If Clay Buchholz was caught applying a foreign substance to his hands tonight, he could (and should) be ejected on the spot — according to the rules of baseball under 8.02.
But it’s highly unlikely he’ll be caught.
“Because he’s not doing anything wrong!” screams his legion of faithful supporters.
Yeah, sure he isn’t.
More likely it's because all the rules on ball doctoring are subject to the umpire's interpretation and discretion, which, in turn, is subject to the present atmosphere regarding what cheating actually is around the game. And what cheating actually is, as sparked by my accusations, has proven to be a very grey area in baseball.
If a manager feels a pitcher is loading the ball, he can appeal to the umpire. The umpire can eject the pitcher if he finds evidence of ball doctoring. Or, if the umpire feels the player is not purposefully trying to doctor the ball, he can elect to warn the player that his actions could be seen as doctoring and advise him to cease.
If the player continues, the umpire can take further action.
Most managers never make that appeal, even when they think the gain is worth the blowback.
Most umpires never make that warning. Fewer still will eject a player over an 8.02 violation.
Why, you ask?
It is my belief that it is because these little white cheats are so prevalent -- to call out one violator is to call out all of them, lest there be any perceived bias.
Consider this part of Rule 8.02:
The pitcher shall not -
(a) (1) While in the 18-foot circle surrounding the pitcher's plate, touch the ball after touching his mouth or lips, or touch his mouth or lips while he is in contact with the pitcher's plate. The pitcher must clearly wipe the fingers of his pitching hand dry before touching the ball or the pitcher's plate. EXCEPTION: Provided it is agreed to by both managers, the umpire prior to the start of a game played in cold weather, may permit the pitcher to blow on his hand.
I've taken the lineup card out to the plate a few times in my day, and I've never heard anyone hold a summit about mouth touch legality.
Yet, pitchers go to their mouth. Chronically. And that cursory pat to the side of your wet pants is not wiping your hands dry by any stretch.
They also go to their wet hair, sweaty brow and wet pants. Then they rub the ball. In fact, it's so common it's not even a talking point anymore though it's clearly against the rules.
According to the rules, it's a no-no to:
(2) (apply) expectorate on the ball, either hand or his glove;
(3) rub the ball on his glove, person or clothing;
(4) apply a foreign substance of any kind to the ball;
(5) deface the ball in any manner; or
(6) deliver a ball altered in a manner prescribed by Rule 8.02(a)(2) through (5) or what is called the "shine" ball, "spit" ball, "mud" ball or "emery" ball. The pitcher is allowed to rub the ball between his bare hands.
I hate to be a literalist, but the rules of baseball do state what you're allowed and not allowed to do, so I would have to assume that anything not allowed by the rules is therefore breaking them, unless all teams are in agreement.
That's why I say some pitchers are ball doctoring, even though the world screams they are not.
In the case of Cliff Lee, who I admire and respect, he is breaking the rules. He dusts parts of his uniform with rosin. You can clearly see it on his uniform.
Great pitcher. Great man. Rule breaker. But just one of many. In fact, I started putting rosin on my own hat at one point because I saw him do it!
No one said a word to me.
Here is the rule:
Rule 8.02(a) Comment: If at any time the ball hits the rosin bag it is in play. In the case of rain or wet field, the umpire may instruct the pitcher to carry the rosin bag in his hip pocket. A pitcher may use the rosin bag for the purpose of applying rosin to his bare hand or hands. Neither the pitcher nor any other player shall dust the ball with the rosin bag; neither shall the pitcher nor any other player be permitted to apply rosin from the bag to his glove or dust any part of his uniform with the rosin bag.
You can put rosin on your bare hands. Not your hat, or your forearms, or mix it with sunscreen, or wet hair, or gel, or pine tar, or whatever else a crafty pitcher has at his disposal-all of which are technically foreign substances, technically overlooked… (well, most of the time. Joel Peralta, anyone?).
Even David Ortiz, courtesy of Evan Drellich over at MassLive.com, had this to say when told of the allegations against Buchholz:
"Who cares?" Ortiz said Thursday night. "Everybody puts (stuff) on the ball everywhere in the (expletive) league. You think I care when a guy is throwing like this? I don't care. That's a sorry-ass excuse."
I hear ya, Big Papi, it is a sorry-ass excuse, which is probably why most managers don't pull it out. And probably why it looks so bad that I pulled it out on Buchholz as a broadcaster for a team that, despite a massive hype campaign, is all kinds of suck.
But at least you and I can agree that Buchholz was still loading the ball.
That doesn't take anything away from Buchholz , mind you. He's simply working inside the parameters that baseball has, through its silence on the subject, set up. He's not doing anything any other player wouldn't do -- which is to say, cheat.
Whether that's a problem or not is not for me to decide. It's for the league. But it seems to me that if you're going to go to all the trouble of creating rules, you might as well enforce them. Otherwise, change them. If you don't, the game will just keep rolling along making hypocrites of us all.