This can’t go on.
Major League Baseball’s attempt to legislate illegal substances off pitchers’ bodies and out of the game couldn’t even make it through the first full night of games before it devolved into a sideshow of showmanship, head games and performance art.
Start with Philadelphia Phillies manager Joe Girardi’s daft challenge of future Hall of Famer Max Scherzer – the first skipper to touch that third rail of undressing an opposing pitcher without significant probable cause – and continue through the dozens and dozens of post-inning inspections, capped by Sergio Romo’s disrobing, and one thought comes to mind.
This is the worst possible development for the game.
Oh, the intent is noble. Not unlike the so-called steroid era, big league pitchers’ willingness to rub the nastiest substances on their persons in order to spin the ball like a Greek waiter spins plates has warped the game. Spider Tack’s gotta go, and probably many of the homemade concoctions that turn any pitch into a stick-and-spin scenario.
But not like this.
Apparently Sergio Romo also thinks these umpire checks are ridiculous 💀 pic.twitter.com/gHJcXA1rMc
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When a pitcher is stopped and searched – or a manager demands an extra check in good or bad faith – an undeniable signal is sent to fans both avid and casual:
This game is screwed up.
And that favorite pitcher of yours? We think there’s a decent chance he’s cheating.
There’s lots of ways to clean up a sport. We found out Tuesday night that doing it in full public view is not one of them. The slow drip of the steroid era, its heyday spanning nearly two decades, was certainly no fun. Yet a player was never asked to submit a urine sample between innings.
After just two days of MLB’s enhanced enforcement of its foreign substances ban, you almost wish the game would return to the shadows. After all, the game’s offensive futility didn’t just disappear because pine tar and its stickier cousins were in the crosshairs. Tuesday’s scoreboard had a 3-0 and a 2-1 and a 3-2 and a 5-0 and a 3-0 on it.
Nope, just because sunscreen and pine tar are eradicated doesn’t mean the field will suddenly tilt toward batters. So it’s tempting to think, let the kids spray.
Then you look at Gerrit Cole’s spin rate.
The Yankees’ $324 million man has been under fire after a meandering non-denial about his use of Spider Tack. On Tuesday, in his first start since the crackdown, he continued a recent trend of massive spin rate drops. Cole’s sinker was down 364 rpms from his season average, or 15%. His fastball was off 245 rpms, his slider 243.
Those are what we might call statistically significant reductions. At this moment, we truly have no idea why. But it’s surely in the best interests of the game to do away with the most offensive substances and find out.
Cole pitched OK against Kansas City – seven innings, two earned runs, six strikeouts – yet he was far from the guy who punched out nearly 13 batters per inning since 2018, when he was traded to the Houston Astros and leveled up to become the game’s most dominant pitcher.
Like Cole, Scherzer was named in a lawsuit filed by former Angels visiting clubhouse manager Bubba Harkins as a pitcher who ordered tins of homemade sticky substance from Harkins. If nothing else, Girardi had a decent idea Scherzer – who pitched five decent innings in an eventual 3-2 win – might have a hard time going cold turkey off the sticky stuff.
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