MLB announces new guidance to crack down against use of foreign substances, effective June 21

After data collection effort finds prevalent use of foreign substances, umpires given new guidance for stronger and consistent enforcement of existing rules to level the playing field

June 15th, 2021

Major League Baseball provided guidance to all 30 Clubs today that, effective with games beginning on June 21st, enhanced enforcement of Official Baseball Rules 3.01 and 6.02(c) and (d), which prohibit applying foreign substances to baseballs, will go into effect. In recognition that the existing on-field enforcement process has not deterred an increasing number of violations, MLB has issued new guidance to Major and Minor League Umpires to serve as a uniform standard for the consistent application of the rules, including regular checks of all pitchers regardless of whether an opposing Club’s manager makes a request. Any pitcher who possesses or applies foreign substances in violation of the Playing Rules will be ejected from the game and will be automatically suspended in accordance with the rules and past precedent. Suspensions under Rule 3.01 are 10 games. Repeat offenders will be subject to progressive discipline. Clubs and Club personnel will also be subject to discipline for failure to ensure compliance with these rules.

Prior to the 2021 championship season, MLB informed the Clubs that the Commissioner’s Office would undertake an effort to quantify the prevalence and effects of foreign substances in the sport. In a March 23rd memo, MLB outlined a comprehensive data collection process that included: daily on-site monitoring reports of the clubhouse and dugout areas prior to and during games; central video review; collection of balls taken out of play from every team; and analysis of Statcast data related to spin rate. 

Based on the information collected over the first two months of the season – including numerous complaints from position players, pitchers, umpires, coaches and executives– there is a prevalence of foreign substance use by pitchers in Major League Baseball and throughout the Minor Leagues. Many baseballs collected have had dark, amber-colored markings that are sticky to the touch. MLB recently completed extensive testing, including testing by third-party researchers, to determine whether the use of foreign substances has a material impact on performance.  That research concluded that foreign substances significantly increase the spin rate and movement of the baseball, providing pitchers who use these substances with an unfair competitive advantage over hitters and pitchers who do not use foreign substances, and results in less action on the field. In addition, the foreign substance use appears to contributeto a style of pitching in which pitchers sacrifice location in favor of spin and velocity, particularly with respect to elevated fastballs. The evidence does not suggest a correlation between improved hitter safety and the use of foreign substances. In fact, the hit-by-pitch ratio has increased along with the prevalence of foreign substance use – through May 31st, the 2021 season has the highest rate of hit-by-pitches of any season in the past 100 years.  

“After an extensive process of repeated warnings without effect, gathering information from current and former players and others across the sport, two months of comprehensive data collection, listening to our fans and thoughtful deliberation, I have determined that new enforcement of foreign substances is needed to level the playing field,” Commissioner of Baseball Robert D. Manfred, Jr. said. “I understand there’s a history of foreign substances being used on the ball, but what we are seeing today is objectively far different, with much tackier substances being used more frequently than ever before. It has become clear that the use of foreign substance has generally morphed from trying to get a better grip on the ball into something else – an unfair competitive advantage that is creating a lack of action and an uneven playing field. This is not about any individual player or Club, or placing blame, it is about a collective shift that has changed the game and needs to be addressed. We have a responsibility to our fans and the generational talent competing on the field to eliminate these substances and improve the game.”

“Creating a consistent enforcement system that applies equally to all Clubs and players requires a clear policy without exceptions,” Michael Hill, MLB’s Senior Vice President, On-Field Operations, said. “We have learned through our research that the more traditional substances can be used for competitive advantage just like the more modern substances, and it is not practical for umpires to differentiate on the field. The new guidance issued today will put everyone on a level playing field.” 

“As part of our information gathering effort, we have solicited feedback from players, coaches and front office personnel around the game,” Raul Ibañez, MLB’s Senior Vice President, On-Field Operations, said. “All of us involved in the game care deeply about providing a level and safe playing field for the players.”

“Major League Umpires stand in support of this initiative to eliminate the use of foreign substances in the game,” Major League Umpire Bill Miller, President of the Major League Umpires Association, said. “The integrity of the competition is of utmost importance to us. We have worked diligently with MLB to develop an enforcement system that will treat all players and Clubs equally.”

