BALTIMORE — Pete Alonso accused Major League Baseball on Wednesday of changing the sport’s most important piece of equipment — the baseballs — in a different way every season in an attempt to depress player salaries.
"I think that the biggest concern is what 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. "I do think that’s the big issue. The ball being different every single year. With other sports, the ball is the same. Basketball, football, tennis, golf — the ball is the same. That’s the real issue with the changing of the baseballs.
"Maybe if the league didn’t change the baseball, pitchers wouldn’t need to use as much sticky stuff."
Asked if that is something that players talk about/believe, Alonso doubled down.
"Oh, no, that’s a fact," Alonso said. "Yes, guys have talked about it. But in 2019 there was a huge class of free-agent pitchers, and that’s quote-unquote the juiced balls. 2020 was a strange year with the COVID season. But now that we’re back to playing in a regular season with a ton of shortstops or position players that are going to be paid a lot of money, high-caliber players, yeah, it’s not a coincidence. It definitely is something that they did."
Those comments came in the context of MLB’s crackdown on pitchers using illegal sticky substances, a development that is expected to help hitters (and thus increase their chances of earning more money).
Pitchers long have doctored baseballs with substances such as pine tar, rosin, sunscreen or some combination therein. That is against the rules but is rarely enforced by MLB. MLB’s concern now is that the widespread use of even stickier substances — such as a product called Spider Tack — is giving pitchers an unfair advantage because it helps create movement on their pitches.
For a time, the pitcher/pine tar conversation was focused on command and having a grip on the ball. Now, it is about making pitches move more.
Does Alonso think MLB is doing the right thing in going after pitchers?
"Absolutely not," Alonso said. "I go into the box every single day and I see guys throwing harder and harder every day. I don’t want 99 [mph] slipping out of someone’s hand because they didn’t have enough feel for it.
"I would rather them have control. I don’t care what they use."
There were a bunch of high-end pitchers who reached free agency after the 2019 season, which saw historically high scoring and home run rates. Among them: Gerrit Cole (whom the Yankees gave a nine-year, $324 million contract, the largest ever for a pitcher), Stephen Strasburg, Zack Wheeler, Madison Bumgarner and Hyun-Jin Ryu. There also were position players Anthony Rendon, Josh Donaldson and Yasmani Grandal.
The class of free agents after the 2021 season looks heavy on hitters. It is set to include Corey Seager, Kris Bryant, Carlos Correa, Trevor Story and Freddie Freeman, plus pitchers Noah Syndergaard, Clayton Kershaw and Marcus Stroman. Before the season, MLB leaked that it would "deaden" the ball to make it not travel as far.
The yet wider context of Alonso’s comments: They come at a time of great distrust between MLB and the MLB Players Association. The 2020 season happened only when commissioner Rob Manfred mandated it, after weeks of tense talks between the sides, who didn’t reach an agreement. There is expected to be more of the same as they negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement; the current one expires in December. A work stoppage is possible.
Mets manager Luis Rojas, for his part, said he has not spoken to his pitchers about illegal substances. He is waiting for MLB to officially brief teams on the subject.
"About our pitchers using it, I am completely unaware of what’s used," Rojas said, "or if they have, I’m totally unaware."