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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Baseball's recent scandals have nurtured an aura of uncertainty that fundamentally alters how we watch and understand the sport.

The big picture: According to 2020 NL Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer, upwards of 70% of MLB pitchers use some type of illegal, foreign substance.

Flashback: Longtime Angels visiting clubhouse manager Brian "Bubba" Harkins was fired last March for providing an illegal pine tar mixture to both Angels and opposing pitchers.

  • Harkins has since named various star pitchers who've requested his mixture over the years, including Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer.
  • The grip-improving practice began as a safety measure, as better control means fewer hit batsmen, but it has since evolved into a way to increase spin rate — a huge competitive advantage.

The backdrop: Flouting pine tar rules is a tale as old as time, but it's also part of a larger trend of suspect practices that have served to break the trust between baseball and its fans.

  • Sign stealing has long been accepted, but the Astros' tech-enabled system was a bridge too far. How many teams operated somewhere along that continuum before Houston was exposed?
  • Rumors of juiced baseballs have persisted for years — with studies suggesting it's far more than a rumor — yet the league insists it never altered the ball.

Between the lines: Scandals are sport-agnostic, but MLB seems to stand alone regarding the murkiness that surrounds its rule book and general governance.

  • Are home runs on the rise because of the launch-angle revolution or a juiced ball?
  • Are strikeouts increasing because batters sell out for the long ball, or because pitchers weaponize foreign substances to enhance spin rate?
  • It's almost as if there's a tacit agreement; one in which players search for an edge to make this impossible game marginally easier, while the league turns a blind eye — so long as it hews closer to gamesmanship than cheating.
  • Either way, the swirling uncertainty leaves a lot of room for fans to draw their own conclusions (see: everything written above).

Food for thought: Can you imagine if a star QB said 70% of his fellow signal-callers were using deflated footballs? Or if rumors persisted that the NBA had secretly enlarged the rims to promote more scoring?

The bottom line: Consider a baseball's journey in a given at-bat.

  • It starts in the hand of a pitcher who may have doctored it.
  • It travels to a batter who may have gotten a sign from a teammate.
  • It then flies off the bat, perhaps farther than the swing merited, due to a fundamental change at the factory level.

Go deeper

Ina Fried, author of Login
2 hours ago - Technology

Intel CEO sees making own chips as a matter of national security

Pat Gelsinger. Photo: Axios on HBO

Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger is putting the pressure on the U.S. government to help subsidize chip manufacturing, insisting the current reliance on plants in Taiwan and Korea as "geopolitically unstable."

Why it matters: There is bipartisan support for funding the domestic semiconductor industry, but Congress has yet to sign the check. The Senate has passed the CHIPS Act that includes $52 billion in semiconductor investment, but it has yet to pass the House.

Updated 2 hours ago - World

17 U.S. and Canadian missionaries kidnapped in Haiti

Haitian soldiers guard the public prosecutor's office in Port-au-Prince this month. Photo: Richard Pierrin/AFP via Getty Images

Children are among a group of 17 missionaries kidnapped in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, per a statement from Christian Aid Ministries Sunday.

The latest: "The group of 16 U.S citizens and one Canadian citizen includes five men, seven women, and five children," the Ohio-based group said. Haitian police inspector Frantz Champagne on Sunday identified the 400 Mawozo gang as the group responsible, in a statement to AP.

Ina Fried, author of Login
4 hours ago - Technology

Intel CEO wants to compete against Apple

Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger hasn't given up on the idea of the Mac once again using Intel chips, but he acknowledges it will probably be years before he gets that chance.

  • In the meantime, he is focused on powering Windows machines that give Apple CEO Tim Cook a run for his money.

Why it matters: In getting pushed out of the Mac, Intel not only lost a customer but picked up a new rival.

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