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We Can Make Gunk Inspections Even Weirder. We Must.

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 22: Pitcher Max Scherzer #31 of the Washington Nationals takes off his belt after throwing his cap and glove down as umpires ask to search him for sticky substances during the fourth inning of a game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on June 22, 2021 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
Rich Schultz/Getty Images

As Comrade Thompson so eloquently explained here in his latest, baseball has discovered how to merge its most serious competitive crisis with a Buster Keaton stunt, and has taken sports to the place it has been most reluctant to go: trou drops. By the weekend, we are looking forward to our first full wedding-tackle-out moment because once you’ve seen Sergio Romo drop his pants to half-mast in a five-run game against the Rangers, the joke’s been done and someone has to take the next step. To break the theater’s fifth wall, as it were.

Now don’t get us wrong. We love the new sticky-stuff rule and its deliciously ribald ramifications, especially the part where umpires are apologizing to players for doing their jobs instead of acting like mall cops. Unless we are well off base, pitcher searches can redefine baseball games as a new alternative for date night, and all those Little League teams that get free tickets for that Tuesday night Rockies game will learn a skill more valuable than covering first on a double play. Imagine all the highlights of players running to take the throw while tripping over their belt.

I mean, Shohei Ohtani hitting home runs while throwing a 97-mph slider simultaneously can only do so much for the sport.

But since baseball is more likely to junk the rule (pun way intended) than modify it to avoid a lawsuit with the urologist/proctologist lobby, let us consider what baseball can do to avoid being the most perfect game.

1. Reciprocity: My original thought here was to eject any manager who demands a search and finds nothing, but that’s no good. Managers have been stripped of almost all their prerogatives by the malignant office-manager class of GM, so screwing with other teams is the only madcap alternative they have since they’re not getting to manage their own. So what about failed challenges resulting in the ejecting of the other team’s pitcher as an alternative? Sure, this can quickly be turned into a tactic for the J.T. Brubakers of the world to be exchanged cheerfully for the Jacob deGroms, but the next part of the rule is that a challenged manager can then have the opponent’s best player ejected out of mere petty vengeance. This can be continued ad infinitum until the game becomes chess for psychopaths and Camden Yards looks like Antietam. Now who doesn’t want that?

2. Statistics: If we’re going to get to unit-measuring contests, let’s get measuring for real. Surely the analytics experts can contrive metrics for this as-yet-underexamined part of baseball, and develop theories upon which the general managers can make even dafter player judgments than the ones they already use. They made spin rates a thing, so there’s nothing preventing them from finding the market inefficiencies here. Besides, who doesn’t want to imagine a scout watching a junior college game in a lab coat and stethoscope with a medical person applying the turn-your-head-and-cough test? I mean, you have to commit to the bit (pun intended again) if you want to find a Fourth True Outcome.

3. Equipment: If this has veered into the unnecessarily graphic, we could bring out a tent to make the inspections more modest, the way they do at horse-track euthanizations. Baseball needs all the income it can get, and teams could sell ads for outdoor supply companies. There is also the added benefit of the umpire waving a green or red flag with either a thumbs-up or middle-finger-up logo on the flag to indicate the absence or presence of an illegal substance, thus melding baseball with NASCAR, two circles that have never before created a worthwhile Venn diagram. Again, since they can’t fix the game they’ve got, they had better be willing to steal from other sports.

4. Imagination: Doesn’t your mind desperately want to go to a vision of the Tigers hammering the Twins and Detroit manager A.J. Hinch wants Willians Astudillo checked because the spin rate on his 43-mph eephus looks suspiciously high? Let us answer that for you to save time. Yes. Yes you very much do.

5. Long-term planning: If the hilarity of the strip-search era works, and trust us, it has already been a spectacular surrealist triumph, it may hasten the day when the owners realize they didn’t need a lawyer like Rob Manfred as commissioner, they need a comedian. Say, like Bill Burr (likes sports), Doug Stanhope (likes football more, but will do in a pinch), Marc Maron (hates sports) or Kathleen Madigan (who actually bets hockey). If you’re going to do comedy, go to a professional.

Besides, the NBA replay system is already examining the outer boundaries of administrative farce, so baseball’s window to get this right—or, if you must, wronger—is at a premium. Fortunately, the game’s big thinkers already maintained their unnecessary reduction of doubleheaders by 22 percent, so they understand the concept of being in a hurry while sucking at it. But now that they’ve found something to spice up the game’s natural plod, they need to make it bigger and better and if necessary bawdier. The future of the game depends on it. In other words, go nakey or go home. 

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