Spare Parts: White Sox witnesses to the burgeoning foreign substance war

The White Sox have a way of being the other team involved in a game that becomes the flashpoint of scandals and reckonings, major and minor.

A meaningless White Sox-Astros game on Sept. 21, 2017 became the first major public piece of evidence in the Astros’ sign-stealing scheme that rocked baseball during the 2019-20 offseason.

A sports gambler pleaded guilty to sending threatening messages to Tampa Bay Rays players after they lost a game to the White Sox in July 2019 (he was sentenced to three years probation this week).

And now you have Joe West’s confiscation of Giovanny Gallegos’ cap during the White Sox-Cardinals game on May 26. The interruption looks like the first example of what appears to be a summer of more aggressive policing of foreign substances, which sent St. Louis manager Mike Shildt into a postgame rant that described foreign substances as “baseball’s dirty little secret.”

And now the walls seem like they’re starting to crack. Bob Nightengale reported Thursday that Major League Baseball told owners to prepare heightened enforcement, possibly including an inspection of a pitcher’s glove, cap and uniform upon entering the game. If something is found on the pitcher at the time of inspection, he will be required to swap out the offending item, a la West with Gallegos’ new cap. If a pitcher is found to have violated the rule afterward, he faces a 10-game suspension.

Josh Donaldson, who is no stranger to speaking out against what he perceives to be institutional injustices, is leading the charge among position players to crack down on illegal grip-enhancing substances.

“If you want to clean the game up — because to me, this is going to be the next steroids of baseball ordeal, because it is cheating and it is performance-enhancing — the only way they get it through and to get it out of the game is if they get checked every half-inning,” Donaldson said. “If a new pitcher comes out, they get checked immediately by the umpire. Once they start doing that, it’ll be gone, and you’re going to start seeing offense come back into the game.”

He also introduced Gerrit Cole’s recent drop in spin rate into the record, which is not a coincidence. Cole was one of the poster boys for surging spin rates as he transformed from ordinary to extraordinary after the Houston Astros acquired him.

As for the White Sox, Liam Hendriks is the only one I’ve seen go on the record about it, as it was brought up during his media session after he won the American League Reliever of the Month for May. Hendriks is another guy who improved his spin rate as he transformed into one of baseball’s best relievers, although his leap also relied on spin efficiency and extension. He said he has no problem with enforcement, as long as it’s evenly applied.

“Any chance we get to equal the playing ground is what’s necessary,” Chicago White Sox closer Liam Hendriks said in a Zoom interview Thursday. “As long as it’s even across the field. That’s all that I ask for. … We need to make sure that we govern it.”


If Yasmani Grandal had mediocre framing numbers, an alarming amount of catcher interferences OR a warped slash line, you might be able to reflexively and correctly identify it as a product of aging. The fact that all three have been present all season suggest that the knee issue that first arose spring training is still hampering him to some degree. James Fegan relays a quote from Grandal saying how it’s affected him from the left side of the plate.

“I got into some bad habits, not being able to put as much torque as I wanted on the front knee,” said Grandal, whose right knee is his front knee in his left-handed swing. “Started flying open. The league kind of noticed. But now that it’s getting better, that’s what we are working for. Transfer that weight to the front side and make sure that front side is stiff and put as much torque as I possibly can put on it. We are going to continue to work on that. Once we get that going, that’s the last piece.”

Fegan also delves into Moncada’s unprecedentedly successful season, which doesn’t feel as revelatory in practice as you think it would on paper. Part of it’s the lack of power, but Fegan also gets to know Moncada’s on-field demeanor from coaches present and past. Compared to some of his teammates, Moncada doesn’t have much of one, which makes it far easier to write off mistakes as byproducts of not caring or trying.

Uni Watch gives the White Sox’s City Connect uniforms a thumbs-up, with the biggest criticism being a lack of white socks that would help keep the all-black uniforms from looking like leotards.

Along with the enhancement of pitcher grip solutions, offense is also harder to come by thanks to better defense. Shifting often drives the discussion, but Rob Arthur notes that a couple of leaguewide positioning tweaks have also suppressed the impact of balls in play. Third basemen and outfielders are both playing deeper than ever before. It creates vulnerability to the occasional single, but as long as strikeout rates remain astronomic, those singles can be absorbed much more easily than extra-base hits.

At 23-35, 12 games back of the White Sox and nine games out of the second wild card spot, the Twins are down to a 3.6 percent chance of making the postseason, which is astounding when they started the year as the American League’s third-best bet (63.3 percent).

Aaron Gleeman digs into the acquisition history of the Minnesota’s five-year-old front office similar to what I did for Rick Hahn, and finds a similar issue — one player is providing pretty much all of the value. Here, Nelson Cruz is to the Twins what José Abreu is to the White Sox.

(Photo by Kamil Krzaczynski/USA TODAY Sports)

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Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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Engel is starting in center. Who got sent down?


Hamilton, to the IL with an oblique strain.


Crap. I wanted to see the 2 of them in the outfield together.


We may not see that for quite some time, if ever. The truly weird aspect of the 2021 season is that Adam Eaton is the team’s most durable outfielder.


I think we can put durable in quotation marks there. It looks like he’s playing through the pain right now.


I for one am surprised that MLB is addressing the “sticky” situation mid-season. We’ll have to see how aggressive they ultimately end up being in policing it.

I guess it got to the point that it was too big of a problem to leave to address in the offseason, with the whole threat of the “worst offensive season in 50+ years” probably forcing their hand. My very conspiratorial take before this week was that they were trying to use this as a wedge issue for the union going into the CBA negotiations. Letting pitchers be as brazen as possible about using sticky substances has clearly enflamed hitters, and the issue of enforcement or endorsement of sticky stuff for pitchers has the makings of an issue that could split the union.


Foreign substance abuse always makes me think about the times I spent living in Venezuela in the early and mid 1990s. Those were heady times…

Last edited 1 year ago by soxygen