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Mets’ Max Scherzer accepts illegal substances suspension, though not quietly

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SAN FRANCISCO — Inside the Mets clubhouse, Max Scherzer held a phone in his right hand and paced like a man carrying much more on his mind. Major League Baseball had just announced his 10-game suspension for “violating the prohibitions on foreign substances.” At that point, Scherzer shared only that he planned to appeal the decision, that he “was working on this,” and that he was “talking to MLB.”

Two hours later, Scherzer dropped his appeal. His suspension started Thursday night. With Scherzer suspended, the Mets must play down one player on their roster. He expects to pitch when the Mets host the Braves in a four-game series that starts on April 28 and ends on May 1.

So what happened? Why the abrupt change? Well, think of it this way: Scherzer has won enough times to know when to expect a loss.

“I thought I was gonna get in front of a neutral arbitrator but I wasn’t,” Scherzer said. “It was going to be through MLB. So given that process, I really wasn’t gonna come out on top. I’m gonna follow what the Mets wanted me to do, and that was accept the suspension.”

Max Scherzer said he dropped his appeal and will begin his 10-game suspension tonight. He is eligible to return against the Braves.

— Will Sammon (@WillSammon) April 21, 2023

Pitching against the Braves ends up as a favorable outcome for the Mets compared to what the likely alternative would have been, with Scherzer missing time at some unknown point over the next couple of weeks. The Mets’ rotation features a few key missing pieces; Justin Verlander, Jose Quintana and Carlos Carrasco all remain out with injuries. The situation doesn’t figure to change over the next two weeks. Better to get on with it now, the player and club figured. Because regardless of his choice, major-league sources briefed on the appeal process strongly believed Scherzer would end up suspended, even if he was just using sweat and rosin as he said he was on Wednesday when he got ejected.

To some within the game, Scherzer accepting the suspension should not be considered an admission of guilt of any egregious wrongdoing, but rather an understanding of the odds being stacked against him. Against the league, major league sources said, Scherzer never would have had a chance.

“He’d be dead in the water,” one person said. “Hung out to dry. One hundred percent, he would lose.”

If anything, sources said, MLB can pin the case on the exact language of the rules. One rule says that rosin can be a foreign substance. It reads, “No player shall intentionally discolor or damage the ball by rubbing it with soil, rosin, paraffin, licorice, sand-paper, emery-paper or other foreign substance.” Another rule says that a player cannot apply rosin to their glove. That rule reads, “A pitcher may use the rosin bag for the purpose of applying rosin to his bare hand or hands. Neither the pitcher nor any other player shall dust the ball with the rosin bag; neither shall the pitcher nor any other player be permitted to apply rosin from the bag to his glove or dust any part of his uniform with the rosin bag.” Therefore, MLB could win an appeal based on a glove containing rosin.

In other words, intent does not matter. During a presentation, a player and their representative can show an arbitrator video, spin rates, and the results of a tested glove — and even if all of that indicates no intent of cheating, it probably wouldn’t end up mattering much.

And that’s where Scherzer sees flaws in the whole system.

He referred to accepting the suspension as a “very difficult decision.”

“I hope that we can modify the rule,” said Scherzer, whose spin rates on Wednesday didn’t appear to change from his normal levels. “The intent of this rule was to try to clean up the game, clean up the stuff that was really causing spin rates to spike and all that stuff. I don’t think it was intended to crack down on pitchers that were using legal substances. I used legal substances.

“I wish there was a modification to bring spin rates into play, to be able to let that be the threshold of when the umpire can check. I still don’t understand how I’m deemed cheating or guilty of that without that going on.”

Umpires Dan Bellino and Phil Cuzzi decided that Scherzer’s hand felt stickier than any other hand they had inspected over the last three years since MLB began cracking down more seriously on pitchers using sticky substances. When used excessively or otherwise misapplied, rosin may be determined by the umpires to be a prohibited foreign substance. However, those who expected Scherzer to lose his appeal process said that umpires have been put in a difficult situation of trying to decipher substances. According to the league, based on the umpires’ training to detect rosin on a pitcher’s hands, they concluded the level of stickiness during the fourth-inning check was so extreme that it was inconsistent with the use of rosin and/or sweat alone. Cuzzi said “it really didn’t matter to us what it is,” because of the level of stickiness.

People like Scherzer see too much subjectivity in that.

“When you apply the rosin, there’s not like a test where you can say, ‘Oh, I’m at seven units,’ or, ‘Oh, I’m at 10 units,’” Scherzer said. “You don’t know how exactly it’s gonna get, how sticky it’s gonna get once I hit the sweat. It’s an inexact science. And, so yeah, I mean, obviously Phil deemed I was in too much, but how am I supposed to know? Where’s that line? It’s very subjective when you’re using legal substances. That’s my issue with this. Instead of having the umpires check us left and right, let’s use technology to be able to identify where the actual problems are.”

The bottom line remains though: Scherzer was in violation of the rules.

Teams were warned before the season about rosin usage and how it could be considered a foreign substance if it was misapplied or excessively used. The Athletic’s Jayson Stark first reported that the league issued teams notice. Scherzer said he was aware of the memo.

“Yeah, you’re aware of it, but you’re thinking of using, you know, pine tar and all the other substances; like, that’s how you read it, interpret it,” Scherzer said. “Rosin is different in different environments. What you do in Miami is different than what happens on a cold day in New York, which is different than what happens in a day in LA. It gets sticky in inconsistent ways. I think that’s one of the reasons why MLB is even exploring the sticky ball, to try to even the playing fields between the cities. That’s one of the issues with rosin. I ran into a situation in LA where in the previous start I was in New York, where it was windy and cold. My spin rates were down that start. I get to LA in a day game, you know, hot, sunny, all of a sudden, the rosin is working more and that’s what happened.”

Before the game, Mets manager Buck Showalter was asked, given Scherzer’s accomplished career as a likely Hall of Famer, how he felt about the way the situation may or may not influence how people view his co-ace.

“If you take it at what really happened, it shouldn’t at all,” Showalter said. “He didn’t really do anything that guys don’t do anyway. I can’t say too much. I certainly have some real strong personal feelings about it. But we’ll see how the whole thing shakes out.”

Despite Scherzer’s ejection ahead of the bottom of the fourth inning, the Mets ended up beating the Dodgers on Wednesday. Afterward, players said the situation galvanized them. In the Mets’ clubhouse, other players view Scherzer as a leader.

Francisco Lindor said Thursday, “When stuff like that happens to a teammate of yours that you have a lot of respect for and someone that is loved, yeah, you care for it, you pull for that person, you create a bond and say, ‘Man, let’s gather up around him and show him some love and support.’”

From Scherzer’s view, what he did on Wednesday should be legal. The league essentially said he cheated. Scherzer may not have lost an appeal but his name absorbed a hit. However, he said he expects his reputation to win out.

“I faced the Dodgers, I know those guys. I told them, ‘Hey, this is what I did,’” Scherzer said. “They understood. They know me. I got my reputation in the game. The players understand this. Players understand what I did. They know what I’m about.”

(Top photo of Max Scherzer arguing with umpire Phil Cuzzi: Katelyn Mulcahy / Getty Images)

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Mets’ Max Scherzer accepts illegal substances suspension, though not quietly Reviewed by RP on April 21, 2023 Rating: 5

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