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Fired Angels worker sues, says he didn’t sell Go-Go Juice; he made Sticky Stuff

Troy Percival pitches while a member of the Angels.
Troy Percival, former Angels pitcher, said he taught ‘Bubba’ Harkins how to make Sticky Stuff. It’s “been around forever” and a version can be purchased in stores, he said.
(Christine Cotter / Los Angeles Times)

Former Angels employee Brian Harkins, fired March 3 for allegedly providing illegal ball-doctoring substances to visiting pitchers, has filed a complaint against the team and Major League Baseball claiming he was made a “public scapegoat” in baseball’s efforts to crack down on the use of foreign substances.

The complaint, first reported by ESPN early Sunday morning, was filed in Orange County Superior Court on Aug. 28. The lawsuit names the Angels and the MLB and cites defamation, as well as labor code violations.

Harkins, nicknamed “Bubba,” spent almost four decades with the Angels, starting as a batboy in 1981. He was the visiting clubhouse attendant when he was dismissed after an MLB investigation that said he was providing a blend of sticky substances — known as “Go-Go Juice” — to visiting pitchers to aid their grip of the baseball.

The complaint says that Harkins “never distributed an illegal substance” to anyone, that he was unfamiliar with the term “Go-Go Juice,” and that he did not sell it as a money-making venture.

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According to the complaint, an all-star Angels pitcher taught Harkins in the 1990s to mix rosin, pine tar and Mota stick (hard pine tar) for use “by that pitcher and other Angels pitchers” to improve their grip on and control of the ball. The concoction is referred to in the complaint as “Sticky Stuff.”

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“When the All-Star pitcher left the Angels to pitch for the Detroit Tigers in 2005,” the complaint reads, a description that fits former Angels closer Troy Percival, “he showed his new teammates how he used his rosin/pine tar mixture to get a better grip on the ball and improve his control.”

As players changed teams through trades and free agency and became aware of the Sticky Stuff, the complaint says, they asked Harkins to prepare it for them as a courtesy. “It was a free offering for which Bubba often, but not always, was given a gratuity.”

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The complaint goes on to say that Harkins “was not a traitor to his team,” that many people in the Angels organization knew about the Sticky Stuff and that “year after year, a hair-cream sized jar containing the Sticky Stuff was included in the Angels’ bullpen bag, along with sunscreen and other sticky substances. Many Angels pitchers used it over the years.”

Percival, reached by phone Sunday morning, acknowledged that he taught Harkins how to make the mixture in spring training, “mostly because it was so dry in Arizona and the balls were so slick out there, and they didn’t rub them up.”

Percival, who pitched for the Angels from 1995 to 2004 before signing with Detroit, said he used the Sticky Stuff about 15 times a year, in cold weather and in “five or six cities that, come the ninth inning, would pack the seams with mud and you couldn’t grip the ball. I didn’t see a big issue because I could go grab a [pine tar-covered] bat and get the same thing.”

Percival, now the UC Riverside baseball coach, said he was taught by an older veteran how to produce the mixture, “but it’s basically pine tar and rosin mixed together with a couple other little things,” he said. “If [Harkins] developed it any more beyond that, I don’t know.”

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Percival said he didn’t know if other Angels players used the Sticky Stuff. He was aware of Harkins’ firing but did not know a player fitting his description was mentioned in the lawsuit as the one who taught Harkins how to make the mixture.

“I don’t think it’s that big a deal,” Percival said. “To me, if you’re using something that makes the ball move, where it’s slick and slipping off your fingers, that’s one thing. But something that will help you with your command a little bit … we used it in spring training because you couldn’t grip the ball, and hitters didn’t care because they didn’t want the ball coming at their head.

“That stuff has been around forever. There’s no way he should have been let go for making it because you can go buy it in stores. It’s called Pelican Grip,” a grip-enhancing blend of pine tar and rosin.

Harkins contends in the complaint that he was not given a copy of a Feb. 28 memo in which MLB vice president of on-field operations Chris Young reiterated the rules banning the use of foreign substances before his firing.

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According to the complaint, a March 20 letter from Harkins to Angels president John Carpino “explaining the errors underlying the club’s decision-making” and requesting that Harkins be reinstated was ignored.

The Angels said they couldn’t comment “on pending legal matters or on employment matters.”

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The complaint also states that Harkins was interviewed by attorneys for MLB and the Angels on March 26 as part of an investigation into the use of illegal substances to enhance a pitcher’s grip on the ball.

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Harkins “was specifically asked to identify which players, coaches and teams use the Sticky Stuff,” the complaint reads. “Five months later, there has been no discipline of any kind meted out to anyone — except Bubba.”

The case is scheduled to go before a jury on May 31, 2022. Harkins, a 44-year resident of Anaheim, will seek damages from both the Angels and MLB, who, the complaint claims, have “caused the loss of plaintiff’s employment and the destruction of his hopes of future employment in his 38-year vocation.”


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