A strange thing happened in the eighth inning of Saturday night’s Cubs-Phillies game. Veteran umpire Joe West, working third base, noticed Phillies reliever Austin Davis pull a notecard out of his back pocket before pitching to Addison Russell, and decided he needed to know more, and brought the game to a halt.
It turns out Davis’s notecard was, in fact, just that—a card onto which some notes had been scribbled about the batters he was scheduled to face in the inning. All the Phillies fielders have these, detailing defensive positioning for opposing batters. According to cosmic-brain Phillies manager Gabe Kapler (who, incidentally, deserves a ton of credit for how the Phillies have played this season, even if they appear to be fading somewhat down the stretch), Davis is using the notes on the card “as a reference how to attack the hitters,” which could only be considered cheating if scouting an opponent and having a detailed plan of attack is cheating.
But West, applying a strict, textualist reading of baseball’s Rule 6.02 (c) (7), determined that Davis could not be allowed to keep the card on his person. Here’s the relevant part of that rule (found on pages 75 and 76 of MLB’s rules):
(c) Pitching Prohibitions
The pitcher shall not:
(7) Have on his person, or in his possession, any foreign substance.
“I told him we don’t allow him to carry anything on their glove, person or clothing, except in some cases where there’s a rain situation, we allow them to put a rosin bag in their pocket,” West, umpiring his 41st season, said. “Other than that, they can’t have anything on the pitcher.”
By West’s own admission, this might’ve been a silly, unnecessarily strict interpretation of the rule, which exists to prevent pitchers from doctoring the ball, and not to prevent pitchers from being on the same page as their teammates about baseball strategy. West acknowledged after the game that Davis wasn’t trying to cheat, saying “maybe he’s trying to get an advantage because he’s reading the scouting report, but it wasn’t pine tar, it wasn’t an emery board, it wasn’t whatever.” West said his “hands are tied,” but apparently not so tied that he’d have to eject Davis, who was allowed to continue pitching. Notecard-less, Davis struck out Russell on five pitches, and came back out to pitch the top of the ninth, where he gave up a pair of runs in an eventual 7–1 Cubs win. He wasn’t real happy with West’s confiscation of his notes:
“Our analytics department works really, really hard to come up with this stuff for us, and I want to use it because they work all day to come up with stuff to help get guys out,” Davis said. “And if I have an answer to get a guy out, I want to know what that is.”
This is obviously very silly. Antonin Scalia would be very proud, were he not in hell.