Official Baseball Rule 3.01 states that “no player shall intentionally discolor or damage the ball by rubbing it with soil, rosin, paraffin, licorice, sand-paper, emery-paper or other foreign substance.” Rule 6.02(c) (“Pitching Prohibitions”) expands on Rule 3.01 by providing, among other things, that a pitcher may not “apply a foreign substance of any kind to the ball;” “deface the ball in any manner;” throw a shine ball, spit ball, mud ball, or emery ball; “have on his person, or in his possession, any foreign substance;” or “attach anything to his hand, any finger or either wrist (e.g., Band-Aid, tape, Super Glue, bracelet, etc.).”

Effective with games beginning on Monday, June 21st, Major and Minor League umpires have been instructed to strictly enforce Rules 3.01 and 6.02(c) and (d) as written – regardless of whether an opposing Club’s manager makes a request to check a pitcher. 

Highlights of the new phase of enhanced enforcement include:  

  • To ensure that enforcement of the rules is even and consistent, umpires have been instructed to perform checks periodically throughout the game of all starting and relief pitchers on both teams, regardless of whether they suspect a violation of the rules.
  • Starting pitchers will have more than one mandatory check per game, and each relief pitcher must be checked either at the conclusion of the inning in which he entered the game or when he is removed from the game, whichever occurs first. In general, inspections will be conducted between innings or after pitching changes to avoid a delay of the game and to allow the umpire to perform a thorough check, including the hat, glove, and fingertips of the pitcher.
  • In addition, umpires may perform a check at any time during the game when the umpire notices the baseball has an unusually sticky feel to it, or when the umpire observes a pitcher going to his glove, hat, belt, or any other part of his uniform or body to retrieve or apply what may be a foreign substance. 
  • A player who possesses or applies foreign substances in violation of the Playing Rules will be immediately ejected from the game and suspended. The umpiring crew shall be the sole judge as to whether the rules have been violated. The use of foreign substances is not subject to challenge using the replay review system.
  • Although the foreign substance prohibitions do not apply exclusively to pitchers, the pitcher ultimately will be responsible for any ball that is delivered with a foreign substance on it. If a player other than the pitcher is found to have applied a foreign substance to the baseball (e.g., the catcher applies a foreign substance to the baseball before throwing it back to the pitcher), both the position player and pitcher will be ejected and automatically suspended. 
  • Catchers will also be subject to routine inspections. Umpires will also inspect a position player if they observe conduct consistent with the use of a foreign substance by the pitcher. Position players will not be ejected for having a foreign substance on their glove or uniform unless the umpire determines that the player was applying the substance to the ball in order to aid the pitcher.
  • A player who refuses to cooperate with an inspection conducted by the umpire will be presumed to have violated the rules, resulting in an ejection from the game and a suspension.
  • Rosin bags on the mound may be used in accordance with the rules. All substances except for rosin are prohibited per the Playing Rules that clearly state players cannot “apply a foreign substance of any kind to the ball” and may not “have on his person, or in his possession, any foreign substance.” Players may not intentionally combine rosin with other substances (e.g., sunscreen) to create additional tackiness or they risk ejection and suspension. 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. To ensure standardization of the rosin bag, Clubs must submit the rosin bag along with the game balls to be reviewed by the umpires before the start of each game.  
  • Club personnel who help players to use foreign substances, handle foreign substances, mask player use of foreign substances, interfere with collections of baseballs, or otherwise fail to report such violations of the Playing Rules, will be subject to fines and/or suspension by the Commissioner. 
  • Any Club employee who encourages a player to use foreign substances, or otherwise trains a player how to utilize a foreign substance in violation of the rules, will be subject to severe discipline by the Commissioner up to and including placement on the Ineligible List.
  • Clubs and Club personnel are subject to sanctions for failing to adequately educate and manage or police their staff and players to ensure compliance with the rules. The Department of Investigations will investigate Clubs whose players repeatedly violate the rules to determine the extent to which Club personnel were aware of or otherwise condoned the practice. 
  • Clubs may not replace on the roster a player who is suspended for any on-field violation.
  • MLB will closely monitor the effect of this policy on competition, and on player health, and may make future modifications to the enhanced enforcement guidance as appropriate.

MLB’s efforts this season have been endorsed universally by the Competition Committee. MLB has notified the Players Association, Major League Baseball Umpires Association and Association of Minor League Umpires of this increased enforcement of the Playing Rules.