By the time the umpires approached Max Scherzer for the third time within the first four inning Tuesday night, the Washington Nationals starter was visibly frustrated. He dropped his hat and glove to the ground, then began to unbuckle his belt.
He stopped short of pulling down his pants. But Athletics reliever Sergio Romo later that night didn’t, dropping his pants and showing the umpire — and everyone else — his underwear on the field. Those reactions likely weren’t how MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred wanted foreign substance enforcement to go.
All things considered, though, Manfred told The Athletic he’s pleased with how the first week of foreign substance checks have gone, despite the well-documented cases of Scherzer and Romo. During the vast majority of checks umpires have done over the first week of enhanced foreign substance enforcement, the pitchers have largely been cooperative. None have been caught with a substance, either.
“My view is the first two days have gone very well,” Manfred told The Athletic. “We’ve had no ejections [for foreign substances], players in general have been extremely cooperative, the inspections have taken place quickly and between innings. Frankly, the data suggests that we are making progress with respect to the issues [in spin rate] that caused us to undertake the effort in the first place.
“I understand the incident in Philadelphia was less than ideal, but that was one incident. And we expect that we will continue, as the vast majority of cases so far, without that kind of incident.”
After Tuesday’s game, Scherzer put pressure on Manfred to find a solution. Manager Dave Martinez said Wednesday morning that he would like to see umpire-only checks, meaning a situation in which Phillies manager Joe Girardi requests a check of Scherzer doesn’t occur moving forward.
Scherzer said a possible solution could be using the monitors that watch teams in the clubhouse and dugout to ensure coronavirus protocols are followed. Those monitors could check pitchers between innings in the dugout, avoiding further pants-dropping incidents on the diamond.
“I don’t like to put my feet in the sand. We are two days in. I just don’t have enough information to tell you that it’s ironclad or that it’s going to change,” Manfred said. “… I think it’s too soon to offer you any judgment on what’s going to happen.”
Manfred did respond to Scherzer’s comment that the crackdown on foreign substances were “Manfred rules.” Manfred clarified that he didn’t make the changes without input.
“First of all, it would be incorrect, blatantly incorrect, to assume that the players and the union did not a) provide input into what we are doing and b) have additional opportunities to provide input that they did not take advantage of,” Manfred said. “The transparency that I owe is to the players. We were really transparent from the beginning of the year that this was an issue of concern to us and that things needed to change.
“That’s why we were collecting information,” Manfred continued. “We were clear in the March memo we sent out if things didn’t change there was going to be discipline. We, around the owners meetings there was a ton of publicity around the fact that things had not changed. In fact, they had gotten worse. I just don’t see any secret about where this was headed, and I know for a fact there was plenty of opportunity for input in the process.”