If you go back far enough in time, MLB did not pull out a new ball every time one got scuffed. It was actually legal to put stuff, like saliva, on the ball too. Then Ray Chapman was killed by a pitch.
Pitchers, however, did not abandon efforts to gain advantage by doctoring balls. There are Hall of Famers famous/infamous for it, most notably Gaylord Perry. When a pitcher was caught, the punishment was a few games, costing him maybe one turn through the rotation.
This year, strikeouts are at an all time high, and batting averages are the lowest since 1968…”The Year of the Pitcher.” Many pundits have blamed pitchers using substances on the ball to increase spin rate and velocity. I’ve seen columns calling it bad or worse than steroid use by hitters. MLB, in turn, has vowed to crack down. Umps will inspect players—not just pitchers—for foreign substances. Violators get suspended 10 games (with pay). Teams/coaches/managers can face fines.
Some players are protesting this. Pitchers have said tacky substances help grip and control. Some hitters have even backed them up, feeling they’re a bit less likely to get hit by an errant fastball that way. I read a report where a couple players have felt the MLBPA let them down by not fighting the crackdown. Tyler Glasnow of the Rays has blamed the crackdown for his UCL injury. To Glasnow— putting a death grip on the ball to regain the unfair advantage you gained using Superglue or whatever is not MLB’s fault. The intent of the rule is to eliminate or decrease that unfair advantage.
However, all that said, strikeout rates have been on an inexorable climb ever since the advent of the live ball era. It’s not just because of spitballs. The issue is multi factorial and thus the solution must be also. Actually enforcing another rule already in the rule book, how long pitchers get to wind up and pitch after getting the ball, would be a real good start.
Let’s see what else MLB does to get more balls put in play. Hopefully they don’t just decide some hand slaps for spit balls is enough.