As with anything, good intentions often yield unintended consequences. After years of sweeping the issue of “sticky stuff” on baseballs under the rug, MLB tried to quickly implement a ramp-up to the expulsion of the aforementioned sticky stuff from the game entirely.
Aside from a predictable outcry and backlash among pitchers, we’ve seen other undesirable consequences begin to manifest on the field. By now, we’ve all seen the display put on by Max Scherzer during his outing against the Philadelphia Phillies Tuesday night.
Scherzer ended up being checked not once, not twice, but three times by the umpiring crew over the course of his night. Although he looked a bit annoyed after the first check, his impatience began to increase two-fold during each encounter thereafter. The third check, requested by Phillies’ manager Joe Girardi, nearly compelled the disgruntled Scherzer to strip off his clothes right there in front of the pitcher’s mound.
This new banned substance rule, it turns out, can be exploited for some sort of competitive advantage. If you, as the opposing manager, think that the day’s starting pitcher across the field is performing too well, simply complain; something along the lines of, “Hey, I want you to check him for something. He’s... touching himself too much?”
The game is thereby delayed and the pitcher’s rhythm disrupted.
That particular moment in time didn’t have much impact on Scherzer for the inning, as he went about business customarily. At some point, though, you have to wonder why Scherzer simply didn’t ask the Phillies’ dugout if he’s too good for them? A preoccupation with foreign substances might suggest a team is out of their depths against a particular starter.
Just as we saw prior to the 2020 season when the league haphazardly stitched together a slate of games, the commissioner’s office spent too much time on other tasks before quickly cobbling together a solution to a large and lingering problem.
Scherzer suggested the league bungled the whole ordeal when he, at the conclusion of his presser, said, “These are Manfred rules. Go ask him. I’ve said enough.”
It’s no secret that the pitching community has taken issue with the league’s response to this dilemma plaguing the sport. Pitchers, hitters, and fans would all like an equitable solution to the problem, even if that meant taking the time to properly sort out all the available options and implement a cohesive and cogent plan next season.
That’s not at all what we got. It seems so recent that a bigger stir was being made about how pitchers are doctoring baseballs and what could be done about it. When this big of a stain presents itself in all other occupations and companies, it takes some time before issuing a formal response. MLB, on the other hand, went all gung-ho on tearing down the establishment before understanding all the ramifications.
In the middle of all this, of course, are the umpires; the enforcers looking down the barrel of a dereliction of duty if they fail to adjudicate on Manfred’s sticky whims. I can’t fault the umpires for checking Scherzer as they did, particularly if a request was made. They even went so far as to rub Scherzer’s sweat-laden head.
We’ve reached this ether, then, where nobody is satisfied. Both pitchers and hitters aren’t exactly keen on a lack of grip, so long as that grip doesn’t yield inhuman advantages. Umpires are the on-the-field bad guys, set to thwart a pitcher’s momentum at the drop of a hat; or, in this case, a complaint from the dugout.
In life, it’s often hard to pick out one singular entity on which you can lay blame, but the man running the show of Major League Baseball has somehow found a way, again and again, to thrust himself into a controversial spotlight. Yes, baseball’s tacky problem needs addressed; nary a fan would disagree. But to awkwardly and incompetently duct tape the problem feels like an artificial amends, as though contrived to simply appease a malcontent group of fans. The trouble is, as is so frequently the case, it didn’t work.