April 24, 2023

Max Scherzer Suspended for 10 Games

New York Mets star pitcher suspended for excessive stickiness on his hand and glove

Max Scherzer Suspended for 10 Games

Mets pitcher Max Scherzer was suspended for 10 games before he began pitching the fourth inning of the Mets-Dodgers game on April 19, 2023 in Los Angeles.  He had pitched three scoreless innings, while allowing one hit. From all accounts and reports, the ejection/suspension was caused by excessive stickiness on his hand and glove. He was also fined $10,000. He does not plan to appeal the suspension.

It appears that Scherzer used rosin excessively, maybe in combination with another substance. The white bag on the mound that is in full view of everyone is filled with rosin powder, a sticky substance derived from the sap of fir trees. The substance helps pitchers combat sweat and moisture for the purpose of getting a firm grip on the ball. This is viewed by everyone, batters included, to be a safety precaution because it allows pitchers to have better control of the ball.

Rule 6.02 (c) (4) reads, “it is illegal for a pitcher to apply a foreign substance of any kind.” This does not include rosin, however, unless it is applied excessively.  In a memo sent out to MLB teams and umpires in 2022, the league said that, “in light of the crackdown on sticky substances, pitchers are allowed to use the rosin bag on their hands, wrists and forearms. However, they are “prohibited from applying it to their gloves and uniforms, nor are they allowed to combine rosin with any other substance, such as sunscreen.”

Order of Inspections

After the second inning, first base umpire Phil Cuzzi determined Scherzer’s pitching hand was stickier and darker than normal. Cuzzi ordered Scherzer to wash his hand which Scherzer said he did with alcohol while an unnamed major league official watched.

At the end of the third inning, Cuzzi then determined the pocket of Scherzer’s glove was “sticky,” likely with too much rosin. Scherzer was ordered to change gloves which he did.

Before the start of the bottom of the fourth inning, the umpires determined Scherzer’s hands were stickier than earlier in the game. At that point the Mets right hander was ejected.

Plate umpire Dan Bellino said, “As far as stickiness, level of stickiness, this was the stickiness that it has been since I’ve been inspecting hands which goes back three seasons. It was reported that “when the umpires touched Scherzer’s hand, their fingers were sticking to his hand.”

Bellino added, “Every pitcher we check, we’re accustomed to what that rosin residue will be on a pitcher’s hand. The fact that this went so much further was indicative that there was something likely more than just rosin…whatever it was, it was all over the palm. It was up on the inside of the fingers.”

Prior to Scherzer’s suspension, only two pitchers were suspended for sticky substances since the umpire in-game inspection system went into effect in 2021- Héctor Santiago  (Mariners), and Caleb Smith (D’backs). Cuzzi was on both crews in those situations.  As with Scherzer, Santiago and Smith were adamant that they had been unfairly victimized for using rosin.

As part of the foreign substance crackdown, the Mets wouldn’t be allowed to replace Scherzer on the active roster while he serves his suspension, which means they would be down one pitcher spot for 10 games and will have to survive with 25 players in the fold until the end of April.

Opposing View

Scott Boras, Scherzer’s agent, said, “MLB needs to employ available scientific methods to create verifiable certainty of its rules.”  He added, “No one can explain what is too sticky. There are no units of stickiness to quantify. Major League baseball umpires may have different standards that are not measurable.”

Ruleball Comments

  1. Umpires are expected to use their discretion and judgment in many areas of the rulebook.
  2. Boras raises some good points but until there is a test that determines excessive stickiness, we’ll have to go by the common sense and experience of the umpires.
  3. It appears the umpires gave Scherzer several opportunities to clean-up his act. They did not impulsively eject him from the game.
  4. History tells us that some players will do whatever they can to circumvent the rules. Do you recall during the 2017 season when Cards catcher Yadier Molina caught a Brett Cecil pitch that bounced in the dirt and the ball stuck on Molina’s chest protector? The Cubs’ Matt Szczur swung and missed the 0-2 pitch. Because he failed to make contact and the ball was sticking to Molina’s chest protector, Szczur was allowed to take first base because the ball was not legally caught. Now was it possible that Molina put something on his chest protector to assist his pitcher or maybe help himself get a better grip on the ball? Molina was forced to remove the protector and not use it again.

           I personally think he got off easy.

You can read our previous report on Yadier Molina having a ball stuck to his catcher’s protector here.

Rule 3.01 reads, “No player shall intentionally discolor or damage the ball by rubbing it with soil, rosin, paraffin, licorice, sand-paper, emery paper or other foreign substance.”  This is a rule that should be understood by all fielders, including catchers.

Former pitcher and ESPN analyst David Cone broke down Max Scherzer being caught using sticky substance on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball.

Rich Marazzi

Rules consultant/analyst:  Angels, D’backs, Dodgers, Nationals, Orioles, Padres, Phillies, Pirates, Red Sox, Rangers, Royals, Tigers, Twins, White Sox, Yankees, Bally Sports, YES, and NBC Sports Chicago.  

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