MLB seeking player input on baseball prototypes that could be long-term sticky stuff fix

Major League Baseball has begun disseminating prototypes of pre-tacked baseballs to solicit player feedback, Yahoo Sports has learned. This represents an early step in potentially developing a new baseball to address concerns from pitchers about grip and consistency.

Rich Hill confirmed that the New York Mets reviewed the prototypes about a week-and-a-half ago. Los Angeles Dodgers pitchers were also shown the balls while playing in New York, and the San Francisco Giants are expected to receive them during their series against the Mets this week as well.

“I think they’re getting there,” Hill said. “They’re working on it, and I know they’re going to come, hopefully, to a good resolution.”

Although the current process is still in the preliminary stages, pre-tacked baseballs — or, balls treated with a substance that gives them a slightly tacky feel for easier grip — have been a source of speculation and investigation for several years now. MLB has been experimenting with sticky baseballs that could be introduced in conjunction with enforcement of its foreign substance ban since at least 2016, when they were game-tested in the Arizona Fall League. The league circulated something similar among major leaguers in spring training 2019. Neither pitchers nor hitters were fans at the time — although that could be reflective of an environment in which pitchers’ use of their own technically illicit sticky substances still went unchecked.

That, of course, changed earlier this summer. In an effort to counteract the rise of high-spin pitches that were increasingly impossible to hit, MLB cracked down on sticky stuff in June. This prompted a wave of complaints from pitchers who expressed concern about being able to sufficiently grip balls that they often describe as “pearls” or “cue balls.” In an age of dangerous velocity, this was presented as a potential safety issue, especially in the cooler months early and late in the season.

Third base umpire Tripp Gibson (73) inspects the hat and glove of Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Drew Smyly (18) after the first inning of a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles, Saturday, Aug. 21, 2021, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Since June, pitchers have been regularly checked for sticky substances. The long-term solution likely involves a new baseball that helps pitchers gain consistent grip. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Thus far, the non-stick era has seen the intended slight uptick in offense without a rash of hit-by-pitches. But pitchers remain frustrated by the inconsistency of the baseball, and players of all positions remain dissatisfied and at times suspicious of the product produced by Rawlings, which is partially owned by MLB. Even before the foreign substances crackdown, the ball was under the microscope for inconsistencies that contributed to the sport’s changing environment for home runs.

Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball and the Korea Baseball Organization use pre-tacked balls and MLB officials have been in contact with both leagues as they’ve worked to develop their own prototype. At least some of the pitchers who have experience with those baseballs found them to be preferable to the current MLB ball, and the American pitchers who played at the Olympics in Japan earlier this month were even more effusive about the pretacked SSK ball used there.

“It is, I can’t say enough, the best baseball I’ve ever touched,” Twins pitcher Joe Ryan, who played for Team USA, said of the balls being used at the Olympics. “We need this.”

It won’t be that exact ball. But after years of false starts, MLB is once again involving the players in their pursuit of something similar.

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