Sticky Stuff for Dummies, Dippin’ Dots and the NCAA | The Bandwagon

This week, Hannah Keyser welcomes comedian, author and baseball fan Josh Gondelman to make sense of baseball’s bizarre “sticky stuff” controversy. She also gives her takes on the Yankees’ triple plays and the U.S. Supreme Court’s smackdown of the NCAA.

Video transcript

HANNAH KEYSER: I much prefer nouns as names than names that are difficult to hear and then know how to spell. I don't love the pairing of a first name and the last name in a cutesy way just because it--

- Like, what about North West?

HANNAH KEYSER: I don't know. I actually think that seems fun. What do you think, Kanye West's daughter is going to grow up to be normal if he names her Jessica? Like, come on. That ship has sailed.

I'm Hannah Keyser, and this is The Bandwagon.

[CHEERING]

If you blinked or were busy lately, it might seem like suddenly everyone in baseball is talking about how sticky a guy's balls are and managing to keep a straight face the entire time. The pitchers are cheating or something. It is certainly a scandal, and now spiders are involved. Somehow I wonder if this is going to set back renaming the Cleveland baseball team by like another several months.

With the sport poised to enter a new non-stick era this week, I wanted to clear up any confusion that an average fan with a job and a family and a life outside of baseball might have about why umpires are patting down pitchers and how we got here.

But I'm not just going to pretend to know what people are curious about. We actually have a real live baseball fan with a job and a family and a life outside the game on hand to ask whatever he wants. I actually genuinely do not know what we're going to talk about. And I will just do my best to explain and answer those questions. Welcome to the show, comedian, Red Sox fan, earnest question asker Josh Gondelman. Hello, Josh.

JOSH GONDELMAN: Hi, thank you for having me.

[CHEERING]

Thank you. I have not been following this closely. I know there is a scandal with a bad name, sticky stuff, very childish. And I know that it's pitchers smearing stuff on the ball. So my first question to you is, what is this sticky stuff?

HANNAH KEYSER: The main thing is there's rosin on the mound. It's that white bag. They pick it up sometimes. And what most guys do is they mix it with sunscreen to make it, like, disgusting and tacky and essentially the [BLEEP] that you put on your wall when you nail a picture in the wrong place, and you need to cover it up again.

JOSH GONDELMAN: Oh, sure.

HANNAH KEYSER: And so that's the sunscreen and rosin. Sunscreen and rosin works so well that they started adding pine tar, which they have on hand because batters use it. Pine tar works so well that they started innovating, and then basically what we got now is the final frontier.

The stickiest stuff was this stuff called Spider Tack, which was invented for strongman competitions. So they don't drop 400-pound concrete globes on their head. And the whole thing is it's like insanely sticky, so you need less of it.

JOSH GONDELMAN: I love that they're in search of, like, a 100% pure sticky substance, like the Walter White of baseball cheating, like I like a show called Breaking Balls. And it's just about throwing just the sickest, filthiest junk by gumming up your ball. I love it. I think we should salute this. It's like a space race.

HANNAH KEYSER: That's totally a part of it. So that's like the-- I gave you the overview of what we know about. But a big element of this is the rumors are, like, some teams hired their own chemisists-- chemists?

JOSH GONDELMAN: Yeah.

HANNAH KEYSER: To like concoct their own [BLEEP]. There was this Angels clubhouse attendant named Bubba, who made the best [BLEEP] ever. And it was literally that he would light a lighter under a spoon. I don't know if it was actually that, but he did have to cook it.

And he was making stuff that was so good that pitchers around the league-- Gerrit Cole supposedly, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer were all reaching out to this guy like, hey, Bubba, you got the sticky stuff? And that was not a sex thing. That was because they wanted to cheat, but not in a sex way.

[LAUGHTER]

JOSH GONDELMAN: So OK, how did this whole thing, this recent, like, rash of sticky stuff come to light? Who are the practitioners? Who got busted? Why do we know about it now if it's been going on since the '20s?

HANNAH KEYSER: So you may remember this as a Red Sox fan. The last pitcher to ever actually get punished for this rule was Michael Pineda in 2014. It was a Yankees-Red Sox game. Do you remember this? He had like the giant pine tar--

JOSH GONDELMAN: Yeah.

HANNAH KEYSER: --slather on his neck.

JOSH GONDELMAN: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

HANNAH KEYSER: So that was then-- so the whole idea has always been that you could get popped for this if the other team's manager called it out. So the rule has functioned that umpires don't do anything unless asked to by the opposing team's manager.

JOSH GONDELMAN: This is like pickup basketball rules. Like, we're calling our own fouls.

HANNAH KEYSER: Exactly.

JOSH GONDELMAN: OK.

HANNAH KEYSER: And the reason managers have never called out the opposing pitcher is because they know their guy is cheating, too, because basically everyone is doing it.

JOSH GONDELMAN: Sure.

HANNAH KEYSER: And so they just-- it's just been total detente, mutually assured destruction. No one's brought it up. Nobody's said anything. In 2015, Major League Baseball introduced Statcast. It's like, we can measure everything. We can tell you how fast he's running from first to second, whether or not a ball should be caught if it went into the gap, whatever.

And one of the things they were measuring is rotations per minute on the baseball. We then found out are very useful for making baseball pitches better. But the only reason MLB cares now is because the game is boring because no one can get a hit.

What happened last night was the first night of the crackdown in which umpires were checking for sticky stuff. How would you imagine this would go?

