Circumstantial evidence damning for Lester

In a turn of events that evoked memories of Game 2 of the 2006 World Series against the Detroit Tigers, Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester was spotted last night with a foreign substance on his glove. The substance in question was first eyeballed by Cardinals’ minor league pitcher Tyler Melling who tweeted about it. He has since spoken with the organization and deleted the tweet.

Since then, the only defenses that have been mounted for Lester are the statement by Major League Baseball and that Melling, a High A ball pitcher who is coming off a bad year, is a horrible player and isn’t worth listening to. Classic ad hominem.

Speaking of that statement, one prominent Boston writer proclaimed that Major League Baseball “refuted” Melling’s claims this morning. That’s definitely a lie. What the MLB said was that they couldn’t draw conclusions from video tape and that nobody had complained about it to the umpires during the game. That’s not refutation, that’s lack of investigation.

But is there more to this story? It seems so.

Over at El Maquino this morning, Aaron went back and looked at video of Lester’s previous starts this season. What he discovered is that the foreign substance was present in every single one of Lester’s playoff starts. Starting at the beginning of the season, he first found evidence of it during a May 15th start against the Tampa Bay Rays.

That got me thinking. The combination of the Rays playing in a dome and foreign substances got me thinking about to a discussion Dirk Hayhurst had about the latest trick for pitchers to gain grip on a baseball. An article by Jeff Passan at Yahoo Sports discussed the trick in depth after Lester’s teammate Clay Buchholtz was accused of using it during a game against the Toronto Blue Jays. Buchholtz’s use of sunscreen prompted some questions, seeing as Toronto plays in a dome.

As it turns out, the combination of sunscreen and resin make a pretty tacky substance.

The trick is that spray on sunscreen, most commonly BullFrog, is totally legal and will remain to be. So is rosin, which is supplied in a bag behind the pitcher’s mound. the combination provides the pritcher with some tack on his fingers which allows him to get a better grip on the baseball. More grip equals more spin. More spin equals more movement. More movement equals a ball that is much harder to hit well. It’s simple physics.

After I tweeted the link to Passan’s article this morning, one of my friends who is a hardcore Rays fan mentioned that he spotted a can of BullFrog in the Boston dugout during their AL Divisional Series matchup in Tampa. Tropicana Field, where the Rays play, is a dome. Why would they need sunscreen there? Hmm.

Beyond the allegations of cheating, this really exposes two things to the outside world. Baseball’s cold war mentality and a lack of principle by fans.

Tricks like this for a pitcher are pretty safe to use to improve their performance because teams won’t call them out on it unless it is particularly egregious. Most pitchers have their own trick to increase grip. Probably even Cardinals pitchers. Julian Tavares, who pitched for St. Louis in 2004 and 2005 (and then with Boston), was known to use a foreign substance. And I doubt Steve Kline really kept his hat dirty because he liked it that way.

The cold war mentality is that “if you don’t call out our guys, we won’t call out your guys.” The problem only becomes apparent when the unwritten rules of the game become exposed to the outside world.

And of course, rather than deal with the evidence in front of them, Boston writers would much rather attack Cardinals’ pitchers without even circumstantial evidence. Stay classy, Boston.

This situation also exposes an interesting hypocrisy in baseball’s fanbase. Most fans dismiss the concept of a pitcher using a foreign substance because “everyone does it.” Many sports writers have already begun camping out on this defense. But it’s interesting how that doesn’t apply to PED users.

These same writers rail against PED users and refuse to vote for them for the Hall of Fame, but are totally okay with pitchers using illegal methods to provide extra grip on the baseball.

During the steroid era, everyone was doing it. We’ve seen estimates as high as 75% of players using some form of steroids. But it was still illegal and we crucify the most visible users.

I guess not everyone had a Dad who taught them that everyone doing it doesn’t make it right.

We can’t go back and change the outcome of Game 1, and I don’t have an interest in it. but it’s fair to say that it might have been a little closer had Lester not had whatever foreign substance it was in his glove. In the end, the Cardinals lost Game 1 on the field, not at the plate.

But hopefully the next time Lester takes the mound in this series, the umpires will take it upon themselves to check and make sure everything is on the up-and-up. If they are as concerned about “getting it right” as they seemed to be on Wednesday when they overturned a bad call at second base after a conference, they should be just as concerned about maintaining a fair and legal playing field.

About Jon Doble

Jon Doble has been writing about the St. Louis Cardinals since 2010. You can follow him on Twitter at @JonDobleRBD. He also runs a Cardinals forum called RedbirdTalk and you can listen to him host UCB Radio every fourth Wednesday night of the month. Redbird Dugout is a member of the United Cardinal Bloggers.
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