Three-time All-Star and 2015 AL MVP Josh Donaldson is in year two of a four-year deal worth $92 million with the Minnesota Twins. In just over a year with the club, Donaldson is slashing just .225/.343/.422, for an OPS of .765 with Minnesota — a far cry from the numbers the star third baseman was putting up with his previous clubs. However, according to the man himself, it’s not him who’s been getting worse. It’s the pitchers who’ve gotten much better…in unnatural ways.
Donaldson believes that several pitchers across Major League Baseball have been cheating, using illegal foreign substances to increase their spin rates, and he’s sick of it. In a Twitter exchange with retired MLB pitcher and former teammate of Donaldson’s, Dallas Braden, Donaldson announced that he has “an entire catalog of video” exposing pitchers of cheating that he plans on releasing.
This is a scandal that hundreds of people in the baseball world were expecting to come much sooner. Former Los Angeles Angels clubhouse manager, Brian “Bubba” Harkins, recently sued MLB and the Angels for defamation after he was fired by the Angels for selling an illegal substance to pitchers across the league. Harkins claimed that the league knew about, and even promoted, the distribution of his home-made substance, but only reprimanded Harkins after the public became aware of the substance. Ultimately, Harkins’ case was thrown out due to “insufficient evidence” of defamation, but it provided more than enough evidence to support the idea that dozens — or even hundreds — of pitchers across Major League Baseball have been using Harkins’ “Go-Go juice” to extend their careers beyond their expiration dates. Harkins was not afraid to name names, including Felix Hernandez, Adam Wainwright, Corey Kluber, Justin Verlander, and Gerrit Cole.
Since the lawsuit, Major League Baseball has attempted to “crack down” on pitchers cheating by using foreign substances. MLB sent out a memo to all 30 teams in March stating that the league would be analyzing spin rates as well as inspecting balls taken out of play to look for potential use of foreign substances. The league also introduced a rule that allowed umpires to stop games and inspect pitchers’ gloves or hats if they believe a sticky substance is being hidden on the player. However, through a third of the Major League Baseball season, this rule has only come into effect twice, once when the league asked to investigate several game balls thrown by Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer and once when Joe West demanded St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Giovanny Gallegos change his cap. Cardinals manager Mike Shildt wound up getting ejected for arguing that his pitcher should not have to swap hats. After the game, Shildt told reporters that asking Gallegos to change hats would expose “baseball’s dirty little secret”, and that moment was the “wrong time, wrong arena to try to expose it”. A few weeks prior, Marcus Evey, of the Kannopolis Cannon Ballers,a Minor League affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, was ejected and suspended 10 games for using pine tar during a game. However, those are the only cases of umpires ejecting team personnel over the use of illegal substances. If what Harkins and Donaldson are claiming is true, why haven’t more pitchers been caught?
It’s likely the same reason that Major League Baseball did next to nothing after the release of the Mitchell Report on December 13, 2007 — MLB doesn’t have the guts to suspend some of its most marketable players. After 87 players were identified and/or implicated in the report for their use of performance-enhancing drugs, zero suspensions were handed out. It was a slippery slope. If they suspended Howie Clark, that meant having to suspend guys like Barry Bonds (who was in the middle of chasing the career home run record), Jason Giambi, and Gary Sheffield, all of whom were too valuable to league marketability to suspend. Even if all of the statements made by Harkins are true and the video catalog presented by Donaldson turns out to provide damning evidence of widespread cheating across the league, do you really think Major League Baseball would suspend guys like Gerrit Cole, Trevor Bauer, or Jacob deGrom? HELL NO! They’d never do that.
All that begs the question: “What good could come out of Donaldson releasing his videos?” The answer — well, none that I can think of. If cheating is as rampant across the league as Donaldson claims it is, he’d likely have to call out some of his teammates and former teammates. That won’t go over well. Donaldson may be playing the role of hero for the league’s hitters, but would be the villain for pitchers. That’s only going to put a target on his back. Baseball culture doesn’t take too kindly to players revealing the league’s secrets.
When Houston Astros pitcher Jim Bouton published his book Ball Four in 1970 — detailing the unflattering underbelly of life as an MLB player — Bouton became an outcast in the league. MLB commissioner Bowie Kuhn called the book “detrimental to baseball”, and Bouton’s teammates never publicly forgave him. Similarly, after Jose Canseco released his book Juiced, Canseco told Sports Illustrated that he’d been “completely severed from Major League Baseball.”
Would Josh Donaldson meet the same fate? Maybe. At the very least, he’d become a target for pitchers. The unwritten rules of baseball are some of the most sacred pieces of non-existent literature of all-time. You don’t talk about the game’s dirty laundry, and if you do, you’re gonna get a 95-mph fastball aimed at your face. Personally, I would admire Donaldson for coming forward and fighting to keep the integrity of baseball intact. However, it’s unlikely MLB would do much to stop pitchers from using foreign substances. It’s a noble cause that Donaldson is fighting for, but in my opinion, it’s a lost cause.