On the first day that umpires began checking major league pitchers for sticky substances, everyone acted quite polite about it.
“Oh, you want to check my hat?”
“Of course! Here’s my glove as well.”
“Thank you, pitcher, you may go on your way!”
On the second day, the pitchers stopped being polite and started to get real… strange.
After Phillies manager Joe Girardi expressed suspicions to umpires and asked them to check Nationals ace Max Scherzer, who almost took his pants down in frustration at the public frisking.
In Texas, Athletics right-hander Sergio Romo lost his cool and literally dropped his pants in front of umpire Dan Iassogna, exposing his unders in a style reminiscent of Steve Lyons long ago.
Don’t take it out on the umpire, Sergio, he’s just doing what he’s told.
(Hey, remember Steve Lyons?)
Whoops! That was an accident, Lyons always said. Romo showed us his underpants on purpose. That’s what this has come to. Oh, for the innocent days of when ballplayers just had a little dirt down their pants. Today, we have staredowns between pitchers and opposing managers.
Scherzer ended up winning that battle, with Girardi getting ejected and the Nationals winning after Scherzer struck out eight over five innings. Scherzer left us with this haunting threat, however:
No. The players are close enough to naked already. We also had this odd moment at the Mariners game, which didn’t involve the removal of pants but instead another part of the uniform:
Underpants on display for all to see, hat-sniffing umpires. What in the name of Fay Vincent is going on here?
Major League Baseball is going to get a lot of attention for how it handles the policing of tacky substances pitchers use to grip the ball (and more). But is it the good kind of attention or bad kind?
After two days of shakedowns, umpires haven’t found anything of note, aside from some light-colored gloves they made the pitchers in question swap out. And the dragnet tactics make it seem like MLB assumes every pitcher is a cheater, which is part of the frustration felt by Scherzer, Romo and others.
MLB brought this on itself by ignoring what everyone else seemed to know already: that a lot of pitchers, for many years, used rosin and sunscreen to grip the ball, and a not-small amount of additional pitchers took it a step further by using better gripping material to squeeze more rpm and mph out of the ball. All while the league has failed to manufacture a consistent ball, inside and out, and when it doesn’t like the results on the field only then, in the middle of a season, does it make a haphazard effort — putting all of the responsibility on players and umpires — to make changes.
Maybe the endgame lies in an ownership lockout of the players association at some point, another attempt to break the union and seize more power. A new ploy at an old goal. It’s what management does during collective bargaining. Why wait for the negotiations to start? Make all of the players look like they have something to hide.
We otherwise could be 100 percent, instead of just some, talking about the first game of rookie star Wander Franco, who hit a three-run home run for the Rays against the Red Sox. Instead, we’re focused on frisking Kyle Gibson and setting up checkpoints to search for contraband hidden in waistbands.
It apparently would be too easy for MLB to use a uniform system to rub up the balls, or to switch to the kind of ball they use in Japan, which comes manufactured with a tacky surface that’s easier to grip without adding mud or sunscreen or anything else a pitcher and his fleet of secret scientists might conjure. Instead we have these messy, inefficient and frequently embarrassing half-blind stabs at law and order.
And this was only the second day.