BALTIMORE – New York Mets slugger Pete Alonso accused Major League Baseball of manipulating the baseballs to harm the earning potential for star free agents and players eligible for arbitration.
Alonso's comments came Wednesday before New York's game at Baltimore. He was responding to a question about the crackdown on sticky substances used by pitchers.
“I think that the biggest concern is that Major League Baseball manipulates the baseballs year in and year out depending on the free agency class — or guys being in an advanced part of their arbitration," Alonso said. "So I do think that's a big issue — the ball being different every single year. ... Maybe if the league didn't change the baseball, pitchers wouldn't need to use as much sticky stuff.”
When asked a follow-up question about this, Alonso remained firm. His implication was that the balls are friendlier to hitters in a year when a number of top pitchers are about to hit free agency — and vice versa.
“That's a fact,” he said. “Guys have talked about it, but I mean, in 2019, there was a huge class of free agent pitchers, and then that's, quote-unquote, the juiced balls. Then 2020, it was a strange year with the COVID season, but now that we're back to playing like a regular season with a ton of shortstops or position players that are going to be paid a lot of money, high-caliber players, I mean yeah, it's not a coincidence."
The league did not comment on Alonso's charge.
MLB informed teams in February that it planned to slightly deaden the baseballs for the 2021 season following a years-long surge in home runs. In 2019, 3.6% of plate appearances ended in a homer, a number that has dropped to 3.1% this year.
Alonso hit 53 home runs as a rookie in that 2019 season and 16 in 57 games last year. He homered in the first inning Wednesday, his 10th of the season.
After the 2019 season, Gerrit Cole landed a $324 million, nine-year deal with the New York Yankees, still a record contract for a pitcher in terms of its total value.
As far as the original question was concerned, Alonso did not seem terribly concerned with what opposing pitchers might be putting on the ball.
“Whatever they want to use to help control the ball, let them use it, because for me, I go in the box every single day, and I see guys throwing harder and harder every day, and I don't want 99 slipping out of someone's hand,” Alonso said.
Alonso said hitters have plenty of options to help their grip.
“On our on-deck bag, we have a pine tar rag, a pine tar stick, like a special sticky spray, rosin — I mean, you name it, we have it,” he said. "I wouldn't care if they had that behind the mound to help hold onto the ball."
Cole found himself immersed in the controversy last week when Minnesota Twins third baseman Josh Donaldson casually brought the pitcher's name up in an interview session, correlating a drop in Cole's spin rate with an anticipated crackdown on the sticky stuff by MLB.
Cole sidestepped the accusation on Tuesday, and Donaldson elaborated on the matter Wednesday to clarify that he's concerned about many more opponents in the game than just Cole.
“With Gerrit Cole, he was the first guy to pitch since the suspensions happened and he’s the first guy that you could see spin rates going down,” Donaldson said. “There’s been 12 or more guys already whose spin rates have magically dropped in the last week, so it’s not just Gerrit Cole.”
Donaldson said he believes the usage of grip aids has “got out of control” in the last few seasons.
“If you were to give $100 fake counterfeit money to an experienced bank teller, right away within five seconds you’re going to know that that’s not real money," Donaldson said. "Just think about how many pitches I’ve seen in my career, think about Nelson Cruz, a lot of these guys who have seen a lot of pitches. We know when stuff’s up.”
Red Sox manager Alex Cora said Wednesday he's anticipating an “aggressive” crackdown at the major league level soon.
“It’s gonna be a little bit different," he said.
Astros manager Dusty Baker noted Wednesday that pitchers have been using foreign substances “since the beginning of time.” While Baker says he will adhere to whatever mandates come from the league, he's concerned about issues that could arise from stricter enforcement.
“Everybody’s talking about speed of the game,” he said. "This is gonna slow the game down even more. So I don’t know what we can do. I don’t know how enforceable it is. And the umpires have enough to worry about doing just calling balls and strikes and outs and safe.”
AP Sports Writers Dave Campbell in Minneapolis and Kyle Hightower in Boston contributed to this report.
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