Q&A: ‘It was far more sticky than anything that we felt’: Umpires discuss Max Scherzer’s ejection
When Max Scherzer was ejected for having what umpires deemed a foreign substance on his glove and pitching hand in the fourth inning of Wednesday’s game against the Dodgers, the New York Mets right-hander claimed the sticky stuff was caused by a combination of legal rosin and sweat.
Plate umpire and crew chief Dan Bellino and first-base umpire Phil Cuzzi thought otherwise, so much so that Bellino called Scherzer’s hand the “stickiest” he has ever felt in the three seasons umpires have been conducting more thorough checks of pitchers.
Times baseball writer Mike DiGiovanna served as the pool reporter to speak to the umpires after Wednesday’s controversial ejection of Scherzer, a future Hall of Famer who has racked up 203 victories and 3,210 strikeouts in his illustrious 16-year career.
The following Q&A with Bellino and Cuzzi puts the incident in context and provides some insight as to why Scherzer was ejected and will likely receive a 10-game suspension from Major League Baseball.
Question: Why did Scherzer receive an initial warning early in the game?
Bellino: “At the conclusion of the second inning, as he walked off the field, Phil went to perform a substance check. And during that check …I’ll let Phil tell you what transpired there.”
Cuzzi: “So when he came in, I checked his hands and his glove. And I checked his pitching hand. It was slightly sticky, a little tacky, and it was dark in color, which isn’t really a surprise. So when I looked at him, he says, ‘No, no, that’s just rosin, I’m gonna wash it off.’ I said, ‘OK, you gotta wash that off. I’m going to check you when you come back out, and there better not be anything there.’ ”
Bellino: ”[Cuzzi] told him he was going to be checked when he came back out to start the bottom of the third. So when he came back out for the third, Phil checked, and there wasn’t an issue with his hand. But this clearly was becoming an ongoing situation, because when Phil then checked his glove … I’ll let Phil explain what was on his glove.”
Cuzzi: ”The pocket of his glove was sticky. There was substance in there, but because his glove was clean when he came out, it isn’t like he pitched with it, so I wasn’t gonna let him pitch with it. So I said, ‘You can’t use this glove. You have to get a new glove.’ And he said, ‘Whatever, I’ll get a new glove.’ ”
Bellino: “He complied. He took the glove into the dugout, he came out with a new glove, a glove that did not have any type of substance on it. So at that point, we allowed him to continue because he didn’t have anything on his hand that went above the line. Phil then came to me and said, ‘I’m going to check him again when he comes out to start the next half inning, because this was an ongoing situation that we needed to monitor.’ So when he came out to start the bottom of the fourth inning, that’s when we realized the level of stickiness on his hand was much worse than it was even in the initial inspection that had taken place two innings prior.
“So following the proper protocols, Phil immediately recognized it. Phil then asked me to come in to verify that the hand was too sticky. Both Phil and I touched his hand. As far as stickiness, level of stickiness, this was the stickiest [a hand] has been since I’ve been inspecting hands, which now goes back three seasons. Compared to the first inning, the level of stickiness … it was so sticky that when we touched his hand, our fingers were sticking to his hand. And whatever was on there remained on our fingers afterwards for a couple innings, where you could still feel your fingers were sticking together.
“So it was far more than we had ever seen before on a pitcher in live action. And we understand the repercussions of removing a pitcher from the game. We take that very seriously. And with the training we’ve been given by Major League Baseball to check to make sure that it’s not a legal substance, this was clearly something that went too far over the line.”
Question: Could you guys tell what the substance was?
Bellino: “I couldn’t. I would only have to speculate, and I don’t think it’s fair to speculate.”
Cuzzi: “I said this to Buck [Showalter, Mets manager] and to Max, it really didn’t matter to us what it is. All we know is that it was far stickier than anything that we felt certainly today, and anything we’ve felt this year. So in that case, we felt as though he had two chances to clean it up, and he didn’t.”
Question: Scherzer kept saying the sticky stuff was a combination of rosin and sweat. Were you guys not buying that?
Bellino: “I think it’s really important to note that now that we have a universal rosin bag that MLB provides, and that we inspect it before every game. So when we check these pitchers’ hands, we know what the rosin typically feels like on the hand, because everyone’s using the same rosin bag. So it’s really important to understand that when they claim it’s just rosin. Every pitcher we check, we’re accustomed to what that rosin residue will feel like on a pitcher’s hand. The fact that this went so much further was indicative that there was something likely more than just rosin, something that was so sticky that whatever it was, it was all over the palm, it was up on the inside of the fingers. The entire hand was stickier than anything we’d inspected before. And, most importantly, it was worse than it was in that second inning, when he was told that he had to wash his hand.
Question: Is there any question in your minds that Scherzer deserves a 10-game suspension?
Bellino: “From a discipline standpoint, that’s not our purview. And to be frank, it’s not something that we’re even comfortable commenting on. That’s up to the commissioner’s office. All I know is what we have to do now. We have to submit a report to the commissioner’s office, and whatever they do with it, that’s entirely up to them. That’s way above our pay grade.”
Question: Was there any request from the Dodgers dugout to check Scherzer?
Bellino: “No, this was routine. We check every pitcher multiple times. [Tuesday] night, Clayton Kershaw was checked four or five times. We’re trying to make sure that it’s a level playing field out there and that no one’s gaining an unfair competitive advantage. I know that’s the goal, that’s mission for MLB. They want a level playing field. This was an incident that’s unfortunate, but you know, it happened, so the Office of the Commissioner will deal with it.”
Question: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Bellino: “I would just say that the most important aspect is, we were not quick to remove him from the game. We understand that removal from the game is a very big penalty, a very stiff penalty. The fact that he was given many opportunities and he was told that it was getting too far, and then it continued to be an ongoing situation and the level of stickiness, it was just too much.”
Cuzzi: “That’s the point of emphasis for us, is that it was far more sticky than anything that we felt.”
Bellino: “Not tacky, sticky. It sounds silly, but there is a difference between tackiness and stickiness.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.
Source: Yahoo Sports