Back on Dec. 18, 2019, Gerrit Cole introduced himself to the Yankees’ universe by throwing the news-conference equivalent of a perfect game.
Alas, no one asked him about Spider Tack that day.
The Yankees’ ace channeled The Tap Dance Kid on Tuesday at Target Field, appearing biblically uncomfortable during a Zoom news conference as he received questions about using sticky stuff to improve his spin rate and, consequently, his performance and results. He hemmed, he hawed, he paused for six seconds after being asked directly (by The Post) whether he has used Spider Tack, the paste that apparently has revolutionized the time-honored art of doctoring the baseball, while pitching.
Given how well he has actually pitched for the Yankees since coming aboard for $324 million, you could mark this down as the pinstriped low point for the right-hander, as he took an absolute beating on social media for his non-answers, diversions and digressions. Yet all that will matter moving forward, as Major League Baseball prepares to significantly upgrade enforcement of its on-the-rule books about using sticky stuff, is that Cole keeps pitching like an ace. That he proves his success to this point didn’t emanate from Spider Tack or any clubhouse attendants’ creative concoction.
“I respectfully have more things on my plate that are important for us to win games right now to fulfill my job,” Cole said, referring to the direct accusation lodged by the Twins’ Josh Donaldson (whom he’ll face Wednesday night) as well as his former UCLA teammate Trevor Bauer’s indirect implication back in 2018.
On a certain level, let’s credit Cole for not lying. While he’ll get mocked for this performance, not undeservedly, nothing here will come back to bite him a la Rafael Palmeiro wagging his finger to Congress as he denied using illegal performance-enhancing drugs and then failing a test just months later.
And let’s please not wag our fingers at the pitchers who have engaged in this practice. Gaylord Perry got elected into the Hall of Fame despite (or maybe even due to) openly bragging about his spitball. Michael Pineda smeared pine tar on his neck seven years ago in a Yankees uniform, and as MLB did suspend him for 10 games, the reaction to his indiscretion could generally be described as a mix of laughter and sympathy for his blatancy.
In one of his less confused moments Tuesday, Cole said, “There are customs and practices that have been passed down from older players to younger players to the last generation of players to this generation of players.” Just as technology afforded players the opportunity to graduate from amphetamines to steroids, the adhesive industry evolved with time to give pitchers another weapon on top of the developing biomechanics and kinesiology that already increased the population’s edge over its hitter counterparts.
So it gets simple now. Just as players had to adjust once illegal PED testing began, pitchers must adapt or die to the new regulations. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Jason Giambi and plenty of other persons of interest still excelled when tested. It could be that they figured out ways to beat the testing, as Alex Rodriguez did. I don’t quite see how pitchers could pass a hands-on inspection as easily as some smart chemists could work around the drug testing, although I am not a devious sort by nature.
It’s hard to believe that Cole’s 2018-19 rise with the Astros came solely from upgrading his sticky stuff, not when he altered his repertoire so dramatically and worked with the most analytically inclined club in the sport at the time. Regardless, there’ll be no need to theorize and speculate. We’ll see it unfold in real time, starting Wednesday night against Donaldson and his teammates.
And if Cole does suddenly transform into a significantly worse pitcher? Tuesday’s news conference will feel like a day at the beach.