Was Lester applying substance to ball?

October, 24, 2013
10/24/13
11:45
AM ET

This could turn into a fun little controversy. Check out Craig Calcaterra's post at Hardball Talk. There appears to be some pretty strong evidence that in Game 1 of the World Series, Red Sox starter Jon Lester was applying something to his fingertips in his victory over the Cardinals, probably to help get a better grip on the ball in the 45-degree weather.

You can see Lester wipe his fingertips inside his glove, where another photo reveals some sort of yellowish-green substance. I mean, it could just be a nervous tic and maybe an optical illusion of some sort. Right. And the Cubs will win the World Series next year.

A couple of tweets from former major league pitchers:

Jon Lester
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesDid Jon Lester have a yellowish-green foreign substance in his glove in Boston's 8-1 win in Game 1?
This isn't the first time this season a Red Sox pitcher has been accused of doing something nefarious to the baseball. Back in May, former All-Star pitcher Jack Morris accused Clay Buchholz of throwing a spitball when he was seen applying his fingertips to a rather sweaty-looking forearm. Buchholz and manager John Farrell denied the allegations. Farrell said it was rosin; Buchholz also claimed it was rosin, or a mixture of rosin, water and sweat.

The night after the Buchholz incident, Morris (a Blue Jays broadcaster) pointed out that Boston relief pitcher Junichi Tazawa was also touching his forearm, similar to what Buchholz was doing. "It looks to me like he’s got a little something on his forearm also," Morris said during the game. "I don't know if that's anything in the slippery point -- it might be some tacky stuff to get a feel, but it's obvious that he has gone to his forearm, too."

Back in May, Buchholz explained, "Put rosin on my arm throughout the game. Sweat, water, whatever. ... Sometimes I put a little thing of water on my hip just to get moisture on your hands. 'Cause sometimes the balls that they throw to you feel like cue balls off a pool table. Got to find a way to get grip. But yeah, I mean, definitely no foreign objects or substances on my arm."

OK, but that definitely wasn't sweat or water in Lester's glove, so it will be interesting to see what he says today when he gets assaulted by the media after arriving at Fenway Park.

Of course, there's also this issue: If Lester was so obvious about this and if such an advantage could be gained, why didn't the Cardinals protest? After all, back in 2007 the rules were changed to enforce tougher punishment on a pitcher caught scuffing or defacing a baseball. That rule change may have come, in part, because then-Tigers pitcher Kenny Rogers got caught doing something in the 2006 World Series. Then-Cardinals manager Tony La Russa did complain -- well, mildly protest -- to the umpires, and Rogers was told to wipe off the brown substance from the palm of his pitching hand.

As Nitkowski suggested, Lester wasn't necessarily doctoring the baseball, let alone scuffing it up, but merely trying to get a better grip. I think the issue is this: It's basically an accepted part of the game -- we won't check your guys if you don't check ours. As Jonah Keri wrote on Grantland last year:

A bigger factor is the reluctance of managers to call out a pitcher. [Tampa Bay Rays pitching coach Jim] Hickey said he's talked more than once with Rays manager Joe Maddon about a pitcher they suspect might be cheating. But if Maddon asks an ump to inspect an opposing pitcher, he's inviting other teams to come back at his guys twice as hard. Even if James Shields or David Price or Matt Moore is found to be clean, getting frisked by an umpire in plain view of an entire stadium could break the pitcher's routine, maybe even leave him rattled. Not only that, "you don't want to be that unsportsmanlike guy who's calling people out," Hickey said.


My guess is nothing much happens and Lester will say it was nothing but a little rosin. Whether this will affect what he puts inside his glove in his next start is the biggest issue here.

Of course, there are two ways to eventually handle this. Give the umpires the directive to start cracking down on foreign substances -- a rule is a rule, after all. That makes sense, especially since the balance of the game is starting to sway in favor of the pitchers. Why give them another advantage?

The other solution: World Series day games. Warmer weather. Less need for pine tar or rosin or green goo. What do you say, MLB?

David Schoenfield | email

SweetSpot blogger

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