Red Sox: Will Middlebrooks pitches great idea to help fix sticky situation
A former Boston Red Sox player chimes in on umpire inspections
Major League Baseball’s plan to crack down on the use of foreign substances isn’t working out as smoothly as they intended. We’re still in the early stages of new guidelines for umpire inspections but the flaws are already apparent as frustration begins to boil from pitchers across the league. Everyone has an opinion on this hot button topic, including former Boston Red Sox infielder Will Middlebrooks.
The conversation erupted Tuesday night when Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer was inspected three times during his start against the Philadelphia Phillies. The right-hander’s annoyance with the routine evolved to rage by the time the umpires approached for their final check, this time in the middle of the fourth inning at the request of Phillies manager Joe Girardi.
A livid Scherzer dropped his hat and glove on the ground rather than hand them over, as if to defiantly send the umpires a message that if they want to check his gear again they can go pick it up themselves. He then started to unbuckle his belt, inviting the umpires to inspect wherever they wanted.
Scherzer was so adamant that he had nothing to hide that we were one more inspection away from Mad Max taking his pants off to prove it. Actually, Oakland A’s reliever Sergio Romo essentially did do that when he became fed up with the process of being searched.
These inspections were implemented to help eliminate the use of foreign substances that can improve the spin rate and movement of the baseball. Many pitchers have complained about the policy, claiming they need something to help them grip the baseball. Scherzer is among the outspoken and was visibly upset the first two times he was searched by the umpires. A third check was really pushing it, especially since it was the opposing manager who instigated it.
Was Girardi’s Spider Tack sense tingling? The Phillies manager can make all the excuses he wants about his concerns that Scherzer was wiping his hands through his sweaty hair. He clearly saw how frustrated Scherzer was by the umpire’s random checks so he interrupted the game in the middle of the inning to call for another inspection in an attempt to rattle Scherzer and throw off his rhythm.
MLB isn’t going to suddenly abandon the new policy but they should consider tinkering with the process. Middlebrooks has an idea that would be a positive step toward a solution and the former Red Sox infielder took to Twitter to share his thoughts.
Managers should have the option to ask umpires to check a pitcher if they have reason to believe they might be utilizing a foreign substance but there has to be some restrictions. Middlebrooks suggests it should cost the manager his challenge for the game if they are wrong, which would dissuade them from utilizing the policy for anything outside of its intended purpose.
Perhaps this type of challenge should be treated separately from others, preserving the ability to challenge a call on replay even if the manager was wrong about calling for an inspection. The point is, if their accusations against a pitcher are proven wrong, managers shouldn’t be allowed to call for another inspection in that game. This would prevent managers from abusing the policy in an attempt to get in a pitcher’s head or disrupt their rhythm. MLB needs to be careful that they aren’t inadvertently arming managers with an unfair way to gain an edge.
While addressing the media following a thrilling extra-innings victory in Tampa Bay, Red Sox manager Alex Cora confirmed the substance checks went smoothly for his team. It’s encouraging that Boston has adapted to the new routine so far but how long will that last? What happens during the next start for Garrett Richards, another pitcher who has been critical of the policy and relies on elite spin rates? It probably won’t go over well in the Red Sox dugout if he gets the same intense treatment that Scherzer was subjected to.
MLB needs to reel this in before things get out of hand. Limiting managers to one inspection challenge would be a good start, at least if their accusation is proven wrong. Umpires would still have the ability to check on their own at any point in the game. While they should be cautious about overusing the policy, umpires need to have the option to check more than once. Otherwise, pitchers could easily start greasing themselves up after passing their inspection. The threat that they could be searched again at any time must exist.
The inspections shouldn’t be allowed in the middle of an inning unless there is a pitching change. For one thing, it slows down the pace of play. It also puts the pitcher in an embarrassing situation where they are caught in the spotlight with television cameras locked in on them while they are being searched. Wait until the game cuts away to a commercial break before discreetly completing the inspection.
We were bound to see some pushback from pitchers who are essentially being accused of cheating whenever they are searched. They will eventually adapt to the policy but MLB needs to do their part to ensure the process is completed fairly. Something needed to be done to clean up the game but it has to be done the right way. Based on what we saw across the league last night, we’re not there yet.