Fired Angels employee names Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander, others he says used his illegal product
The text message from then-Houston Astros star Gerrit Cole to former Angels visiting clubhouse manager Brian “Bubba” Harkins was sent Jan. 17, 2019, at 11:39 a.m.
“Hey Bubba, it’s Gerrit Cole, I was wondering if you could help me out with this sticky situation,” the pitcher wrote, adding a wink 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.”
The exchange between Cole, now the New York Yankees ace, and Harkins, who was fired last March for providing illegal ball-doctoring substances to visiting pitchers, was submitted in Orange County Superior Court as evidence Thursday by an attorney claiming Harkins was made a “public scapegoat” in baseball’s efforts to crack down on the use of foreign substances.
Harkins, who spent almost four decades with the Angels, was dismissed after the Angels learned through an MLB investigation that he was providing a blend of sticky substances to visiting pitchers to aid their grip of the baseball.
Harkins, 55, filed a defamation complaint against the Angels and Major League Baseball in Orange County Superior Court on Aug. 28. The Angels and MLB filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on Nov. 2.
In an opposition to the motion, filed Thursday, Harkins claimed many Angels used his concoction of rosin and pine tar over the years, “including Troy Percival, Brendan Donnelly, Tyler Chatwood, Kevin Jepsen and, most recently, Cam Bedrosian, Keynan Middleton, Yusmeiro Petit, Luke Bard, Matt Andriese, Dylan Peters, Jose Suarez and Dylan Bundy.”
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Percival, the Angels closer from 1995 to 2004, acknowledged in September that he taught Harkins how to make the mixture of pine tar and rosin in spring training “mostly because it was so dry in Arizona and the balls were so slick out there.”
Harkins also claimed that MLB has evidence implicating several star pitchers — including Cole, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Felix Hernandez, Corey Kluber and Adam Wainwright — for using foreign substances to improve their grip on the ball.
Harkins was fired by former Angels general manager Billy Eppler on March 3, three days after the league issued a memo to teams saying it would be enforcing a long-ignored policy forbidding the use of illegal substances to enhance a pitcher’s grip. Hitters rarely complain because a better grip usually means better control — and less chance of being hit in the head by a 97-mph fastball.
Harkins was interviewed by attorneys for MLB and the Angels on March 26 as part of an investigation into the use of illegal substances.
Harkins’ attorney Daniel Rasmussen contends in Thursday’s filing that the Angels “did not want their players disciplined and shamed,” and that MLB did not want to contend with another “scandal” on the heels of the Astros’ sign-stealing controversy. Rasmussen said Harkins was labeled a “traitor, cheater and a fraud” by fans in the wake of news reports of his firing and is now unemployable.
“Our point is, Bubba was made a one-man scapegoat, and that they did this ‘investigation’ in an effort to protect the players,” Rasmussen said. “No player has been disciplined, and Bubba has gotten hammered through this whole thing. His reputation has been trashed.”
Rasmussen said he will seek at least $4 million in damages if the case goes to trial. An Angels spokesperson said the team could not comment on pending legal matters. A Jan. 21 hearing has been scheduled for a judge to determine whether the case will move forward.
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Harkins’ filing Thursday included declarations from former major leaguers Wally Joyner, who spent seven years of his 16-year career in Anaheim, and Mike Sweeney, who spent 13 years of his 16-year career in Kansas City.
Both claimed that Harkins “was not a traitor to his team” and that “many people within the Angels organization knew about the mixture of rosin and pine tar Harkins used to make for pitchers. Many Angels pitchers used it over the years.”
Vince Willet, who worked as a batboy and visiting clubhouse attendant for the Angels from 2009 to 2017, also submitted a declaration on Harkins’ behalf.
“Bubba did not make this mixture in secret,” Willet wrote. “To my knowledge, 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 I in the lobby between the two clubhouses. In the conversation, Wilson referred to the mixture as ‘the stuff from the bullpen bag.’”
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