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MLB Needs A Stimpmeter And A Lot Of Balls To Use It

A stimpmeter takes about 2 minutes to make, but does MLB have the balls to use it? If you aren't a golfer, then you probably don't know what a stimpmeter is. It's a device used to measure the speed of a putting green. It's basically a slide or a ramp that allows the user to roll a golf ball down the device at a consistent velocity. The distance the ball travels in feet on the green indicates the "speed" of the surface. Speed is really a function of surface composition, moisture, smoothness, and several other factors. By repeating a stimpmeter test multiple takes from the same point on the green in a short span of time, the speed can be evaluated with minimal concern for statistical aberrations or inconsistencies.

And it really does take just a few minutes to make one. The cost is extremely low, there is no specialized training required to operate one, and tests can be repeated in seconds. It's the perfect tool for MLB to test for foreign substances.

MLB needs to clean up THE game, but that's not necessarily the same as cleaning up A game. Identifying balls to which sticky substances have been applied can happen after the fact to identify sources of sticky substances. All MLB needs is a set of crude tools that can be purchased at a hardware store.

It's simple.

  1. Build a stimpmeter or at least build a set to determine the design to be used for the template for all meters to be built/used.

  2. Send the identically built stimpmeters as part of a test kit to MLB stadiums and leave them in the care of umpiring crews.

  3. Run an initial set of tests at each stadium using the stimpmeter kit which includes the meter and a length of something the ball will roll on - something that can be as close to identical in each kit as possible. Artificial turf comes to mind. Or carpet.

  4. Use brand new baseballs and conduct the tests to create a baseline - test humidor balls as well as untreated baseballs.

  5. Each time a ball is put in play and remains on the field of play, send the ball into the dugout and have it tested. It's just a step between tossing the ball away and having the MLB authentication seal of approval added.

  6. Test the ball using the stimpmeter and compare the results - both distance and deviation from a straight path. Both should have tolerances based on initial testing since a rolling baseball will not roll on the same axis for a great distance. Seams create an imperfect surface, and warping can occur as well.

If a tested ball rolls until it comes to rest within the "normal" range, then our work is done here. If the ball rolls too far and does so repeatedly, send the ball off for additional testing. If the ball rolls short and does so repeatedly, send the ball off for additional testing. If the ball stops in the middle of the stimpmeter and leaves behind it a trail of brown ooze, then grab a hazmat suit and some bags borrowed from that guy with the thick glasses who works in forensics.

Obviously this isn't a perfect approach, but it's far better than anything MLB or the players have suggested so far.

The stimpmeter requires no specialized training. Any kid who has ever sat at the top of a playground slide and can read a ruler can use it. There is no need to worry about qualifications of people involved. They would simply run the tests, record the results, and then send the baseballs in question to MLB HQ. Just hire a 3rd party to send people to games and have them sit around waiting for balls.

This approach wouldn't interfere with the game or create the kind of distraction that a strip search on the mound does. Removing the umpires from the equation is necessary to return them to their former roles as bastions of excellence in their petty fiefdom of balls/strikes/general rule enforcement.

In the initial phase this effort isn't expected to actually stop anyone from using sticky stuff. It's somewhat of a deterrent for those with a conscience that doesn't allow them to play the "well everyone does it so it's fine" card. It should be a concern for the most blatant cheaters, but it's really about information gathering and subsequent sharing.

MLB need not hand out any suspensions based on the results...or at least not right away. Just distribute all the information gathered to all teams with names, game, and pitch information redacted. Package the information so that each team is separate but impossible to identify and put all the information for a given pitcher into its own section.

Then stand back and watch it burn.

Teams put a ton of time and money into gaining a competitive advantage. How will some feel when they find out that they are at a competitive disadvantage? Even if they had names along with means, motive, and opportunity they probably wouldn't specifically point fingers. That would violate baseball's bro-code. However, it's reasonable to think that they would want an even playing field.

How come X gets to cheat when we don't? Actually, it's probably more like "Why are they cheating better or more than we do?" Regardless, this brings the issue back to one of fairness. It's improbably that all involved with agree on much of anything substantial except that the game needs to be fair.

It's not fair that MLB waited until part of the way through the season to enforce some rule. It's not fair that some teams are benefiting more than others. It's not fair that some MLB pitchers endanger the lives of others because they've been using sticky stuff so long that they can't pitch safely without it.

Spare me the whining.

How is any of this fair to the hitters? They get absolutely wrecked in the court of public opinion for using corked bats and PEDs. What's the difference between performance enhancement through pharmaceuticals and performance enhancement through foreign substances?

How fair is this to the fans? Isn't the game ultimately about the fans?

Why would they be interested in offense? What fun is it to watch a ball go into place and be fielded (or not)? Why wouldn't fans be interested in giving pitchers every advantage possible? That's a good thing, right? I mean MLB lowered the mound, and look how that turned out. Just awful for fans, right?

I'm not advocating efforts to catch cheating while in progress. That's impractical and a PR nightmare for MLB. This doesn't need to be about catching someone red/brown/green handed. This is more like a traffic camera at a stoplight. Let everyone know the mechanism is in place, and then issue the tickets later.

The beauty of this system lies in the unknown. Unless the ball is completely clean OR absolutely smothered in some sticky substance, there is absolutely no way to know what the results of a given test will be. There is no guarantee of getting caught, and there is no guarantee that measures to beat the test will work. MLB can change physical attributes of the stimpmeter at any given time, so any attempts by teams to duplicate/predict results will be successful to a variable, unpredictable extent.

Of course, players/teams can up their respective games and try to remove evidence. That would be awesome to see. Fielders could hide baby wipes inside their gloves to carefully remove substances they find. "Hold on. Just gotta roll this ball over in my glove a few times before tossing it back to the infield?"

Team could research the possibility of designer fluids that would dissolve upon contact with air and water.

Teams and players will find ways. But at least with more measures in place it will be obvious which teams/players have succeeded. Add basic testing of baseballs to the spin rate data and statistical aberrations in pitch outcomes, and then see what the MLBPA has to say.

This probably isn't a fantastic idea to be completely honest. Flaws in testing, sample collection, sample size, chain-of-custody, and a host of other things would have to be addressed. Besides, I don't think MLB has the balls.


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