Ex-Angels staffer: Cole, others doctored balls

  • Joined ESPN in 2016 to cover the Los Angeles Rams
  • Previously covered the Angels for MLB.com

A revealing text message from star pitcher Gerrit Cole has been submitted as evidence in Brian Harkins’ quest to prove he was unfairly made a scapegoat when the Los Angeles Angels fired him as their clubhouse attendant for supplying ball-doctoring substances to pitchers.

The message — dated Jan. 17, 2019 — was filed in Orange County (California) Superior Court on Thursday as opposition to a request to dismiss the original lawsuit submitted by Harkins’ attorneys in August.

“Hey Bubba, it’s Gerrit Cole,” the text reads. “I was wondering if you could help me out with this sticky situation [winky face emoji]. We don’t see you until May, but we have some road games in April that are in cold weather places. The stuff I had last year seizes up when it gets cold …”

Harkins was fired last March, ending a nearly four-decade run with the Angels, after the organization was informed by Major League Baseball that he was providing pitchers with an illegal blend of rosin and pine tar, a violation of a rule that had never been strictly enforced.

Harkins’ attorneys, Daniel Rasmussen and Matthew Brown, filed suit against the Angels and MLB in late August, and the defendants filed a motion to dismiss it in early November. A Jan. 21 hearing has been scheduled to determine whether the case will move forward.

The original complaint outlined the reasons why applying rosin and pine tar on baseballs by pitchers has been a long-held, accepted practice done largely for safety reasons and insinuated that Harkins was fired without proper warning. It stated that Harkins never received a copy of the Feb. 28, 2020, memo issued by Chris Young — the former MLB vice president of on-field operations who is now general manager of the Texas Rangers — that reemphasized the rule disallowing the application of foreign substances and stated that club personnel would be forbidden from facilitating the practice.

The opposition, first reported on by the Los Angeles Times, states that Harkins absorbed undeserved hits to his reputation in the wake of his firing, leaving him unable to find other employment, and that nobody else has been punished amid baseball’s efforts to curb the practice of applying sticky substances to baseballs.

“MLB and the Angels have artificially created a one-person scandal,” the opposition claims, “and in doing so, have avoided disciplining the players they repeatedly protect from their rule breaking.”

The opposition also includes a declaration from Harkins in which he recalled a March 26 interview with attorneys from MLB and the Angels. During the interview, Harkins claims, he identified Cole, Justin Verlander, Edwin Jackson, Max Scherzer, Felix Hernandez, Corey Kluber, Joba Chamberlain, Adam Wainwright and Tyler Chatwood among the pitchers who previously asked for his specific blend of pine tar and rosin, which became popular throughout the league after he made it for former closer Troy Percival more than 20 years ago.

Harkins also named several current and former Angels — Percival, Brendan Donnelly, Kevin Jepsen, Cam Bedrosian, Keynan Middleton, Yusmeiro Petit, Luke Bard, Matt Andriese, Dylan Peters, Jose Suarez, Kaleb Cowart and Dylan Bundy — who used the blend.

A spokesperson for the Angels said the organization does not comment on pending legal matters. A league spokesman could not be reached for comment.

“The termination of my employment came as a complete surprise to me since I had never received anything but compliments for my hard work and dedication to the team and my management of the visitor’s clubhouse,” Harkins wrote in his declaration. “To my knowledge, there are no negative reviews in my personnel file. I have never received a warning or been counseled against any activity related to my employment.”

Harkins, known throughout the league as “Bubba,” joined the Angels as a bat boy in 1981 and worked as the visiting clubhouse manager from 1990 until the day of his termination on March 3, 2020. In the 1990s, Percival taught him to place rosin, pine tar and Mota stick — a firmer pine tar — in the bottom of a soda can and melt it with a lighter to create the sticky substance that would be widely distributed to home and away pitchers. Harkins provided this blend “as a courtesy,” the opposition states, adding that it was “not a money-making venture” and that “many people within the Angels organization knew about the Sticky Stuff.”

The opposition also included declarations from 16-year major league players Wally Joyner and Mike Sweeney, who emphasized the commonality and acceptance of the practice and lauded Harkins’ reputation. Declarations were also made by longtime Chicago White Sox clubhouse manager Gabe Morell and former Angels bat boy and clubhouse attendant Vince Willet.

Willet noted that Harkins’ mixture of rosin and pine tar was a constant presence in the Angels’ bullpen bag.

“To my knowledge,” Willet wrote, “all of the Angels pitchers, coaches and managers knew about and encouraged the use of Bubba’s mixture. I specifically recall one occasion when Angels pitcher C.J. Wilson approached Bubba and me in the clubhouse lobby between the two clubhouses. In the conversation, Wilson referred to the mixture as ‘the stuff from the bullpen bag.'”

A text message from Verlander and notes from a subsequent phone call were also presented as evidence by Harkins’ attorneys. In the phone call, Verlander — who pitched alongside Cole on the Houston Astros before Cole left for the New York Yankees in December 2019 — alleged that MLB began to crack down on pitchers’ use of ball-doctoring substances when it found out teams were conducting studies to concoct more advanced blends to maximize a pitcher’s spin rate, according to Harkins’ notes.

The opposition also includes a text message from Angels bench coach Mike Gallego, who wrote in part: “I’m sorry this game is using you as a scapegoat.”

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