NEW YORK — Pitchers were subjected to on-field examinations on Monday, a week after Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred announced a crackdown on unauthorised grip substances.
How is everything going so far? It all depends on who you ask.
While players across baseball have offered a variety of perspectives – many have been outspoken and demonstrative, both in media appearances and on the field – one man remains unfazed by the fallout and is as determined as he was last week.
That’s the man in charge of everything.
Indeed, in an interview with The Athletic this week, the commissioner expressed satisfaction with early returns… or the lack thereof.
“From my perspective, the first two days went very well,” he told the website on Wednesday. “We haven’t had any ejections [for foreign substances], the players have been extremely cooperative, and the inspections have happened quickly and between innings. To be honest, the data suggests that we are making progress on the issues [in spin rate] that prompted us to undertake the effort in the first place.”
At the same time, Manfred, who is aware of the reaction in both leagues, recognises that there is still work to be done.
On Tuesday, Philadelphia Phillies manager Joe Girardi asked umpires to look for sticky substances on Washington Nationals starter Max Scherzer. The Phillies suspected Scherzer, who was frequently touching his sweaty hair, was doing something that should be investigated.
“It made me suspicious,” Girardi said.
Scherzer was irritated by this. By the third check, he’d had enough, tossing his glove and hat to the ground, unbuckling his belt, and repeatedly saying, “I got nothing.”
“I understand the incident in Philadelphia was less than ideal,” Manfred said. “And we expect to continue, as we have in the vast majority of cases so far, without that kind of incident.”
While players, including Scherzer, have turned their media appearances into rants about the protocols, Manfred remains firm in his stance and insists that communication from the commissioner’s office has been efficient and effective.
“We were very clear from the start of the year that this was a concern for us and that things needed to change,” he said. “That’s why we were gathering data. We made it clear in the March memo that if things didn’t change, there would be consequences. There was a lot of press surrounding the owners’ meetings about how nothing had changed. In fact, they had deteriorated.
“I just don’t see any hidden agenda here, and I know there was plenty of opportunity for input in the process.”
On Wednesday, New York Yankees reliever Zack Britton and Max Scherzer, both members of the players’ association’s executive subcommittee, urged Major League Baseball to replace on-field umpire checks with monitors who would conduct inspections in clubhouses, dugouts, and bullpens.
“If I’m a young kid at a game and I ask my father, ‘Well, hey, what’s going on?’ ‘Why are they being checked?’ What is he going to say? ‘Well, they think everyone is cheating,’ says the narrator “Britton stated this prior to the Yankees’ game against the Kansas City Royals. “I mean, isn’t that what we want the game to be about, assuming you’re cheating? It’s just a bad look in my opinion.”
People around the game are considering the long term, so he is not alone in his thinking. Kansas City manager Mike Matheny warned opponents that acting like Girardi and asking umpires to check Royals pitchers for sticky substances would incite his team.
Manfred is aware of everything and is open to further communication. On Wednesday, when asked about long-term plans, he was confident but guarded.
“I dislike putting my feet in the sand. We’ve been here two days “He stated. “I just don’t have enough information to tell you that it’s unbreakable or that it’ll change.”
Some of that thought process may change as more players speak up.
“I just think the optics are just absolutely embarrassing for our game,” Britton said. “That’s not what I want to wake up and read about our game in the morning.” “… There must be a better way. But it will take more than just me or the other players saying it. It takes talking with MLB, sitting down, and hashing something out to get to the point where we can enforce rules but not in the way that they are currently enforced.”
Of course, there’s a chance that some of the on-field incidents will tarnish baseball’s image, especially with social media being so prevalent. That should be a concern in clubhouses as well as the commissioner’s office.
After pitching the seventh inning on Tuesday, Oakland reliever Sergio Romo was checked by the umpires. The veteran right-hander flung his belt onto the turf and dropped his pants, raising concerns about whether broadcast partners should limit coverage of the checks.
“When we were putting the plan together, we tried to come up with a plan that was… unobtrusive as possible given the practicalities of the game and the need to move the game along,” Manfred explained. “We thought the checks in between innings were a good way to de-escalate things, but maybe isn’t the right word. I don’t think we can tell broadcast partners not to cover something that is happening on the field.”
Some pitchers, such as Yankees ace Gerrit Cole, have been vocal about Manfred’s visibility throughout all of this. After a start last week, Cole pleaded with MLB to talk to him and the other pitchers in the game who have to grip the ball and figure out how to keep up with the system.
The media also has an impact on this. Will Manfred be open and available to discuss these issues as the system evolves?
The requests have been made known to Manfred. And he wants the rest of baseball to know he’s not going anywhere.
“With the exception of last year, I’ve had at least two availabilities every year since I’ve been commissioner,” he said. “I fully expect to resume my regular routine this year.
“I have not been hesitant to speak on this subject. When people call, I answer the phone.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.