Yahoo! Sports baseball writer Jeff Passan thinks he’s gotten to the bottom of what, exactly that shiny substance was that Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz was going to his non-throwing arm for against the Blue Jays last week. Sunscreen. BullFrog sunscreen, to be precise.
According to Passan’s sources, around 90 percent of pitchers in Major League Baseball are using a combination of sunscreen and rosin to allow them to get a better grip of the baseball. Apparently when the two substances are mixed, it creates a tacky, glue-like substance that one of Passan’s sources said was sticky enough it “could be used as foundation for houses.”
We’ve heard several analysts and journalists try to make the case that using a foreign substance should not be considered cheating so long as it is only being used to improve grip, and not to give a pitch more movement or action.
Seeds All Day could not disagree with that position more.
MLB Rule 8.02(a)(4) clearly states that “A pitcher shall not – apply a foreign substance of any kind to the ball.” Furthermore, Rule 8.02(a)(6) prohibits a pitcher from delivering a ball to the plate that has been altered in any way, including the way proscribed in Rule 8.02(a)(4). Buchholz, and any pitcher applying the sunscreen and rosin compound in order to better the grip of the baseball, are violating both rules. (You can access a downloadable copy of the official MLB rules here, if interested).
When it comes to sports, what is the definition of cheating? We believe it can be summed up as knowingly doing something that is in violation of the rules of play with the intent to get a competitive advantage.
A pitcher’s use of an unapproved foreign substance to better his grip falls well within that definition. All major league players know and understand that applying a foreign substance to the baseball violates the rules of the game. And the goal of improving grip is to get a competitive advantage.
Better grip equals better control. Better control increases the ability to locate pitches and create movement. Using a foreign substance to accomplish that savages the spirit of the game.
Look, we are not naive. We realize that this kind of cat-and-mouse, catch-me-if-you-can thing has been going on since the game of baseball was created. For eons, pitchers have teammates scuff the baseball for them, have hidden pine tar in their gloves and Vaseline in their hair. That doesn’t make it legal.
If Passan’s 90-percent statistic is accurate, fans should be even more outraged at the Buchholz controversy, for his brazenness if nothing else.
If it was sunscreen that Buchholz was using, he certainly wasn’t subtle about it. The sheen can clearly be seen on one arm, but not the other. And he was pitching in an environment that didn’t exactly require any SPF. The game was played at night in the closed dome of the Rogers Center in Toronto. There were zero ultraviolet rays against which the Boston starter might need protection.
Buchholz and the Red Sox continue to deny that a substance other than rosin has been used. Possibly realizing the folly of admitting to sunscreen use for a night game inside a domed ballpark, Buchholz told WEEI.com that Passan’s theory was wrong, and that all he used was rosin on that day in Toronto.
“I’ve used it in the past, but that wasn’t on my arm at any time this season,’’ Buchholz said. “Day games, you put sunscreen on. That’s what you do. You put sunscreen on.”
But he didn’t stop there. He went on to complain about slick baseballs in a statement seemingly hoping to justify the exact thing that he continues to deny doing – using a foreign substance on the baseball.
“If nobody has ever touched a Major League Baseball, most of the time it’s really slick for the simple fact they rub it with that mud, and when it sits in a bag all it feels is like a ball of dust,’’ Buchholz said. “If it’s going to your mouth and wiping it off to get a grip on the ball, or going to your arm because you have rosin on your arm, or put the rosin on your arm, that’s what it’s meant for.’’
Buchholz could have quashed this whole controversy from the start if he hadn’t been so elusive with his answers since the issue arose. The right hander told Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe that the topic has gotten old and he’s no longer going to talk about it anymore.
That means all we will have to judge him on going forward are his performances, antics and appearances.
In his first start since the controversy began, Buchholz looked more hittable than he has all season against the Twins on Monday. He gave up four earned runs on seven hits through six innings, getting a no decision in a game eventually won by the Red Sox in extra innings.
Buchholz’s next start will be Saturday, when he faces the Blue Jays – the team against whom this whole cheating controversy first erupted.