SanFilippo: “Sticky Stuff” Adjudication the Latest Disaster for Major League Baseball

Photo Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Major League Baseball should be embarrassed.

It won’t be, because it’s being run into the ground by the wrong people who really have no clue what they’re doing to a beautiful sport.

But after what happened Tuesday night, everyone, from the boob of a commissioner to the owners who care more about the bottom line than they do the product on the field, to the equally-greedy Major League Baseball Players Association, to the players themselves – who want to grandstand with their histrionics as if its an affront to double check to make sure they’re not cheating – and yes, to the fans, who enable the sport to get away with what it has gotten away with, especially in the past half decade, are all equally responsible for taking a game chock-full of great strategy, pressure-filled anticipation and athletic excitement and allowing it to become the bastardization that we see playing out in front of us every summer evening.

Let me start off with my stance on the new rules about sticky stuff on baseballs.

Should pitchers use foreign substances in an effort to gain a competitive advantage? No. Should pitchers be able to use some sort of concoction, like they have for decades upon decades, to get a better grip on the ball when pitching? Sure, why not?

And why have pitchers resorted to things like Spider Tack in recent years? Maybe because the MLB’s dirty little secret, that’s not really that secret, but they still deny any involvement, is that baseballs are wound tighter, with lowered stitches and nothing for pitchers to grip.

The league created its own mess.

And now it has compounded that by changing the rules mid-season, by announcing pitchers will be checked frequently, and declaring suspensions and team sanctions (not being able to replace a suspended player on the roster) if any sticky stuff is found.

Meanwhile we’re still waiting for the suspensions of the Houston Astros players who cheated to win a championship in 2017. I’m sure they’ll be handed down any day now… 

I’m sure you’ve seen what happened by now in the Phillies/Nationals game. Every pitcher was “checked” once, but Washington starter Max Scherzer was checked three times, once at the request of Phillies manager Joe Girardi.

Scherzer got off scot-free. He stared down Girardi after getting his final out of the game as he walked off the field. Some Nationals coaches were also chirping Girardi from their dugout. Joe had enough, emerged from the Phillies dugout and challenged the Nationals coaches and/or Scherzer to come at him. Not surprisingly, Girardi was tossed.

The outcome of the game no longer really mattered. This was going to be the story of the day.

At first glance, the “checking” is pathetic. The umpires are looking at the brim of a hat for two seconds, the inside of a glove for another two and glancing at the underside of a belt for a moment.

If pitchers are using something on the ball, they would be more subtle than that, especially knowing about the crackdown.

These substances wouldn’t be in such obvious places. But hey, this is the MLB we’re talking about. The Keystone Kops routine is a greatest hit for them.

Not once did any of the pitchers have their hands checked. Their hair checked. Their pants or jersey checked. Catchers aren’t being checked at all, and they handle the ball almost as often as the pitchers. First basemen? Not checked either.

And if you don’t think they won’t bend the rules to help their teammates, think again.

On Phillies Post Game Live last night, Ricky Bottalico was talking about video they had watched where Dodgers catcher Will Smith was handed a new ball by the umpire, put it in his glove and then switch the old ball, which was scuffed, back to the pitcher and threw the new ball out of play.

These kinds of things happen constantly. And they have been happening for forever.

Someone messaged me yesterday, in typical sports justice warrior style, this message:

“pLaY tHe GaMe tHe RiGht WaY… with Spider Tack and performance enhancing drugs.”

Come on, man.

I’m not saying that. But what I’m saying is, let the game adjudicate itself in these instances. If there’s a belief that a pitcher or a player is cheating, then the opposing manager should call him on it.

Players have been kicked out of games and suspended for such indiscretions in the past.

Scherzer was linked to ball altering in a Sports Illustrated story last week. So, if you’re Joe Girardi, wouldn’t you want to check to make sure he wasn’t doing anything illegal?

Except the umpire kept checking the same things – hat, glove, belt.

Never mind that it appeared Scherzer changed hats during the game, or that he was constantly running his hand through his hair, something he never does. Keep looking at the same places and find nothing.

Hat. Glove. Belt.

It’s a farce.

So much so that Scherzer threw his hat and glove down in disgust at the feet of the umpires and even started to undo his pants right there on the field. The umpires stopped him, but you know who they didn’t stop?

How about Sergio Romo of the Oakland A’s:

And then there’s Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers, weighing in on the Girardi/Scherzer feud:

Oh, sure, a deterrent to checking to see if a guy is cheating. Why have that? Oh, so guys could cheat more freely. Gotcha Clayton.

