It’d been a quiet month or so since the last real controversy to spring from baseball’s new ball-doctoring protocols. Pitchers seem by and large to respect that the umpires doing the gunk-checking are not responsible for the rule that requires the gunk-checks, and more to the point seem to have either dropped their gunk-regimens or to have found even more creative ways of hiding them. Apart from Sonny Gray doing the butt scoot across the mound dirt to rid his pants of a smear of mystery slime, the whole big gunk-panic has mostly receded into the background of a fairly normal baseball season.
This blessed time of gunk-peace was shattered Wednesday evening, by incidents in Chicago and Phoenix. White Sox starter Lance Lynn, who in his age-34 season has produced a career-best 2.26 earned run average and kicked major ass as the rock of Tony La Russa’s rotation, took a particularly hasty route off the diamond following a speedy fourth inning of work against the Oakland Athletics, beating third-base umpire and designated gunk-checker Nic Lentz to the dugout by several steps. Rather than pause and wait for Lentz, Lynn dropped his glove and cap on the dugout railing and stomped down below. When Lentz reminded Lynn that he’d also need to have his belt checked, Lynn yanked it off and rudely hurled it at the umpire. Not cool!
The belt had barely touched the ground before Lentz had ejected Lynn from the game. Lynn was pissed, and he and La Russa came back onto the field to complain, but ultimately you are not going to win many arguments that start with you throwing accessories at someone. ESPN says that after the game La Russa at least acknowledged “that a player can’t throw equipment—or in this case a belt—at the umpires,” but Lynn was firm that the person at fault in this exchange was Lentz, for “being late” to the gunk-check.
Meanwhile, in Phoenix, Diamondbacks righty Caleb Smith, finishing up a tough year for one of the worst teams in baseball, was gunk-checked in the middle of the eighth following two-plus innings of non-catastrophic relief work. This was Smith’s second gunk-check of the night—he was frisked and found clean in the sixth after entering the game for a pair of outs—but this time umpire Phil Cuzzi noted some suspicious-looking spots on Smith’s glove and called over his fellow umpires for a closer inspection. Umpires determined that the sudden appearance of the spots in the eighth was enough to earn Smith an ejection for foreign substances. Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo, who said he trusts Smith when he says “there was nothing malicious happening” with the glove, confirmed that the offending item, which was confiscated by umpires, would be sent to New York for further inspection.
If Major League Baseball determines Smith’s glove was slicked up with ball-doctoring goop he could face a 10-game suspension, which will matter not at all for the miserable waiting-room-ass Diamondbacks. If MLB determines that, uhh, throwing things at an umpire who has been assigned the unfortunate task of checking a pitcher’s clothing for slime deserves worse than an early trip to the showers, Lynn too could be suspended. If you’re going to be suspended for something that happens during a gunk-check, you might as well load up with a little gunk! Get your money’s worth.