Brewers pitcher Will Smith's suspension puts baseball's unwritten rules in a sticky situation

NEW YORK – Major league pitchers have been allowed to use rosin since 1925, the year that masking tape was invented, and 10 years before the first night game. It was baseball’s traditions of glacial change and adherence to an unwritten rulebook, mixed with technological advances in sticky substances and stadium lighting, that conspired to get Brewers pitcher Will Smith ejected from Thursday night’s game in Atlanta.Smith was officially tossed for having a foreign substance on his arm, sunscreen mixed with rosin. Unofficially, Smith’s ejection and resulting eight-game suspension was for being sloppy about a widely-accepted – actually, more than that, condoned by many hitters – form of cheating. MORE SPECTOR: Ranking each team's last decade of Drafts |   Marlins are out of their mindThe actual rules? Hardly anyone gives a rip about those.. “Just keep it the way it’s at,” Yankees catcher Brian McCann said Friday, before forming a battery with Michael Pineda, who got a 10-game suspension last year for a conspicuous blob of pine tar on his neck. “You don’t really have a problem. You just can’t make it obvious. That’s the only thing. You want the pitcher to have a grip on the baseball. No hitter is gonna deny that. I like it where it’s at right now, to be honest with you.”If it is accepted that many pitchers are going to go beyond the rosin bag to get a better grip on the ball, why not change the rules, put some sunscreen and

pine tar on the mound, then have pitchers use what they need to use, out in the open? That would draw a clear line between rule-bending and rule-breaking, while acknowledging that science has improved the commercially available range of sticky goo in the last 90 years.“Yeah,” said New York left-hander CC Sabathia. “Here’s what you can use, and if we catch you with anything else, it’s the same rules, you know?”It makes sense. Smith’s excuse was that he put the sunscreen on his wrist while in the bullpen, then forgot to wipe it off. It was a night game, so he was not concerned with damaging UV rays. It was the quality of 21st century light bulbs that resulted in his embarrassing moment.“It’s pretty blatant, really,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said, as reported by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel . “It’s glistening through the lights. You could see it in the dugout.”Even though Smith was in “blatant” violation of the rules, Gonzalez did not have the umpires check the southpaw until he touched the sticky stuff on his wrist. It was a fascinating study in when cheating is thought to be so far over the line that it cannot be ignored.“With Big Mike last year, it was pretty obvious, so the opposing manager felt like it was something he wanted to bring to the umpires’ attention, and I’m sure that’s exactly what happened yesterday,” said Yankees left fielder Brett Gardner. “I don’t think those are the only two guys doing it, but those guys weren’t smart with how they concealed it. … Those guys are trying to get a better grip on the ball because they’re trying to make better pitches. That makes it a little harder for us, but at the same time, they have a little more control. There’s less chance of pitches getting away and hitting you in the head and having a dangerous situation. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the system in place. I think the guys that have gotten caught out and gotten suspended should have done a better job of hiding it.”So, why not go with the idea that Sabathia endorsed, to make a minor tweak to the system, just allowing one or two more kinds of sticky stuff in order to more closely regulate it? After all, like Gardner said, it’s a safety issue.“I don’t think there’s a safety concern about it,” said Rangers infielder Adam Rosales. “I don’t think that’s a factor. … For them to get a better grip, I don’t agree with that. It’s just the way the game is. They’ll do anything they can to get an advantage, just like any other baseball player.”That was the response that Yankees pitcher Adam Warren expected. The right-hander, who said he has never experimented with pine tar because his own sweat mixed with rosin generally is enough to get a good grip, sees more of a problem with the condition of the baseballs themselves.“Some people would think that’s trying to give the pitcher another advantage, and everybody’s trying to take away advantages that pitchers have already,” Warren said. “There’s some nights where the balls get really slick, whether it’s the way they’re rubbed up or if it’s the weather that night. There’s a lot of factors that the ball could feel so much different, one night to the next. There’s got to be some kind of consistency with the way the ball feels. One night, you can have a good grip on the ball, and the next night, you don’t.”Some pitchers can find that consistency by legal means. Others go beyond the rules but nobody cares unless it’s too obvious. Rosales might not want pitchers to have the advantage of a better grip, but if they’re going to find a way to get that advantage anyway, why not make the adjustment to the written rules, and do away with a murky chapter of the unwritten book?“I got nothing for that,” McCann said. “I don’t have an opinion on it either way. I don’t know. Sorry.”

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