New York Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira (25) smacks a 1st inning 2 run homer as the New York Yankees host the Kansas City Royals at Yankee Stadium in Bronx, NY 5/26/15
By Ryan Hatch
NEW YORK — Within the last week, two major league pitchers were suspended because of “foreign substances” on their arms, seemingly as a way to better grip the baseball and control their pitches.
Baltimore Orioles’ lefty Brian Matusz was suspended eight games on Monday for being caught with something rubbed on his right forearm in a game last Saturday at Miami. The day before, Milwaukee Brewers’ reliever Will Smith was also suspended eight games for the same violation when the Atlanta Braves noticed something on his right arm.
Both players are appealing the suspensions, but Major League Baseball has a bit of a problem on its hands, one the Yankees are all too familiar with as last season right-hander Michael Pineda was caught using pine tar — twice! — on the mound, one of the times with a big gob of it on his neck during a start in Boston on national television.
So, what to do? Yanks’ manager Joe Girardi said he had an idea.
“I really believe there should be a substance behind the mound that every pitcher’s allowed to use,” Girardi said.
So, place a one-size-fits-all, universal bucket of…something, behind the mound, for pitchers to dip their hands into?
Catcher Brian McCann did not seem to think that would much work.
“If somebody likes sunscreen or rosin, you can’t see it,” McCann told NJ Advance Media. “They’re going to use what they want to use.”
In other words: players are going to try to gain an edge one way or another. If there is a bucket of Banana Boat 50 SPF for all the pitchers to use, that is all well and good, but pitchers will bring whatever it is they personally prefer to the mound.
Perhaps Girardi’s second thought makes more sense:
“You want to check the pitchers before they go out to make sure there’s nothing else on them? Go ahead,” he said. “We don’t want to get in a situation where you’re having pitchers suspended for eight games.”
That, actually, does not seem like it would cause much of an issue. It would be a minor inconvenience for everyone involved, and it would take just a few seconds for the umpire to check pitchers out.
It seems a bit ridiculous for umpires to be checking players 10 times a game to make sure they are not cheating, but until it stops, is there an alternative?
McCann said he didn’t really care much that pitchers use stuff to grip the ball better, more just the brazenness of doing so. He said what Matusz and Smith were using may have been a mix of pine tar and rosin. (The substances appeared shiny.)
“I’d care if I saw a blob on the arm, but other than that…putting it on your skin, you can’t do that,” he said.
Girardi agreed, sort of. He said hitters would not rebel to the idea of all pitchers being allowed to use something.
“No, because hitters know pitchers are all using something. We know that. Come on,” he said. “There’s a lot of pitchers that do. And I think [hitters] probably prefer if there’s one substance to help with the tackiness of balls, and that’s it.”
Yankees’ left-hander Chris Capuano uses sunscreen on his arms and neck, rubbing it in before his starts. He said, though, that it often wears out by the third or fourth inning, gone from sweat especially now that the weather is warmer.
His preference is sunscreen, rosin, and sweat. That, he said, usually gives him a solid grip without needing anything else.
What Capuano said was that the balls should be more consistent from stadium to stadium. Both he and Girardi remarked on how they treat the balls in Japan, where balls come with the same tack on them, and it is said that balls are nearly identical to the touch. It is widely accepted that baseballs in Japan are simply easier to grip because of the tackiness.
Balls in MLB, Capuano said, can vary widely and the different climates do not help.
“Sometimes I’ll get a ball and don’t have to touch it,” Capuano said. “Other times I have to totally mess with it to get it right.”
He had several used balls in his locker that he let a reporter handle. While all balls have the same amount of double-stitches (108), they are raised at different levels that can create issues.
Speaking generally though, Capuano said he did not think most pitchers were going out to the mound with “foreign substances” on their arms such as pine tar, but that 85-90 percent of pitchers use some mix of sunscreen and rosin.
MLB recently revamped its ball security system, which is a good step, but the problem seems to start earlier than when they arrive at the ballpark.
If the balls aren’t fixed, maybe by next year umpires will have a special blue-light wand to wave over pitchers arms when come into the game to detect any sort of foreign substance.
Lightsaber-wielding umpires, if you will.
All kidding aside, MLB should probably find a fix to their ball issue. Otherwise they risk becoming the NFL.