Report: Angels Fire Brian Harkins for Giving Visiting Pitchers Sticky Substances

Blake SchusterCorrespondent IMarch 6, 2020

Houston Astros starting pitcher Justin Verlander, second from left, walks back to the mound after giving up a two-run home run to Los Angeles Angels' Andrelton Simmons, second from right, during the fourth inning of a baseball game Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

The Los Angeles Angels fired their longtime visiting clubhouse manager following an internal investigation that determined he was supplying opposing pitchers with illegal substances to better grip the ball. 

Brian Harkins, who had been with the organization for 30 years, had been found to be providing sticky substances pitchers used to doctor the ball against the Angels, according to ESPN's Alden Gonzalez. While doctoring the ball on the mound has long been a widespread tactic throughout the league, Major League Baseball has placed an emphasis this season on getting it out of the game. 

Using a sticky substance to improve grip has generally been seen as a way for pitchers to add velocity and movement to their pitches without being detected. Given the number of baseballs a pitcher will go through in an inning, it's tough to detect if a player is using a substance on the field except in more egregious cases. 

As ESPN's Jeff Passan notes, the league's emphasis on ensuring no pitchers are using such substances opens itself to future discipline controversies:  

"The league could start handing out 10-game suspensions for foreign-substance usage on the daily, and that would be the law-abiding thing to do, since Rule 6.02 clearly states pitchers cannot use foreign substances on the mound. The problem there is twofold. First is the practical: That would require opposing managers to ask umpires to check pitchers, and managers are loath to do that because they know their pitchers are using tacky stuff too. Beyond that, the possible narrative -- that a rash of players are getting suspended for 10 games as a consequence of the Astros, who got suspended for zero games, cheating -- would be a rough look for the league."

To be sure, there is a clear difference between using the type of substance that has been pervasive around the league for generations versus using cameras and algorithms to decode incoming pitches, but MLB is loathe to find itself in a position to explain that in an official capacity. 

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However, the league's warnings may have prompted the Angels' investigation as Passan notes pitching coaches found the memo serious enough to take precautions to avoid potential punishments down the line. 

Among other duties, clubhouse managers are responsible for keeping the visiting locker room fully stocked and assist with player and staff needs as they arise. 

Harkins was hired as a clubhouse manager by the Angels in 1986 and has been the visiting clubhouse manager since 1990. He was named the visiting clubhouse manager of the year in 2005. According to ESPN, the Angels believe he acted alone in providing pitchers with banned substances.