The New York Yankees have won both games so far in their contentious road series in Toronto, though starting pitcher Domingo German may have given the Blue Jays at least some vindication that the visitors are playing outside the lines.
Just one night after Aaron Judge’s side-eyed glance heard around the baseball world, Yankees starter German was tossed from Tuesday night’s game at Rogers Centre as umpires checked his hands before the bottom of the fourth.
“The instant I looked at his hand, it was extremely shiny and extremely sticky,” crew chief James Hoye said after the Yankees beat Toronto 6-3 on Tuesday night. “It’s the stickiest hand I’ve ever felt.”
German denied Hoye’s accusation, saying through a translator it was just a mix of sweat and the mound’s rosin bag.
Pitchers have tried to gain an edge on batters as long as there’s been baseball. In relatively modern times, Don Sutton, Gaylord Perry and Joe Niekro used saliva, Vaseline and scraps of sandpaper or emery board to gain an edge.
After years of turning a blind eye to pitchers enhancing their grip, Major League Baseball vowed in 2021 to begin cracking down, as grip aids ranging from a tacky mix of rosin and sunscreen to heavy duty concoctions designed for use in strongman competitions became too much to bear.
While there’s probably a reasonable debate to be had over whether enforcement has been vigorous enough — German was allowed to wipe rosin off his hands during an April 16 start against Minnesota — he isn’t the first to be caught.
Seattle’s Hector Santiago and Arizona’s Caleb Smith were suspended in 2021 after violations of the foreign substance rules, and New York Mets star Max Scherzer just came back this month from suspension for a similar infraction stemming from an April game.
German is likely facing a 10-game suspension and the Yankees would go down one roster spot for that duration.
TV crew playing detective?
Sutton once took umbrage in 1988 after learning a Mets broadcast crew had its cameras unusually focused on his hands between pitches.
“Apparently, people only watch the game to watch umpires umpire and TV play Columbo,” said Sutton. “Either that, or they have idiots upstairs running that TV crew.”
Which brings us to the Judge judgments, which were given fuel by Sportsnet broadcasters Dan Shulman and Buck Martinez, who found the right-handed hitter’s extra-long look to his right, before smashing a home run, rather curious.
Judge explained that he was trying to non-verbally signal to his teammates in the dugout to end their chirping over the still-fresh ejection of Yankees manager Aaron Boone for arguing balls and strikes.
Jays manager John Schneider didn’t seem to buy Judge’s explanation.
“It’s a really accomplished hitter who won the MVP last year. I know that he means nothing but business and wants to win. I just found it a little funny that he was worrying about his dugout while he was in the batter’s box,” said Schneider.
Yankees supporters online were armed with angry rebuttals of their own. Why would last year’s most valuable player, already with a home run to his name on Monday night, overtly cheat with a 6-0 lead, they asked.
Jays pitcher Jay Jackson was offering Judge a steady diet of sliders, they reasoned, making the Yankees slugger’s challenge less like a final Jeopardy! question and more like a Wheel of Fortune clue with only two letters unturned.
Sign-stealing is kind of legal
Perhaps lost in the wake of some high-profile recent baseball cheating incidents involving technology is the fact that those wearing the uniforms on the field are allowed to use their wiles in order to to get a bead on upcoming pitches and the fielding and hitting tendencies of their opponents.
To combat signs being stolen, teams often change their signals when an opposing runner reaches second base. Signs can change from batter to batter and even pitch to pitch. Some say legendary flamethrower Randy Johnson held his glove slightly differently, depending on whether he was throwing a fastball or slider — not that it helped most batters.
“I’ve been in the game for 40 years; I’ve known of it for 40 years, sign-stealing itself,” then-Red Sox general manager Dave Dombrowski said in 2017. “I’ve known of people that I talk to that played back in the ’50s that talked to me about sign-stealing, so I do think sign-stealing has been taking place for a long time.”
Dombrowski’s comments came after the Red Sox admitted to the league that they used an Apple Watch to relay signals from opposing catchers to their own players.
Using computers, cameras and electronics are not allowed.
The Houston Astros, most infamously, incurred a number of infractions, which led to firings, after malfeasance was discovered during the 2017 and 2018 seasons, which included a World Series campaign.
An MLB investigation found the Astros used a video feed from a camera placed in centre field to crib the opposing catcher’s signs. Players banged on a trash can to signal to batters what kind of pitch was coming.
Back to the Blue Jays, pitcher Jackson admitted to the Athletic on Tuesday night that he was “kind of tipping the pitch” the previous night.
“It was [less] my grip when I was coming behind my ear. It was the time it was taking me from my set position, from my glove coming from my head to my hip. On fastballs, I was kind of doing it quicker than on sliders. They were kind of picking up on it,” Jackson told the outlet.
The Jays were upset that the Yankees first- and third-base coaches were straying from their assigned boundaries — the implication being they couldn’t have spotted the Jackson tendency otherwise.
“There’s boxes on the field for a reason,” said Schneider. “When it’s a glaring 30 feet where you’re not in that spot, you kind of put two and two together a little bit.”
Nothing beyond a verbal warning is likely for the Yankees in that regard.
So is it case closed, controversy over? That remains to be seen, with the Yankees on Wednesday night starting ace Gerrit Cole, who has been accused of turning to grey-area advantages over batters in the past.