Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Will Smith is the latest pitcher to be ejected for having a foreign substance on his body during a game.
The incident came in the seventh inning with the Brewers trailing the Atlanta Braves 2-1. Smith had faced one batter and Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez came out and asked the umpires to check Smith.
The umpires met, checked Smith’s arm, and then quickly and nonchalantly ejected him from the game.
Smith admitted after the game to having the substance, in this case a mixture of sunscreen and rosin, while warming up in the bullpen and said he forgot to wipe it off before entering the game.
“It was chilly and kind of windy,” Smith told the media (via the AP). “I had rosin and sunscreen on my arm. I just forgot to wipe it off before I went out and pitched. I had to kind of get ready in a hurry. I just forgot. That’s it.”
Gonzalez didn’t buy that argument, noting that he didn’t ask the umpires to check Smith until he was seen touching that area of his arm with his pitching hand in between pitches.
Smith was livid as he left the field, presumably because he got caught doing something that lots of pitchers do.
“It’s very common,” said Brewers manager Craig Counsell. “It goes on on the other side, I guarantee you. It’s the rule. I think pitchers are using it but I guess you’ve got to be discreet about it.”
And that was Smith’s problem. His use of the foreign substance was anything but discreet as it was easily visible on television.
This was reminiscent of Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda who was ejected for having an obvious glob of pine tar on his neck during a game last season.
Pineda was ejected and was later suspended 10 games.
This latest incident once again has the baseball world up in arms. Some people feel one pitcher is being singled out for something a lot of pitchers do, and many others don’t care and even encourage the practice. In other words, using something to get a better grip is something many feel should be legal.
The argument for not caring, and the growing movement to make it legal, is based on three points:
- Pine tar and the sunscreen/rosin mix are just used to get a better grip on the baseball, something some batters appreciate as it means pitches will be less wild and less likely to hit them.
- Pine tar and the sunscreen/rosin mix presumably do not alter the behavior of the ball the way Vaseline (i.e. spitballs) does.
- Everybody is doing it.
Even Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman came to Smith’s defense saying after the game, “Every pitcher does it so they’ll have a better grip so we won’t get hit in the head.”
The problem is point No. 3 above. It’s almost certainly not true that every pitcher is doing it, which means as long as it is illegal, some pitchers are indeed gaining an advantage by having a better grip than those who choose to follow the rules.
After Pineda was ejected last year, ESPN’s Buster Olney argued that MLB needs to approve a substance that pitchers can use to get a better grip on what is a slippery ball.
“It’s time for [MLB] to identify a substance they will approve for pitcher so that they can improve their grip on the baseball,” Olney argued. “Something that can be for them what pine tar is to hitters.”
This does seem to be the growing sentiment in baseball. But until that happens, pitchers are at risk of getting caught, getting ejected, and being suspended. No matter how many other pitchers are doing it, that hurts your team.