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The Gunk Inspectors Have Nabbed Ronel Blanco And Seized His Glove

Ronel Blanco #56 is walked off the field by Joe Espada #19 of the Houston Astros after being ejected in the fourth inning against the Oakland Athletics.
Logan Riely/Getty Images

Baseball's sticky-stuff epidemic of 2021 feels distant enough in the past that an ejection for foreign substances is a nostalgic treat. Time runs long—as far as I can recall, Phil Cuzzi may as well have ejected Max Scherzer for sticky stuff back in the 1830s.

But Tuesday night, it was Laz Díaz's crew who ejected Ronel Blanco for illegal substances. Blanco, who at age 30 has been a welcome surprise for the underperforming Houston Astros, was pitching against the Oakland Athletics when in the third inning, first base umpire Erich Bacchus conducted a routine check of the right-hander's glove for sticky stuff. After feeling what Bacchus described as "the stickiest stuff I've felt on a glove," he conferred with the other umpires and ejected Blanco. Per MLB policy, he faces an automatic 10-game suspension. Because the team at hand is the Houston Astros, everyone is being extremely normal about this.

Neither Blanco nor Astros manager Joe Espada denied the presence of something sticky inside the glove, although Blanco pleaded his case after the game by saying that he had used rosin—an allowable substance provided on the pitcher's mound—to control sweat without realizing that applying it to his non-pitching arm was illegal. Due to the sweat on his arm, he said, the substance ran down into his glove. Seeing as Bacchus had already checked Blanco after the first inning for substances and found nothing, Blanco's sweaty explanation is believable, and that's without factoring in the notion that a pitcher doesn't need foreign substances to beat the A's. (The Astros won, 2-1.) Still, under the current rules, it would be an open-and-shut case for an ejection, even if Blanco hadn't used any foreign substances at all.

In true MLB fashion, the enforcement policy since 2021 has been ragtag and ever-shifting, which has led to more speculation and less defined investigation. After the initial crackdown, there was a dramatic fall in average spin rate across the league, but as the season progressed, spin rates slowly ticked up again as pitchers adjusted, however they may have chosen to do so. In 2022, MLB launched a more detailed search process that did away with the necessity of having a pitcher drop trou during inspections. As gunk ejections began to pile up, the league issued clarifications about the where (not on your pitching arm) and how much (just, uh, don't use too much?) of rosin application.

The gunk inspection system relies on the rigorous judgment of the umpires, who surely undergo some exercise in order to determine the norms of what is considered to be "too sticky." In Blanco's case, Bacchus did confer with Díaz's entire crew before making the call; the Associated Press report said that Bacchus "ran off the field with [Blanco's glove] and took it somewhere before returning," not unlike a dog with a random stick it found in the park. Díaz clarified that Bacchus had not buried it in some unspecified corner of the clubhouse, but instead shipped it off to the commissioner's office to determine the substance.

"We don't determine that," Díaz said, via the AP. "We just felt it was sticky, sticky enough that our fingers got stuck. So now it's all up to the office on what it was and all that." Presumably Rob Manfred is putting on his lab coat and personal protective equipment to run chemical tests as we speak.

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