When Rob Manfred put his final stamp of approval on MLB's crackdown against sticky substances, he probably didn't envision frustrated pitchers yanking their pants off on the field.
Still, the MLB commissioner apparently likes how the change is playing out.
After three days of umpires checking pitchers for illegal pitching substances, Manfred addressed how the league is handling one of its more divisive issues in recent memory with The Athletic's Brittany Ghiroli.
The crackdown began with a relatively calm Monday, but Tuesday was a different story. Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer, never known for being calm on the mound, was visibly irate after Philadelphia Phillies manager Joe Girardi requested a third check for illegal substances, at one point beginning to take off his belt. Oakland Athletics reliever Sergio Romo did him one better hours later, taking his pants down during a substance check.
That's how two pitchers have responded to being checked for substances. Manfred would like you to focus on the few hundred who haven't seemed to have a problem.
"My view is the first two days have gone very well. We’ve had no ejections (for foreign substances), players in general have been extremely cooperative, the inspections have taken place quickly and between innings. Frankly, the data suggests that we are making progress with respect to the issues (in spin rate) that caused us to undertake the effort in the first place. I understand the incident in Philadelphia was less than ideal, but that was one incident. And we expect that we will continue, as the vast majority of cases so far, without that kind of incident.
It's worth mentioning that several other players — The Athletic noted Jacob deGrom and Joe Kelly — have voiced support for the system, though the rest of the Nationals are another story.
Rob Manfred responds to criticism from Nationals
Scherzer personally blasted Manfred after the game, calling the crackdown "Manfred rules" and warning that there would be similar events in the future. Manfred's response was to note that he didn't make the change unilaterally:
"First of all, it would be incorrect, blatantly incorrect, to assume that the players and the union did not a) provide input into what we are doing and b) have additional opportunities to provide input that they did not take advantage of. The transparency that I owe is to the players. We were really transparent from the beginning of the year that this was an issue of concern to us and that things needed to change. That’s why we were collecting information. We were clear in the March memo we sent out if things didn’t change there was going to be discipline. We, around the owners meetings there was a ton of publicity around the fact that things had not changed. In fact they had gotten worse.
"I just don’t see any secret about where this was headed and I know for a fact there was plenty of opportunity for input in the process."
Nationals manager Davey Martinez and general manager Mike Rizzo weren't happy either. Rizzo called Girardi a "con artist" during a radio interview the day after while saying the incident was "embarrassing for baseball," a comment Manfred chose not to respond to beyond deeming it "intemperate."
Martinez posited after the game that he would welcome managers not having the power to ask umpires to check pitchers for substances, an ability that predates the crackdown. Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw also suggested a check on that power, saying a manager should be punished if a pitcher comes up clean after a requested check.
Manfred said no such change is currently coming, but promised that the situation would be addressed if gamesmanship becomes a problem.
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