The MLB crackdown on the use of foreign substances is akin to a cop watching for years as cars fly past his speed trap going 45 in a 35 mph zone. The strip of highway he patrols isn't near a school zone, doesn't go through a heavily populated area, and isn't known for high traffic volumes. Justification complete. Getting a little heavy on the pedal became a widely accepted practice for local motorists.
Then he gets a memo from the police chief informing him that there were some complaints from people who drive at or just below the posted limit. Suddenly the cop starts enforcing the 35 mph limit with absolutely zero tolerance. After turning his head the other way for years, the cop has to explain why the limit is now being strictly enforced.
That's basically what MLB is doing but with far more concern for violators and far less concern for the people who are following the rules.
Imagine that conversation between commissioner Rob Manfred and his most trusted minion.
Manfred: "Cheating is bad, okay. We need to stop cheating. If only we had a rule already on the books that applies to the use of foreign substances. "
Minion: "We do, sir."
Manfred: "Then let's use it. We need to make at least a token effort to crack down on cheating."
Minion: "Perhaps we should start with busting some minor league pitchers. Maybe even suspend a few guys just to show the major league pitchers that we're very serious."
Manfred: "Fantastic idea. Just pick some random cheaters and throw them under the bus. We'll explain it by saying that we want to eliminate the issue at all levels before it becomes a rampant problem."
Minion: "It's already a widespread problem, your highness."
Manfred: "It can't be everywhere. This can't spread organically, and there is absolutely no way teams would engage in independent, systematic efforts to encourage their pitchers to cheat."
Minion: "Exactly right, your majesty. We'll start with minimal effort to show everyone that you mean business. Nothing sends that message quite like suspending some scapegoats few fans can even recognize."
Manfred: "Perfect. We can send a message without suspending any major league players. We've got some tense CBA negotiations with the players union, and we don't want to risk offending the players. Let's think in terms of risk mitigation."
Minion: "Well, we can start by warning teams that this is coming."
Manfred: "That's fair. And we don't have to start enforcing our own rules right away. No hurry."
Minion: "We can do some monitoring - maybe a scientific-type investigation where we collect information about ball tracking and spin rates."
Manfred: "That's just going to implicate people. Not sure I like that."
Minion: "Well, we don't have to really use the information ourselves. We can just pass it along to teams so they can better prepare themselves and possibly warn players."
Manfred: "Love it! It's not like they can really spy on their own players and collect the data themselves. Then they would be putting themselves in a bad position. We give them plausible deniability AND advance notice."
Minion: "What about the pitchers who blatantly continue to cheat?"
Manfred: "We have to make an example of them and really hit them where it hurts. Something like a 10-day suspension with pay should do it."
Minion: "I'll start on this. Once we've got a good sample size for all the important pitchers we can send a note to each team with a list of potential candidates that may require an adjustment period."
Manfred: "Excellent work, minion. I suggest that you start with the Dodgers."