It started last week when Dirk Hayhurst—ex-pitcher, sometimes author and current broadcast analyst for the Toronto Blue Jays—unleashed some damning suspicions on Twitter about Boston pitcher Clay Buchholz, who’s currently setting the American League afire with a 6-0 record and 1.01 ERA:
Forget the hair, I just saw video of Buchholz loading the ball with some Eddie Harris worthy slick’em painted up his left forearm. Wow.
It continued when Hayhurst’s colleague, ex-Tigers great and current Blue Jays broadcaster Jack Morris, piled on, telling ESPN Boston that “it was all over his forearm, all over the lower part of his T-shirt, it’s all in his hair,” while in the next breath stipulating that he has no actual proof of impropriety.
It really picked up steam when the video crew at the Rogers’ Centre unleashed some video from Wednesday’s Jays-Sox game, in which the right-hander allowed only two hits to Toronto over seven shutout innings, of Buchholz’s left (non-throwing) arm, glistening with what appears to be something other than sweat. (Hayhurst went on to say that it might be sunscreen mixed with rosin. The Jays’ crew added some talk about Red Sox reliever Junichi Tazawa possibly doing something similar.)
To be expected, Buchholz subsequently denied everything (“Definitely no foreign substances on my arm,” he told MassLive.com), as did Red Sox catcher David Ross (“I know when a pitcher is messing with the ball, he said. “He’s not putting anything on it”).
People came out for Buchholz. Dennis Eckersley told Morris to “zip it,” and Jerry Remy defended him on the air. Cliff Lee discussed his own innocent accumulation of sweat and rosin. Tim Hudson had some fun with the situation.
People came out against Buchholz. Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci discussed details about what he feels is a fishy situation, and ESPN’s David Schoenfield compared the break on Buchholz’s pitches to those on offerings nearly 30 years ago from notorious ball scuffer Mike Scott. (He also quoted from The Baseball Codes, so credit to him on that one.)
What does it all mean? Nothing, almost literally. The Blue Jays haven’t accused Buchholz of impropriety. Neither has any other team. Umpires have yet to check him. The accusations are based on TV footage that can be realistically explained any number of ways.
It appears to be a Kenny Rogers–Tony La Russa-type situation. When the Fox TV crew spotted Rogers with an unusual brown spot on his palm during his start in the 2006 World Series, it became national fodder—especially when video evidence showed the same brown spot during his previous postseason appearances. Instead of having the umpires check Rogers, however (knowing that if they found a foreign substance, he’d be ejected and likely suspended), Cardinals manager La Russa merely asked them to make sure he washed his hands. From The Baseball Codes:
In the face of this World Series controversy, the Gambler did the only thing he could reasonably do—he cleaned his hand and continued to pitch well. Fifteen postseason shutout innings with an obvious foreign substance were followed by seven shutout innings without it. Alleged pine tar or no alleged pine tar, the Cardinals, who scratched out only two hits against Rogers in eight innings, fared no better than the Yankees or the A’s had in earlier rounds.
The primary question was, why did La Russa not come down harder? A variety of theories surfaced, one of which gained particular traction: Pitchers cheat in Major League Baseball. Not all of them, but enough to touch every clubhouse in some way. La Russa’s own pitcher, Julian Tavarez, had been busted for using pine tar only two seasons earlier, and suspended for 10 days. La Russa called it “an example of bullshit baseball.”
La Russa, the theory held, had kept quiet because he was reluctant to travel this particular road on behalf of his own pitchers, who would undoubtedly come under increased scrutiny. No less an authority than Buchholz accuser Jack Morris weighed in, telling the Detroit Free Press that “Tony’s been through a lot himself, so I don’t think he wanted to push that envelope.” (An entire chapter was devoted to this particular situation in The Baseball Codes.)
So even if the Blue Jays did recognize something askew about Buchholz on the mound, they may well have opted (and continue to opt) to keep it to themselves. This could be equally true for every other team in the league, regarding every other pitcher in the league. Rare is the guy like Davey Johnson, who just doesn’t give a crap.
Chances are that Buchholz will dial back whatever it is he’s doing (even if it’s legal, he’ll likely strive to make it less suspicious), and that the entire situation will blow over within the week, assuming he does not get uncharacteristically blown out of his next start.
Which is as it should be. Most folks around the big leagues view cheating as largely acceptable, so long as the cheaters knock it off (at least for a while) once they’re caught. Buchholz’s arm butter, legal or otherwise, is no exception.