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chad finn

A few sticking points with MLB’s new ‘foreign substance’ policy, and other thoughts

Pitchers will be under increased scrutiny, though Garrett Richards's spin rates have actually increased since the crackdown was announced.
Pitchers will be under increased scrutiny, though Garrett Richards's spin rates have actually increased since the crackdown was announced.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Playing nine innings while wondering what Tim Wakefield’s spin rate looked like …

1. Leave it to Major League Baseball to overcorrect a quasi-scandal, one in which it was undeniably complicit.

Oh sure, MLB had to do something about pitchers’ prevalent use of Spider Tack and other sticky science-fair concoctions, which allowed even modestly accomplished players to suddenly spin the baseball so it breaks and darts like a 97-mile-per-hour Wiffle Ball.

And some of the new guidelines, announced Tuesday and going into effect June 21, make plenty of sense: All pitchers will be checked for foreign substances at least once during an appearance, and violators will be suspended 10 games for a first offense. That should help bring a little more offense back into the game, though this is not exactly going to aid the pace-of-play problem.

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But the hypocrisy of MLB cannot be ignored. It is typically on-brand in the Rob Manfred reign to punish players for something that was tacitly permitted and even encouraged for a long time, even after it began to damage the game.

2. Now, about that overcorrection part. MLB did not get this whole thing right.

It’s a joke that essentially everything but the rosin bag behind the mound is now banned. Pitchers can no longer mix rosin with sunscreen — known around here as the Clay Buchholz Bullfrog Special — which allows for a stickier and better grip. Hitters will tell you they don’t mind this concoction, the theory being that they’d rather face pitchers with a rosin/sunscreen-aided grip that allows for better command than dodge MLB’s notoriously slippery baseballs homing in on their skulls at triple-digit speeds.

The new policy states that pitchers “have been advised not to apply sunscreen during night games after the sun has gone down or when playing in stadiums with closed roofs.” I suppose that blanket ban is easier than making a distinction in enforcement. But your favorite slugger had better be prepared to duck.

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3. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the policy is that a request to check a pitcher cannot be wielded for purposes of gamesmanship. It states: “If the umpires feel that a field manager or acting field manager is making a request for the purpose other than the suspicion of a foreign substance (e.g., to gain competitive advantage), the umpires can choose to reject the request, and if they determine the request was made in bad faith, eject the manager.”

Yankees lefthander Gerrit Cole had some curious non-denials recently when asked if he used substances to improve his grip.
Yankees lefthander Gerrit Cole had some curious non-denials recently when asked if he used substances to improve his grip.Kathy Willens/Associated Press

As amusing as it might be for Alex Cora to request repeated checks of Gerrit Cole the next time the Red Sox play the Yankees, this element of the new protocol makes sense, at least if you can get past the part where it leaves such matters to the discretion of the look-at-me umpires such as Joe West and Angel Hernandez.

4. Maybe I’m naive, but it seems to me this won’t have a huge effect on Red Sox starting pitchers. As colleague Alex Speier detailed this week, since MLB warned teams that it would be cracking down, Red Sox starters have shown “virtually no change in spin rate or movement profiles,” and Garrett Richards’s spin rate has actually increased on three of his pitches since then.

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Red Sox starters have been getting hammered lately, but that feels like a regression to their typical performance level after some of them exceeded expectations in the first third of the season. If they are spin-rate heroes, they’d better hope no one gets popped with a 10-game ban, because the punished player cannot be replaced on the roster.

5. Peter Gammons astutely noted (as Peter Gammons does), that Tuesday was the 45th anniversary of one of the great what-if transactions in Red Sox history: The short-lived purchase of relief ace Rollie Fingers and left fielder Joe Rudi on June 15, 1976, from the Oakland A’s and their cheapskate owner Charlie Finley for $1 million each.

The deal was short-lived; commissioner Bowie Kuhn froze the transaction, preventing Fingers and Rudi from playing for the Red Sox, then nullifying it three days later in the “interest in the morale of the game.”

If not for photos taken by a Topps baseball card photographer that night of Fingers and Rudi in Red Sox colors — the Sox happened to be visiting the A’s when the deal went down, so they simply had to walk under the stands to the opposing clubhouse — the whole thing might feel like nothing more than a hazy daydream.

6. I’ve thought often through the years about how Red Sox history would be much different had the deal gone through.

They probably don’t sign pricey-for-the-times free agent Bill Campbell after the ’76 season. Campbell was an exceptional reliever, but he threw a ridiculous 307⅔ innings between the Twins in ’76 and the Sox in ’77, and, shockingly, hurt his arm. And Rudi’s presence might have led to a trade of one of the Red Sox’ superb young outfielders.

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Bill Campbell was a workhorse for the Red Sox but paid a price for it.
Bill Campbell was a workhorse for the Red Sox but paid a price for it.O'Brien, Frank GLobe Staff

But it always seemed to me that the Yankees made out worse in Kuhn’s ruling. On the same day as the Fingers/Rudi deal, they purchased ace lefty Vida Blue from the A’s for $1.5 million. Blue is the player the Red Sox — seemingly always short a starter in those days — really should have coveted.

7. Every day is a good day to get lost in a rabbit hole on baseball-reference.com, but never more so than Tuesday. The site revealed a historic and thrilling update to its database, adding statistics for players, teams, and managers from the Negro Leagues and including them alongside and intertwined with stats from the National and American Leagues.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve clicked over to Ted Williams’s page to marvel in the majesty of the bold ink, which marks every time he led the league in a statistical category. It’s beyond cool to be able to do that now for Josh Gibson or Oscar Charleston (say, is a .433 batting average in 1921 good?).

8. As far as a more modern discovery on baseball-reference, here’s one for you: Xander Bogaerts’s most similar batters through age 28 and based on overall career are both former Red Sox.

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What’s that? Nope, not Nomar, though Bogaerts should surpass him as the franchise’s all-time leader in Wins Above Replacement for a shortstop a couple of years from now.

His most similar player through 28 is Hanley Ramirez. And the player with the most similar career statistics to this point is the forever-underrated John Valentin.

9. Three people who deserve some sort of acknowledgement from the Baseball Hall of Fame in the near future: Bill James, whose Historical Baseball Abstracts remain essential reading and are begging for an update; Janet Marie Smith, the brilliant architect and planner behind Camden Yards and the renovations of Fenway Park and Dodger Stadium, among others; and Sean Forman, the mastermind behind baseball-reference.


Chad Finn can be reached at chad.finn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeChadFinn.