Couch: Spider Tack Scandal Just MLB's Latest Embarrassment

Here’s a little baseball history: During World War II, when playing against the Navy service team, Joe DiMaggio hit a home run. That’s when the legend began.

No, not DiMaggio’s. He was already a star. But the opposing pitcher threw down his glove and chased after DiMaggio as he circled the bases, mimicking the way he ran. That pitcher, Max Patkin, soon gave up playing and became known for 50 years as the Clown Prince of Baseball, traveling to stadiums, clowning around, copying players, juggling and dropping his or players’ pants.

So baseball finds itself here again, channeling Patkin, to resolve its sticky-substance, cheating-pitchers scandal. Baseball is worried about its integrity, and the solution?

Have pitchers drop their pants on the field. Yes, that makes commissioner Rob Manfred baseball’s new clown prince.

It happened Tuesday, when umpires approached Oakland A’s pitcher Sergio Romo to see if he might have some banned sticky substances somewhere on him. Romo tossed his glove and hat to the field, whipped off his belt and, yes. . .

Dropped his pants to his knees. LOL. Good stuff, baseball.

There is rampant cheating in baseball, where pitchers are putting a glop called Spider Tack on the ball, or a homemade concoction combining rosin and suntan lotion, which gives them a great grip and allows them to get more spin, curve, sink and speed on pitches. Meanwhile, batters are striking out at a record pace, meaning no action, meaning no fun, meaning no fans.

So baseball now is two days into its Spider Tack search-and-seizure plan. I always figured this would involve frisking, but who knew there’d be strip searches?

Earlier in the night Tuesday, Washington Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer undid his belt in anger after Philadelphia manager Joe Girardi asked umpires to check Scherzer for the third time. Scherzer kept touching his hair, after all.

This sport, once again, is embarrassing itself. Baseball is now caught with its pants down, and it’s comical to talk about integrity with your pants at your ankles. (Little known fact: If you squeeze Manfred’s nose, water will shoot out from the flower on his lapel.)

Baseball decided to stop this now. And at first, I wanted to give credit to Manfred. When baseball had its steroid cheating scandal, Bud Selig, commissioner at the time, hid under his desk, pretended there was no problem and did nothing.

Manfred isn’t going to let that happen, choosing instead to humiliate pitchers right there on the field, with the threat of a 10-game suspension for those who are caught.

“I would have to be an absolute fool to actually use something tonight when everybody’s antenna is so high they’d look for anything,” Scherzer said. “I have absolutely zero on me. I have nothing on me. Check whatever you want. I’ll take off all my clothes, if you want to see me.’’

That seems to be the goal. Umpires need to take a stack of $1 bills with them to the games.

Baseball players have always been looking for that little extra edge. Basically, they’ve been cheating for over a hundred years. Pitcher Gaylord Perry got to the Hall of Fame because of his spitball.

And then there are the concoctions and home remedies. Former Chicago Cubs’ outfielder Moises Alou let out one of baseball’s secrets: batters pee on their hands to help them get a better grip on the bat. In fact, batters get to use pine tar, or gloves to improve their grip. That lets them hit the ball much farther, as the bat is solid in their hands.

Why not ban those things?

Current pitchers have just invented a better spitball, and this is just such a bad look. And it’s got the potential to get worse. You tell players that umpires are going to check their hat, glove and belt a few times randomly during games, and you can already guess what’s going to happen:

Players will find another spot to hide the glop, a better spot. I don’t even want to think about it, but if umpires pull out surgical gloves, I’m done watching baseball.

Girardi assumed that Scherzer had something in his hair. But also, I think there was gamesmanship involved, where Girardi was trying to get into Scherzer’s head -- not just his hair -- and anger him and throw off his rhythm by asking to have him strip-searched.

Scherzer was outraged, but his outrage was a little shaky. He complained that he couldn’t hang onto the ball, that he almost hit a batter in the head when the ball slipped out of his hand on a pitch.

Hmm. Doesn’t that suggest Scherzer was, in fact, using stuff until umpires started checking?

Scherzer said he was trying to mix rosin with saliva Tuesday, but that he was so dehydrated that that wasn’t working. Plus, he felt like he was licking a rosin bag. He also was trying to mix sweat and rosin, he said, and the only place he could find sweat was in his hair.

That, he said, is why he kept grabbing his hair.

I’m choosing to believe him. Girardi said it just looked suspicious.

So the umpire baseball cops came up to Scherzer and said something that would’ve made Max Patkin proud: 

Raise your hands and drop `em. 

Written by
Greg earned the 2007 Peter Lisagor Award as the best sports columnist in the Chicagoland area for his work with the Chicago Sun-Times, where he started as a college football writer in 1997 before becoming a general columnist in 2003. He also won a Lisagor in 2016 for his commentary in and The Guardian. Couch penned articles and columns for Report, AOL Fanhouse, and The Sporting News and contributed as a writer and on-air analyst for and Fox Sports 1 TV. In his journalistic roles, Couch has covered the grandest stages of tennis from Wimbledon to the Olympics, among numerous national and international sporting spectacles. He also won first place awards from the U.S. Tennis Writers Association for his event coverage and column writing on the sport in 2010.