The thing about the way Scherzer and Romo reacted and the stuff Kershaw said and Gerrit Cole’s bumbling answer to a question about Spider Tack a little more than a week ago, tells you that these guys would suck at poker.

Their indignance is their tell. Hell, Scherzer basically came out and admitted he’s always looking for something to help his grip:

He was looking for something to mix with rosin to get a grip. Never had to go to his hair before… why? Did he have something else he was using? Also, saying he “would be a fool” to do it tonight when everyone is watching is basically saying, “I’ll do it again once this all dies down.”

Which is the joke of this whole exercise.

Pitchers will find a way to make the balls tacky. Bottalico said put hair gel in your hair and once it dries a little it becomes tacky enough.

Trevor Bauer, who is a thorn in the MLB’s side, really shows how incompetent the MLB is. This entire interview is gold, even if part of it comes off as an audition for a guest hosting job on the next season of Magic for Humans:

There was a mention of pine tar in that interview. Pine tar has been used on bats for a century to help batters get a better grip on bats. For those of you who might be too young to remember, George Brett of the Royals hit a home run against the New York Yankees back in 1983. Then-Yankees manager Billy Martin asked the ump to check Brett’s bat for excessive pine tar.

They did. Brett was called out, the home run came off the board, and Brett had an explosion on the umpires that was Mount Rushmore-esque (You can thank me for the idea later Kevin Kinkead) –

The Yankees were ridiculous with how far they took it (watch the whole video for a good history), but the main question is, did pine tar really help Brett hit the home run? No. But it violated a rule.

Baseball today is looking for something, anything, to try and spruce up its game. They’ll try anything, these clueless clods running the sport.

No-pitch intentional walks. Seven-inning doubleheaders. Ghost runners in extra innings. Pitch clocks. Bigger bags to help promote base stealing. Limiting shifts, or taking them away entirely.

They’ll try anything to divert your attention from the real problems the sport faces.

And that’s to let baseball people make the decisions for the betterment of the game, not some computer nerds or fancy lawyers.

This isn’t an anti-analytics rant. It’s not. Analytics can certainly be useful. But the game is dictated by them now. Games are being managed by facilitators, not managers. Managers aren’t making decisions based on what they are seeing or what they are feeling about their team, but rather based on algorithms.

And the solutions to overcome the numbers – more spin for pitchers, more launch angle and exit velocity for hitters, has dumbed the game down to the point where strategy is irrelevant and mostly non-existent.

That’s why it annoys me when managers are labeled as “good” or “bad.” How do we know? Their decisions are being made by print outs. Managers only have to manage people – clubhouse personalities really – and not the game itself any longer.

It’s what makes the game mind-numbing. There’s no chess playing. There’s not a lot of “should they or shouldn’t they” conversations. It’s just go out there and throw as hard as you can and swing as hard as you can and lets see what happens.

A perfect example is the last at bat of the Phillies game. Bases loaded. Two outs. A 3-2 count on Rhys Hoskins.

He needs a hit to tie the game or even walk it off for the Phillies. The Nationals have a modified shift on Hoskins, leaving a big gaping hole on the right side:

He gets a slider on the outer half of the plate, but rather than hit the ball where it’s pitched, he tries to pull it to his strong side, and rolls it over into a ground out.

A 2-strike approach that shortens the swing and goes the other way with the ball is a clean hit and maybe a game-winning hit with the runners moving because of the full count.

I’m not going to  completely pile on Hoskins here. He had a double and a homer in the game. But this is systemic. Through all of baseball. Nobody thinks the game anymore. They are told their best bet is to hit over shifts. To swing for the fences. To not fear strikeouts. To limit bunting, hitting and running, pitch outs and stolen base attempts. They’re told to get pitchers out of the game before the other team has a real chance to have the lineup come up for a third time. Pitch North-South, not East-West.

What’s left for a manager to really do? It’s like this in the minor leagues too. And in college. And in high school. And youth leagues. Forget all the stuff that made the game great, and just go out there and do try to do these things instead because people who never played the game are basically using mathematical simulations to determine what the best odds are.

So, to hell with checking pitchers for sticky stuff. Focus on what has to be done to actually fix baseball before there is no more baseball.

Which, if the owners and players continue to be greedy bastards and can’t come to a new collective bargaining agreement after this season, will likely come in 2022.

And then bozo Rob Manfred will have yet another “sticky” situation that he is mired in, without any real ability to solve the systemic issues that are destroying his sport.

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