Indeed, pitchers have applied foreign substances to balls throughout the history of the game. For decades, spitball was ubiquitous. The pitchers applied smooth substances – sometimes real saliva – to the balls to make them jump and spin unpredictably, which contributed to an offensive slowdown known as the Dead Ball era.
With a growing belief that spitballs made the game dangerous for hitters, the sport officially banned them before the 1920 season. But baseball’s uneven application of the rule was apparent from the start, and the practice continued to be. widely tolerated.
Gaylord Perry, star pitcher in the 1970s, boasted of having tampered with the ball in his book “Me and the Spitter”, published in 1974 – an admission that did not prevent him from being elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. in 1991. were caught modifying the balls in various ways, with minimal punishment or fuss.
Many players strengthened their grip on the ball by creating their own concoction using rosin, legally supplied in a bag behind the mound, in combination with substances like pine tar and sunscreen.
“Almost every pitchers I know of have used something,” said Al Leiter, analyst for The MLB Network who pitched for 19 seasons. But these compounds, for the most part, were meant to help pitchers keep their grip on a smooth ball. Batters rarely complained as it protected them from stray pitches and was not seen as a competitive advantage.
“But if the new substances improve your business,” Leiter said, “then it might be different. “