Mets Ace Gets 10-Game Ban for Sticky Substance on Hand
Another unwanted, extended rest is coming for Max Scherzer, the Mets’ ace right-hander: He has been suspended for 10 games by Major League Baseball for violating prohibitions on foreign substances.
Scherzer, who was ejected from the Mets’ game against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday in the fourth inning, also was fined an undisclosed amount. The punishment was announced early Thursday evening before the Mets opened their four-game weekend series in San Francisco against the Giants.
Scherzer had planned to appeal the suspension, according to his agent, Scott Boras, but then he told reporters before Thursday’s game that he would instead accept the ban.
According to a person familiar with the proceedings, who spoke on condition of anonymity, Scherzer filed the appeal but agreed to drop it once M.L.B. agreed to reduce the fine.
The shocking chain of events started when Scherzer went through a routine check as he exited the field following the second inning at Dodger Stadium. Two umpires, Dan Bellino, who was the crew chief and working home plate, and Phil Cuzzi, stationed at first base, told him that his pitching hand was too sticky and that he needed to wash it off.
Scherzer did, and said he did so in front of an unnamed league official. But when he came back to start the third inning, the umpires said his pitching hand was clean but they discovered a sticky substance in the pocket of his glove. At that point, they told him to go and get a new glove, which he used as he set down the side in order.
But when he came out to pitch the fourth inning, the umpires checked him again and said his pitching hand was even stickier than it had been in the second. That time, they ejected him.
Under league rules, a 10-game suspension is automatic for pitchers ejected for violating the rules against foreign substances. So Wednesday’s action by the league was routine and expected.
M.L.B. tightened its rules on the “sticky stuff” during a crackdown in June 2021, issuing stringent guidelines after pitchers were discovered to be liberally using substances such as Spider Tack, a sticky paste marketed toward competitive strongmen, in an effort to increase the spin rate — and, thus, the movement — of their pitches.
The crackdown disallowed all substances other than the league-issued rosin, and M.L.B. at the same time charged umpires with checking pitchers exiting the mound during games to ensure that they were following the rules.
Scherzer passionately defended himself following Wednesday’s ejection, saying that he was using only the league-issued rosin and that everything he did — washing his hand with alcohol, reapplying league-issued rosin and mixing it with sweat — was done under the auspices of the M.L.B. official.
But the umpires said that Scherzer’s hand was extraordinarily sticky, far more so than any other pitcher they’ve checked, and that rosin bags have been standardized to avoid disparities.
“When we check these pitchers’ hands, we know what the rosin bag typically feels like on a pitcher’s hand, because everyone’s using the same rosin bag,” Bellino told a pool reporter following Wednesday’s game. He added: “The fact that this went so much further was indicative that there was something likely more than just rosin.”
As a result of the suspension, the Mets, already missing three of their projected starters, will lose a fourth for two turns through the rotation. And Scherzer, who is earning $43.3 million in salary this year, stands to lose roughly $2.67 million in salary, plus a fine. He will also get a permanent mark on a résumé that likely has him on track for a place in the Hall of Fame after he is retired.
Before Scherzer said he would accept the suspension, Boras said that M.L.B. must determine an objective, rather than a subjective, method to determine how much tack a pitcher can use.
“No one can explain what is too sticky,” Boras said via text Thursday after the suspension was issued. “There are no units of stickiness to quantify. How do you appropriately enforce. MLB attempts to level the playing field by using standards that are not measurable.”
He added, referencing Cuzzi’s previous ejections of players in similar circumstances: “Further one umpire has a stickiness standard that is different than all other umpires. In the past 3 years no other umpire (over 95) has attempted to apply this standard.”
At the end of his text, Boras summed things up, saying, “This reminds me of local wine taster… he likes what likes.”