News & Politics

Major League Baseball's Best New Job: Belt Inspector

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, file)

The traditional game of baseball is undergoing numerous changes this year that the purist is having vapors over.

The game is still pretty much the same: bats, balls, running, fielding, and all the rest. But trying to “modernize” a game that has resisted modernization for 150 years is no easy task. The powers that be in the game are doing their level best to piss off the purists, but the reality is, and always has been, dollars and cents. And the gods of marketing are whispering in the ear of the Major League Baseball (MLB) commissioner and his underlings that change is necessary for the survival of their game.

I’m not sure about that. If Major League Baseball disappeared tomorrow, the next day, a couple of kids will pick up a bat and ball and head to the park to play. There wouldn’t be as many as there were when some of us were young, but they’d be out there continuing a tradition that their grandfathers and great grandfathers before them embraced and cherished.

But the slow pace of the game, the scandals and greed, the ubiquitous nature of the game as every game everywhere is broadcast, and the temperamental athletes commenting on everything from politics to art have sapped the energy of Americans to devote much time to the game.

Baseball is the only game where the defense has the ball, which means that sometimes, it’s in the interest of winning that a team will slow the game down to half-tortoise speed. So now we have a “30-second rule” where the pitcher must pitch the ball within 30 seconds if there is no one on base. There are limits to how many times a manager or catcher can visit the mound to talk to the pitcher or kill some time to get the bullpen warmed up.

They have also completely eliminated the drama of extra innings. After 9 full innings without a winner, a runner is placed at second base, which has proven very successful so far in ending games quickly.

The MLB made no comment on shortening an MLB game to seven innings during a doubleheader. Some crimes are so heinous that they must not be named.

But one of the more interesting changes in the rules is the “foreign substance” rule that primarily affects pitchers. No sticky or gooey stuff on your fingers, hands, the bill of your cap, or your belt will be tolerated. Anything that allows a better grip on the ball or allows the ball to move “unnaturally” is forbidden. To make sure pitchers follow the rules, umpires are required to inspect the pitchers after innings and when they come out of the game.

That change went into effect on June 15 and led to an explosion of bitter reactions from pitchers. One pitcher, Tyler Glasnow of the Tampa Bay Rays, claims he partially tore a tendon in his arm because he couldn’t use anything that helped the spin on his slider.

Cry me a river.

Other pitchers are simply fed up at the constant interruptions by umpires to inspect them.

ESPN:

On Tuesday, Philadelphia Phillies manager Joe Girardi asked umpires to check Washington Nationals starter Max Scherzer for sticky substances. The Phillies suspected that Scherzer — who was touching his sweaty hair often, as he traditionally does — was doing something that could be looked into.

“It was suspicious for me,” Girardi said.

Which was bothersome to Scherzer. By the third check, in fact, he had enough, tossing his glove and hat to the ground, unbuckling his belt, and saying “I got nothing” repeatedly.

“I understand the incident in Philadelphia was less than ideal, but that was one incident,” Manfred said. “And we expect that we will continue, as the vast majority of cases so far, without that kind of incident.”

Girardi knew the constant checking would take a toll on Scherzer, an all-star caliber pitcher. Hopefully, that kind of gamesmanship will always be a part of the game.

The “spitball” used to be legal in the major leagues until 1920 when the league made changes to the ball that allowed Babe Ruth to start slugging it out of the park. No one cared about pitchers anymore. Everything was about hitting the ball as far as possible. That’s what brought fans to the park and that’s what the owners wanted.

Pitchers fought back by developing new pitches — the slider, the cutter, the splitter, the knuckler — and once again, pitching dominated. It’s been an endless back-and-forth between pitchers and hitters — lowering the mound, employing maple bats, hardening the ball — that appears to have rested in favor of the hitters for now.

But don’t worry. Pitchers will find a way to regain the upper hand. They always do.