I don’t know how many times I watched the clip Tuesday night, but I was practically in tears each time the 16 seconds of madness replayed on my Twitter timeline.
There was Max Scherzer, the future Hall of Famer pitcher for the Nationals, tossing his glove and hat onto the grass, removing his belt in and almost pulling down his pants in complete exasperation at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, earning the ire of the umpires who didn’t appreciate his attitude while they were just trying to do a new requirement of the job. At the behest of Phillies manager Joe Girardi, the umps stopped the game and descended on Scherzer to check and see, for a second time, if Mad Max, a three-time Cy Young Award winner, had any foreign substances on him.
The brilliant and hilarious writers of “Major League”—the best baseball movie of all time—never could’ve dreamed up something so absurd, but welcome to baseball in 2021 where sticky substances have officially replaced steroids as the most rotten S word in the sport’s lexicon. A close second, or third, depending on your personal rankings, would be strikeouts. And because those have skyrocketed to epic levels this season, meaning there’s less action during a baseball game than ever before and they are achingly longer and longer in a world where attention spans are shorter than ever, baseball has a big problem on its hands. Literally.
How should MLB weed out these illegal substances—that help pitchers increase the spin rate of their fastballs and breaking balls to make them incredibly hard to hit—in an orderly and respectful fashion so offenses—that are struggling at an alarming rate—can add a little life to games that are dragging? After a mandate was officially implemented this past Monday, how MLB has addressed it might best be described as ridiculous. But baseball has always excelled at embarrassing itself in ways other leagues marvel at.
While we know baseball isn’t the most popular sport in our neck of the woods, what’s going on with MLB is noteworthy and practically unprecedented. It would be akin to NFL referees checking Tom Brady, and other quarterbacks, for needles every few series if there was a serious ball-deflating scandal. So if you’ve been wondering why pitchers are all of a sudden getting searched TSA style we’ll do our best to make this explainer only slightly less boring than watching two teams combine to strike out 25 times over nine innings.