further divided into three divisions: Central, East and West.

Here’s where things get a little confusing (but that’s what you’ve got us for!): The AL and NL follow a slightly different set of rules. For instance, in the NL, pitchers also come up to the plate to bat, but they don’t in the AL. Instead, the AL has a “designated hitter," or DH, that comes up to bat in that place. 

There are 162 regular season games (that’s not a typo… the MLB by far has the longest season in major league sports), followed by the playoffs. Ten teams, five from the NL and five from the AL, make it into the postseason where all of the players’ blood, sweat, tears and bat flips go into winning the World Series (the MLB championship). More on the playoff structure here.

Who’s the current champ?

The LA Dodgers won the 2020 World Series, defeating the Tampa Bay Rays in six thrilling games. With the win, the Dodgers earned their seventh franchise championship, ending a 32-year (!!!) World Series drought.

The Dodgers, led by outfielder Mookie Betts and starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw, fulfilled their preseason favorite status to win the championship in a pandemic-shortened season that almost never happened. LA, baby

Names to know

We already mentioned LA Dodger Betts, who will surely continue doing Mookie things next season. There must be something in the water in LA, because the other top player to watch is Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout, who's won three AL MVP awards but has never won a playoff game. Maybe this year?

There's some young star power making noise this year, including bat flipping machine San Diego Padre Fernando Tatís Jr. and Washington National Juan Soto, who is already drawing comparisons to Ted Williams (aka "The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived"). Decent company.

As for pitchers, two of the top arms in the majors just so happen to be in New York. In the AL, it's NY Yankee Gerrit Cole, who signed a record-breaking contract when he joined the pin stripes in 2019. And over in the NL, NY Met Jacob deGrom used to be known for his signature flow, but now he's better known for leading the NL in strikeouts last year. 

And if you're looking for a team to watch, we recommend the Miami Marlins. Not only did the Marlins impress with their Cinderella story run in the 2020 playoffs, they also made a herstoric offseason announcement, naming Kim Ng as their General Manger (GM). Ng is the first-ever female GM (!!!) in any North American major sports league. Suddenly we're all Marlins fans!

What about the Jays?

The Toronto Blue Jays were founded in 1977 (but didn’t serve beer until 1982) and have won two World Series championships (in '92 and '93) but they haven’t had much luck since. They won the AL East title in 2015 and 2016 and, most recently, they clinched a 2020 playoff berth thanks to the league's expanded playoff field that year, but were eliminated in the first round. Womp.

But that luck could all change this year, as the Jays made some big offseason moves highlighted by the signing of three-time All-Star, outfielder George Springer.  And as for returners, keep your eye on 23-year-old shortstop Bo Bichette and 22-year-old Canadian-born third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr., affectionately known as '“Vladdy Jr." With all this talent, this year really might be our year. 

Women who bat

For whatever reason, women do not have a pro league for “hardball” (another name for baseball). Instead, women play softball professionally — a similar game but with a bigger ball where pitchers throw underhand. 

Women DO play baseball at the amateur level. It’s an Olympic sport (including at Tokyo 2020!) and is played at the Pan Am Games (for North, South and Central America).

Fun fact: Canadian hockey superstar and Hockey Hall of Fame inductee, Hayley Wickenheiser, ALSO played for the Canadian softball team in the Olympics. What can’t this woman do? Hint: the answer is nothing.

Channel your inner fan!

Here are some fun stats to break out at your next office ball game outing: 

  • The lifespan of an MLB baseball is only five-to-seven pitches, meaning about 70 baseballs are used during a game. Just wild.
  • The New York Yankees have the most World Series titles, winning 27 in their 116 (!!!) year history. And they’re not even the oldest MLB team.
  • Unfortunately, no woman has ever played in an MLB game. BUT sports executive Effa Louise Manley (1897–1981) is the first and only woman inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. ‘Atta be, Effa!

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Quick Hits - May 20th, 2021

May 20, 2021
Source: Adam Hunger/AP Photo
Source: Adam Hunger/AP Photo

 🏀WNBA: Is it too soon to call the New York Liberty the Cinderella story of the season? After finishing dead last with only two wins in 2020, they’re currently dominating the W with three wins in three games and no chance of slowing down. 

  • Of course, the triple-double queen herself, Sabrina Ionescu (pronounced yo-NESC-ooo), may have a little (read: huge) something to do with this turnaround.

🥇Olympics: With just 64 days until the Tokyo Olympics, the Games are once again/still in jeopardy. Ahead of a three-day meeting between the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Games organizers, Tokyo’s medical body published a letter yesterday calling for the Games’ cancellation.

  • Less than 2% of Japan’s residents are fully vaccinated, and Tokyo's top physicians are concerned for their already-strained health-care system. Nevertheless, the IOC is confident they can keep the Games “safe and secure.”. 

⚾️MLB: No-hitters are all the rage right now (somebody should’ve told Atlanta Braves pitcher Jacob Webb before he hit NY Met Kevin Pillar’s face). On Tuesday, Detroit Tigers pitcher Spencer Turnbull recorded the league’s fifth no-hitter of the season, and last night, NY Yankee Corey Kluber recorded the sixth. Hey batters, you up?