Rich Schultz/Getty Images
It took all of two days for Major League Baseball’s new ban on foreign substances to go from potential embarrassment to actual embarrassment.
The ban had a smooth rollout Monday, with New York Mets ace Jacob deGrom notably serving as the first pitcher to be inspected for Spider Tack and other outlawed sticky stuff. Things hit a snag Tuesday, however, because Philadelphia Phillies manager Joe Girardi didn’t think two checks was enough for Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer.
The three-time Cy Young Award winner—who lives up to his Mad Max moniker even on the best of days—was none too happy as umpires carried out mandatory inspections after the first and third innings of the Nationals’ eventual 3-2 win. Accordingly, he was even less happy when Girardi insisted on a third inspection in the middle of the fourth inning:
NBC Sports Philadelphia @NBCSPhilly
The pitcher substances controversy isn’t going away anytime soon!
Joe Girardi asked the umpires to inspect Max Scherzer in the middle of the fourth inning and the Nats were NOT happy. pic.twitter.com/M1B5OsM2of
Like the first two checks, the umpiring crew’s third inspection of the 36-year-old right-hander didn’t uncover any wrongdoing. Though Scherzer had been taking his cap off to run his right hand through his hair, all that was there was sweat.
Of course, more drama ensued anyway. Scherzer gave Girardi an intense staredown as he walked off the mound at the end of the fourth, and the Phillies’ second-year skipper was eventually ejected after leaving his dugout to yell at coaches in the opposing dugout:
FOX Sports: MLB @MLBONFOX
After being checked for sticky substance 3 times tonight, Max Scherzer stared down Phillies Manager Joe Girardi while walking to the dugout. Girardi then left his dugout and had some words for Scherzer, which led to Girardi being ejected.pic.twitter.com/3laApv2YdR
Welcome to the new normal in Major League Baseball. It’s equal parts baffling, outrageous, tragic, comic and, ultimately, unsustainable.
MLB Must Close the Girardi Loophole
For all of the criticisms that can be lobbed at MLB’s sudden crackdown on sticky stuff, at least the actual inspections are designed to be minimally invasive.
As was the case with the first two checks on Scherzer, the mandatory substance checks are meant to take place between innings or after pitching changes. This way, they don’t interrupt the action. And even if they’re still annoying, pitchers at least know to anticipate them.
But as was the case for years even before MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred deemed the use of foreign substances an “unfair competitive advantage,” managers can still implore umpires to check an opposing pitcher if said pitcher is doing something suspicious. As Girardi explained, this is the right he was exercising:
John Clark @JClarkNBCS
Joe Girardi on asking umps to inspect Max Scherzer
“I’ve seen Max pitch a long time. I’ve never seen Max wipe his head like he did tonight. I was suspicious. I’m trying to win games here. I’m not playing games”
However, Girardi also had little to lose in asking the umpires to take another look at Washington’s ace. If Scherzer…