It’s OK, Max. We’re all mad here.
MLB’s worst-kept secret is that pitchers have been using sticky stuff to get a grip on baseballs for almost as long as baseballs have been thrown, and hitters have generally been OK with it. It wasn’t until Rob Manfred and the rest of the braintrust in the MLB offices decided that offense was down (part of it is their own doing, after all) did it turned out to be a real issue.
So when Max Scherzer took short, pointed aim at the MLB commissioner and his latest efforts to “save baseball” after the Nationals’ 3-2 win over the Phillies, no one should be surprised.
“These are Manfred’s rules,” Scherzer said postgame. “Go ask him. I’ve said enough.”
Brittany Ghiroli of The Athletic did just that Wednesday when she interviewed Manfred for a Q&A (subscription required). Manfred had a pointed response.
“First of all, it would be incorrect, blatantly incorrect, to assume that the players and the union did not a) provide input into what we are doing and b) have additional opportunities to provide input that they did not take advantage of,” Manfred said. He also said MLB has been transparent with players “from the beginning of the year” and that it acted after the situation “had gotten worse.”
“I just don’t see any secret about where this was headed and I know for a fact there was plenty of opportunity for input in the process,” Manfred said.
MLB’s overwhelming silence on the matter — and the sport’s uncanny ability to continue to get in its own way — have caused players to take the heat for it. Scherzer, getting checked three times on the field for sticky stuff last night, once at the request of Phillies manager Joe Girardi, was visibly annoyed by the process.
And really, who can blame him? While some people point to Scherzer’s “theatrics,” the fact that Scherzer, Gerrit Cole and Tyler Glasnow, three of baseball’s most prominent pitchers, have spoken so freely about using sticky stuff tells you that it’s something that’s much more widely accepted than the sport would lead you to believe.
And there’s good reason for it, too. Scherzer explained.
“If you watch the Bohm at-bat, I almost put a 95 mph fastball in his head because the ball slipped out of my hand,” Scherzer said. “The whole night, I was sick of licking my fingers and tasting rosin. I couldn’t even get sweat from the back of my head, because it really wasn’t a warm night.
“So the only part that was sweaty on me was actually my hair, so I had to take off my hat to get any kind of moisture on my hand, to try and mix with the rosin. For me, that’s the confusing part, because I’m just trying to get a grip of the ball.”
Scherzer’s explanation is just the latest example of a pitcher just wanting to get a grip on the slick baseballs. It’s not a matter of whether “sticky stuff” is cheating, considering that the enforcement of the rules have been so loosey-goosey for, well, ever, but the timing leaves something to be desired.
Is there a gray area? Sure. There will be guys who use the sticky stuff to simply get a grip on the ball — like using sunscreen and rosin — and then guys who go above and beyond to gain a clear advantage over batters, like Spider Tack. That’s where the real issue lies, and it’s much more difficult to sort out.
The most enraging part of these entire situation is that it’s such a simple solution to a simple problem: Rather than even attempting to find a happy medium and negotiate with players to try and find a solution to a non-existent problem, guys like Scherzer, Gerrit Cole and Tyler Glasnow have been on the frontline, having to answer the awkward questions in press conferences, making them out to be the villains in the situation.
Who wants to see guys get frisked on field by umpires like TSA at Dulles Airport? What does that solve? Wednesday’s show of force from MLB is just another on-field eyesore to navigate.
It’s simple advice: Stop screwing with the baseball. Or change the ball to make it a little more tacky so players have a grip. Or find a substance that’s accepted among all players. Or how about wait until the offseason so these guys at least have an opportunity to adjust and figure it out?
This is, once again, another monster created by MLB’s own doing, with the league turning a blind eye to something that’s an obvious issue, and deciding to fix it at an inopportune time.
Just like their inability to promote their players. Just like their insistence on blacking out local games. Just like the looming labor issues that may stop the sport this fall. Just like the constantly changing baseball. Just like the steroid era. Just like MLB teams using technology to steal signs. Just like…
… Get it?
While pitchers just try and find ways to grip a baseball, it’s probably high time for MLB to get a grip on what it’s doing.