MLB pitchers upset as umpires check them for ‘sticky stuff’

(NewsNation now) — Major League Baseball’s pitchers are casting serious shade over one of the sport’s new rules.

What is a “sticky thing”?

Sticky stuff, or goop, are two slang terms for foreign substances pitchers use to improve their grip on the ball. It can take many forms – sunscreen, pine tar, or even specially designed formulas that don’t have much conventional use outside of the game. Pitchers can hide them on their hats, gloves, or jerseys.

They’ve always been against the rules, but the league has turned a blind eye so far. The only approved substance is rosin, which can help dry sweat from a pitcher’s hand.

Umpires have been instructed to check pitchers’ hats and jerseys for what’s called “sticky stuff,” and managers can also ask them to check if they suspect a pitcher is using a banned substance. This has led to some theatrics so far.

What happened between Max Scherzer and the Phillies?

On Tuesday night, Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals started against the Philadelphia Phillies. The referees made their now regular throws at the end of the first and third innings. Scherzer, a three-time Cy Young winner of the league’s top pitcher, seemed annoyed by the checks but complied. The referees found nothing.

However, Phillies manager Joe Girardi noticed Scherzer touching his hat and hair in the fourth inning and asked the referees to check again. This time, Scherzer was so crestfallen that he started taking his belt off like he was in an airport security line and encouraged the referees to touch his sweaty hair.

PHILADELPHIA, PA – JUNE 22: Washington Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer #31 bends over to have his hair checked for sticky substances by umpires Tim Timmons #95 and Alfonso Marquez #72 during the fourth inning of a game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on June 22, 2021 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

The referees touched his hair and, for the third time, found nothing.

He said after the game it would be “foolish” to use a banned substance on a night when he knew the referees would be so focused on it.

But Girardi had upset the Nationals coaching staff, and after chirping back and forth from the dugout, he entered the field to keep screaming. The referees sent him off.

“He’s a crook,” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said of Girardi Tuesday morning on 106.7 The Fan in Washington, D.C. “He’s been doing this for years on TV.”

Phillies president Dave Dombrowski has defended his manager.

“It’s not Joe Girardi,” he said. “It’s totally inappropriate for (Rizzo) to say that. …Joe Girardi is the farthest from a crook of anyone I know. He’s a very sincere person. He was within his rights.”

Dombrowski added that he called commissioner Rob Manfred’s office and that MLB had already consulted with umpires and determined that Girardi’s request was legitimate.

“I love Joe Girardi,” Rizzo also said in his radio interview. “I’ve seen him play since he was in high school in Peoria, Illinois, scouted him at Northwestern. I know him well. But, I know him well.

The Nationals won the game 3-2.

What did Sergio Romo do with the referees between sets?

Oakland A pitcher Sergio Romo came in for a relief inning against the Texas Rangers later Tuesday night and took Scherzer’s antics one step further.

Between innings, a referee asked to check him for foreign substances. Romo immediately undid his belt and slid his pants down a few inches. They never touched down, but the moment has gone viral in music videos and GIFs online.

The A’s beat Rangers 13-6.

Why is Major League Baseball checking the sticky stuff?

Offense is on the decline in sports, and the conventional thinking among fans and insiders is that pitchers are much better than hitters. This season, teams are averaging 4.41 points per game. It is down for the third consecutive year and the lowest since 2015.

Pitchers, like Scherzer, said MLB should provide a list of approved products instead of banning all substances. Pitchers say they use the substances to improve their grip and give them better control while they pitch.

Batters are split on the issue. Some say they don’t mind the launchers getting extra help since some of them are now launching up to 100 mph, and the hitters prefer the launcher to know where that missile is going.

However, some say the substances help too much and give the ball an unnatural spin that is hard for a batter to hit.

MLB technically only enforces the rules it currently has on the books. In order to make them more nuanced, as Scherzer suggested, the MLB Players Union would have to endorse it. This change in enforcement was Commissioner Rob Manfred’s call.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Neal T. Doss