Rob Manfred must learn from MLB’s past and come down hard on foreign-substance violators

  • Senior writer ESPN Magazine/ESPN.com
  • Analyst/reporter ESPN television
  • Author of “The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty”

If baseball’s loose plan to combat the use of foreign substances firms up this week, with the issuance of a memo to teams, then it’s possible that the first day that umpires will bear formal instructions to check pitchers could be Monday. And if Jacob deGrom’s elbow is OK and the Mets’ rotation remains in order, he could be the first pitcher to take the mound that day, in a Mets’ 5:10 ET start of a doubleheader against the Atlanta Braves.

At some point, either he or Atlanta’s Ian Anderson could become the first pitcher intercepted by an umpire, likely at the end of a half-inning. It would be an interesting twist if deGrom — who teammates say does not use the kind of next-level foreign substances that compelled baseball to actually enforce a rule already on the books — would get that honor. And maybe that would be appropriate messaging within the sport: Everybody gets checked, including the best pitcher on the planet.

If commissioner Rob Manfred applies lessons learned from baseball’s history of rule enforcement, including his own, then he will insist on widespread and constant scrutiny of pitchers for foreign substances. If some pitcher is actually found with Spider Tack or some kind of homemade version of super glue, then Manfred will have no choice but to apply the full weight of discipline, whether the nabbed player is an All-Star or a Triple-A call-up.

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