INSIDE THE DUGOUT of a National League team this week, a passive-aggressive internecine squabble broke out. When two veteran hitters returned to the dugout after striking out, each said, loud enough for everyone around them to hear, "Sticky stuff." The starting pitchers in the dugout, tired of hearing hitters blaming their failures on a foreign-substance boogeyman, mumbled: "Be better." The snit didn't lead to any further words or fisticuffs. It did serve as a tidy microcosm of the debate bifurcating Major League Baseball.
As MLB's crackdown on the use of foreign substances by pitchers nears its enforcement date and players adjust to the sea change it's already causing, a divide has emerged, according to dozens of conversations with personnel around the game in recent days. To suggest it's as simple as pro-tack vs. anti-tack simplifies an extraordinarily complicated situation, one that is dividing organizations, friends and people who otherwise are ideologically aligned.
The rift is more about the details of MLB's plan, which it outlined in a memo distributed to teams Tuesday. About the midseason implementation of foreign-substance vigilance after more than six years has passed since the last suspension for it. About the league declining to differentiate between the use of spin-generating adhesives like Spider Tack and substances like the sunscreen-and-rosin mixture that players by and large see as a misdemeanor -- something that violates the letter of baseball's law but not necessarily its spirit. About the health-and-safety elements of MLB's attempt to tidy up its latest cheating scandal. And about the true nature of it all and whether it's an earnest attempt to right a wrong, another effort to leverage power through policy or perhaps both.