Athletes Lawyer

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Max Scherzer cited for using legal substances

On Behalf of | May 18, 2023 | Current Events |

Fans and players of all sports want a level playing field where players follow the rules, or they are penalized. The penalty could be a trip to the penalty box, a red card, a 15-yard penalty, or a multigame suspension. Clear infractions are often caught on TV or by referees, umpires or officials. Things get much murkier when the competitor follows the rules, but they are still penalized.

MLB all-star pitcher Max Scherzer is one of the best of his generation, but he was suspended for ten games (which amounts to one turn of the rotation) for using rosin, which is allowed until it isn’t. Rosin is a sticky substance that enables players to get a better grip on the ball so pitchers don’t have the ball slip and go where they don’t want it to (perhaps hitting the batter, catcher or umpire). The MLB provides rosin bags to teams, and Scherzer claims he used that.

Three strikes and he’s out

Since a 2021 crackdown use of sticky substances, umpires routinely inspect pitchers’ hands to ensure there are no illegal substances — sticky substances accelerate the pitch’s spin rate, making the ball curve or dive more than otherwise possible. Umpire Dan Bellino said Scherzer’s hand “was the stickiest that it has been since I’ve been inspecting hands.” He first told the pitcher to wash his hands after the second inning and was told he would be inspected before pitching in the third inning. His hand was clean, but the umpire told him to change his glove, which had a sticky substance. The pitcher came out in the fourth inning, and Bellino said Scherzer’s hand was even stickier and glossier than the second inning. This led to his ejection for using an allowed substance while violating the MLB’s sticky stuff policy. Scherzer never even threw a pitch in the fourth.

A subjective call

Like dealing with umpires’ varying definitions of the strike zone, Scherzer was frustrated by what he saw as following the rules. However, MLB’s Official Baseball Rules state:

“When used excessively or otherwise misapplied (i.e., to gloves or other parts of the uniform), rosin may be determined by the umpires to be a prohibited foreign substance, the use of which may subject a player to ejection and discipline.”

The substance’s tackiness on the pitcher’s hand or gear is the distinction. Apparently, the hand can be “tacky,” but it can’t be “sticky.” Scherzer also apparently ran his hand through his hair before using the rosin bag, which also allowed.

Scherzer initially planned to appeal, but MLB would not use a neutral arbitrator for the hearing. Instead, he is moving on and waiting for reinstatement. Scherzer is the third pitcher suspended for this type of violation. All three violations involved umpire Phil Cuzzi, Bellino’s crew chief.