You have to give MLB and its umpires credit. There really isn’t anyone more hilarious to eject over sticky substances on his hand than Max Scherzer. No one’s going to look more ridiculous arguing their case, everyone in the stadium is going to know exactly what’s going on, and if you want to make an issue, and the league’s handling of it seems bigger than life, there is no bigger bullhorn than Scherzer. Joe Girardi knew what he was doing two years ago, and though I’m positive Girardi has never actually laughed, part of him had to know how entertaining it would be. The dude looks like a muppet who just lost his rent on a craps table:
Despite claims from Scherzer and the Mets that it was just rosin, and his postgame explanation that he’d washed his hand and glove multiple times at the request of the umpires before his ejection — as well as doing so in front of an MLB official to make it seem even more “clean” — there is a rule on the books about using excessive rosin. Even if they have a rosin bag on the mound, that’s all you’re really supposed to use. You can’t go out to the mound with clumps of it already on your hand or glove. Maybe this is just a different version of the old pine tar rule that made George Brett a meme for the ages, but it’s still the rule.
MLB is getting finicky about substances on pitchers’ hands again because, despite all the rule changes that have improved the game, the big one is still out there. That is that pitchers are still ninja magicians. They’re still having fastballs that can run over a foot horizontally, sliders that are now sweepers unless they’re still sliders, and all of it coming in at speeds never seen before (though the average fastball velocity is down a tick so far this year, but that will probably change). Strikeouts are still about where they were last season, walks are up, and overall contact is just about where it was. Three true outcomes may be happening faster than they used to, but they’re still happening more than they ever have in the game’s history.
Taking away a pound of rosin or sunscreen isn’t going to solve the problem entirely. Teams still have budgets and systems that would make NASA green with envy to study different grips and spins and movements on pitchers and their various offerings. Meanwhile, hitters are still sent up there with a round piece of wood and told to figure it out. Not exactly a level playing field.
There is a safety issue at hand — pitchers who have no feel for the baseball have a higher tendency to send it in all sorts of unintended directions, including but not limited to a hitter’s frontal lobe. But again, pitchers shouldn’t need something created in a lab to have that minimal feel for a baseball or come out looking like Mr. Fuji and his salt to start an inning.
Hitting is hard enough, and pitchers already have tons of built-in advantages. Seeing who can come up with the best, undetectable concoction of adhesive that makes the baseball do things a pitcher couldn’t manage on his own doesn’t need to be one of them.
The obvious answer
Baseball isn’t the only industry that trails Japan for solutions. It’s a familiar tale. But the Japanese league has used pre-tacked baseballs for years, and pitchers who have gone over there from MLB have generally been impressed with the feel of that baseball. And yet MLB has continued to treat its baseballs with the mud collected by some yahoo in New Jersey (true story). This is so effective that pitchers feel the need to add their own combination of rosin, sunscreen, rubber cement, bull semen, alien dung, and whatever else they can find.
MLB has been trying to find a pre-tack solution for a while now, and experimented with it in both Double-A and Triple-A in recent years. But it still hasn’t gotten to the majors. One would probably find the problem is that Japanese baseballs are made by Mizuno and MLB ones by Rawlings, and MLB owns Rawlings, and MLB can’t even settle on the makeup of the ball and how it flies off the bat for years. They can’t make the inside of the ball consistent, so asking them to make the outside consistent is a level of fantasy you usually need psychedelics to get to. The ones they’ve brought to spring training for pitchers to try out and have not been met with nearly the approval that the Japanese baseballs seem to get.
It can’t be that hard. They’ve figured it out in Japan and South Korea. But until MLB admits it can’t figure it out on its own, we’ll just have to enjoy more videos of Scherzer auditioning for the role of Anger in the Inside Out sequel (do not make a sequel, Pixar. I only just finished crying over Bing Bong).