JOSH GONDELMAN: I feel like either the umpires got some kind of memo that was like, tonight we set an example, and every starting pitcher gets suspended. Or the umpires go, hmm, borderline case. Be careful. Don't let me see you cheating sticky stuff. And it's just like another layer of like, I'm warning you. What happened?

HANNAH KEYSER: What happened is nobody got suspended yet. We're taping this episode. It's going to take us two days to edit it or whatever. Hopefully, nobody gets suspended in that interim. It felt sort of perfunctory to be honest. So what we got, they showed it on like all the broadcasts, but it technically happened in between innings.

JOSH GONDELMAN: Got it.

HANNAH KEYSER: Pitchers walked off the mound, and they handed their hat and their glove to the umpires. And they went like-- they did like a sweeping motion, and they were like, doesn't feel sticky to me. And that's a huge relief, I'm sure.

JOSH GONDELMAN: And it's also, like, people talk so much about the speed of the game, right? Like, speeding up the game, and now every pitcher has to go through TSA every inning. That's just like--

HANNAH KEYSER: Dude, not every inning, but like once we get into the relievers, they do. This brings us back to your original point. Does this feel to you like a cheating scandal?

JOSH GONDELMAN: It does, so it depends on what baseball wants. Because I don't think the purity of the game is an important goal. It's not something I care about. I think the steroid stuff, right, which is kind of the analogous, like everybody's doing it. It's widespread. Someone blows the lid off it.

But that, there's so much potential for people to damage their human bodies with weird chemicals that they're just getting rubbed onto them and shot into them. This one feels like if the goal is to make hitting better and easier, then it's worth cracking down on, right? Because it's not allowed, and you go, OK, we got to do something to get these batting averages back up for Hall of Fame ballots 12 years from now or whatever or just for the entertainment value of the game.

That's fine if that's what the priority is. But if they're like, the sanctity of the game, it's like, this is the game, right? People have been doing this forever, and it's hilarious, and it works.

HANNAH KEYSER: I think this is exactly the right take, to be honest, Josh. I agree with you completely that the big disparity in comparing this to steroids is whether or not it has real world consequences on their health and whether or not we are incentivizing something that is actually dangerous.

And I completely agree with you also that it's totally fine to crack down if the goal is just to get more offense. And hopefully, that is what we get. And hopefully, what we are able to do sort of from here on out is talk about the use of foreign substances on baseball from the perspective of like, how will this change the game? Josh, this was fantastic and perfect.

JOSH GONDELMAN: This was so fun. Thank you for having me. What a pleasure.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

- Triple plays.

HANNAH KEYSER: The Yankees have had a lot of triple plays in a short period of time. They've done three. If you were ranking out, it would go, double plays are the least interesting. Single outs are the middle. And triple plays are the most interesting.

- What?

HANNAH KEYSER: So they're cool. Why are we getting a lot of them right now? People are bad at running. Base running is bad. Giving up a lot of hits, a lot of walks. I don't know. It's completely flukey. There's no explanation for it. People enjoy it. It's something for Yankees fans to root for and enjoy in this otherwise lost and terrible season.

Got to get 54 outs somehow. Most of them are boring. Triple play is not boring and great for pace of play. We didn't even talk about that. Fan.

[HORN]

- Carl Nassib.

HANNAH KEYSER: This football player who plays for the Raiders in Vegas came out as gay, which is excellent. Very happy for him. Sports remain one of, like, just genuinely the most gendered spaces. And in some ways, that's sort of necessary and biological.

But the way in which sports are extremely heteronormative and extremely gendered makes it a really important space for this progress to be made in. Because it reflects the fact even stereotypically masculine pursuits can still be reconciled with the reality of homosexuality and sexuality existing on a spectrum and all of that.

It's still a huge step for this to happen in professional football, especially if you just consider the fact that it hasn't happened before. And it's definitely not because there were never gay players. So proud of him and hopeful that this changes things.

- Yeah.

HANNAH KEYSER: Fan of this.

[HORN]

- NCAA athlete compensation ruling.

HANNAH KEYSER: We've learned that no one is conservative enough to think that the NCAA is good. We learned that the only true bipartisanship in this country is being like, wait a minute. That seems [BLEEP] up. People do say that sports bring people together.

And we're really seeing that bare truth in the NCAA decision and everyone being like, this is some [BLEEP] up bull [BLEEP]. You've got to start paying these people. You can't just exploit labor. The point is that if the sport is lucrative, the people who are making it possible should be benefiting from it.

Essentially, all they're doing is being forced to keep up with the fact that these athletes have actual, genuine earning power even outside the confines of the sport in which they're being exploited. [BLEEP] the NCAA. Fan of this.

[HORN]

- Dippin' dots.

HANNAH KEYSER: What is ice cream supposed to be? Ice cream has three jobs-- taste good, creamy texture, cold. Dippin' dots is only doing--

[LAUGHTER]

Why would you eat ice cream and be like, I wish that this was pebblier? Not a fan.

[SAD TROMBONE]

This week, we talked about the sticky stuff scandal that is no longer supposedly, because they're cracking down on it starting this week. And we hopefully either cleared up some confusion or created more confusion. But either way, thanks to Josh for being here.

And now we're going to actually see what it looks like to have it play out. We thought about trying to predict. But why do that when we're just going to get tons and tons of data points about that now as baseball is played in its new non-stick era?

- Yeah!

[MUSIC PLAYING]