The story of stick continues! We’re finally in the
stick thick of it: pitchers are pulling their pants down and flinging their hats for inspection right on the field, and MLB Commissioner not only approves but says that it’s going well. Fans and players, meanwhile, are up in arms about the enforcement policies.
Let’s catch you up on the news of the week.
Disrobing with Tack
Don’t know what’s up with grip enhancers? Let’s crib from my previous articles right here: This continues the saga from three weeks ago, where Sports Illustrated reported on the “biggest scandal in sports:” the scandal of sticky balls.
Spider Tack might make you feel like Thor when you grip a baseball, but the sticky substance and its ilk are causing all sorts of drama in the MLB community, partly because of the uneven policing of grip enhancers.
Two weeks ago, New York Mets slugger Pete Alonso jumped into the fray, arguing that MLB was knowingly changing the baseballs to disrupt free agency contract inflation. The change in the baseballs caused pitchers to use increasingly sticky grip enhancers to become more effective, and thus the effect amplified over time.
In other words, grip enhancers are significant not only because they violate the codified rules of MLB, but that credible arguments have been made that grip enhancers are a tactic of soft diplomacy against MLB wages. Or sticky diplomacy, whatever term floats your boat.
Last week, Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Tyler Glasnow went “cold turkey” from his usual combination of sunscreen and rosin in preparation for the increased enforcement, and declared that the lack of grip enhancers changed his mechanics sufficiently to explain a partially torn UCL that he suffered. So, there’s also a player health component to the sticky scandal.
This week, umpires began inspecting pitchers for visible or hidden grip enhancers in-between innings. At first, the inspections seemed to go over pretty smoothly with nobody making much of a fuss. Here’s Yu Darvish of the San Diego Padres taking one of the first inspections this week, and you can see that he even offers to show the “cleanliness” of his hair.
— Jim Russell (@JimRussellSD) June 22, 2021
But by Tuesday, players were becoming increasingly agitated at the inspections. Washington Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer — who had just come back from a groin injury — was visibly upset at the first inspections that he had to undergo:
Me when my nephew looks for the quarter behind his earpic.twitter.com/HNjGr3FVvg
— Nick Pollack (@PitcherList) June 22, 2021
After Scherzer was checked twice for grip enhancers, the manager of the Philadelphia Phillies, Joe Girardi, requested another check on Scherzer in the middle of the inning. The likely future Hall of Famer — that’s Scherzer, not Girardi, just so we’re clear — responded incredulously and began to drop his pants on the mound while the umpires congregated around him.
The video has been seen nearly one million times in two days. Now that’s some MLB ratings they didn’t expect!
RANDOM SEARCH OUR ASS. SCHERZER IS READY TO CRACK SOME SKULLS
— Starting 9 (@Starting9) June 23, 2021
After the inning, Scherzer stared down Girardi, and Girardi emerged from the dugout to invite Scherzer to fight. Or maybe for a hug, I can’t always tell what a man means when he shouts across a stadium and motions to “come at me.” Maybe they wanted to exchange jerseys like NBA players do. I dunno.
But it sure seemed like fighting words, as Girardi was ejected from the game while Scherzer held up his equipment as if to say, “I’m gonna strike out eight of your batters while giving up only one run.” And that’s what he did, without any grip enhancers.
Max Scherzer and Joe Girardi had a heated exchange after the 5th inning pic.twitter.com/JQIaA6ccna
— OPT (@OnePursuitTakes) June 23, 2021
The next day, Mets rookie Tylor Megill demonstrated how fans hate the new enforcement when he finished his MLB debut and was searched by the umpires in the middle of a standing ovation. Fans booed loudly to show their disapproval of the new checks.
A standing ovation after your MLB debut, and then a guy makes you unbuckle your belt in front of the whole stadium. pic.twitter.com/6EEU9ynG1E
— MLB Foreign Substance Checks (@StickyCheck) June 24, 2021
Despite the objections of the crowd and the players, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said that the new enforcement of grip enhancers was going well. Given the level of drama we’ve seen so far in the policing process, I suspect I’ll have an even bigger update for you next week.
To the Moon!
As if the enforcement of the grip enhancer rules — which Sports Illustrated called the “biggest scandal in sports” — wasn’t enough for this week, MLB put out a cryptic picture of the moon on its social media accounts. Only, the moon was photoshopped to look like a baseball, which will likely start a whole new run of conspiracy theories that the moon was made in Costa Rica and has been deflated.
The next day, MLB revealed that it had engaged in a partnership with the Blockfolio app held by the FTX Exchange and parent company, West Realm Shires Services, to sell cryptocurrency.
Don’t know what cryptocurrency is? Cryptocurrency is a de-centralized currency run electronically on a peer-to-peer validation system called a “blockchain,” but the important takeaway is that cryptocurrency operates outside of government supervision and control. Most currencies in the “developed” world operate through the faith and backing of governments, where the government manages the currency to instil faith and unity among their citizens.
Blockfolio — which is held under FTX Exchange and is the retail arm of one of the biggest crypto exchanges in the world — is headquartered in Antigua and Barbados. So, potential researchers out there might want to investigate why “America’s Game” is pairing with a decentralized, foreign-held cryptocurrency. You can have that lead for free!
Meanwhile, MLB plans to license its player images for FTX’s worldwide promotion endeavors, and FTX becomes the official cryptocurrency exchange of Major League Baseball. For more details, see the official announcement here.
Wander / Walls
To the surprise of many, the Tampa Bay Rays called up the number one prospect in Major League Baseball, Wander Franco. Franco becomes the youngest player in MLB, and the first player born after the year 2000.
Franco homered in his first MLB game and slotted in at third base, right next to teammate Taylor Walls. Walls had been called up prior to Franco to help the Rays suppress Franco’s MLB service time. However, the Oasis-themed joke for the left side of the Rays’ infield was short-lived, as Walls hit the IL right after Franco’s debut.
With Franco sliding over to shortstop in the absence of Walls, Franco takes his “natural” position and will try to help his team return to the World Series on a shoestring budget.
Well, we went about a month without a no-hitter, so we were due for the combo no-no that the Cubs delivered on Thursday night. Zach Davies started out the game with six innings pitched followed by former MVP-vote getter Ryan Tepera and Andrew Chafin. When Cubs’ closer Craig Kimbrel came in for the 9th inning save, he reported that he didn’t actually know that a no-hitter was in progress.
Whether he was being modest or actually oblivious to the situation, we may never know. Either way, the Cubs produced the seventh no-hitter of the year. The next no-hitter — and there will be one — will break the all-time record for no-hitters in a single year in Major League Baseball.
It’s tough to believe that no-hitters are almost so mundane as to not merit mentioning right now. Even the Red Sox pulled starter Nick Pivetta after six innings of no-hit ball this week; they had more interest in saving his arm than getting the feat. But given the outcomes for some of the other pitchers who threw no-hitters this year — Spencer Turnbull, Corey Kluber, and John Means have all spent significant time on the Injured List following their no-no’s — it might make sense for managers to preserve their pitchers rather than chalk up another no-no that fans and players seem less impressed with every passing feat.
I’ll see you down in the comments! Let me know what articles you’re reading so we can share more knowledge among the community. Have a happy and healthy week!
Featured image by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)