Max Scherzer suspended 10 games by MLB after ejection over stickiness

Max Scherzer swore on his children's lives that he wasn't using an illegal substance, but that apparently wasn't good enough for MLB.

The league announced Thursday that the New York Mets ace will indeed receive an automatic 10-game suspension, as well as an undisclosed fine, after getting ejected over his use of a substance that an umpire deemed to be illegal in a game Wednesday against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

While Scherzer was initially reported to be appealing the suspension, he told reporters later Thursday that he was dropping the appeal after learning that it wouldn't be heard by a neutral arbitrator. He began his suspension with that day's game against the San Francisco Giants and will be eligible to return May 1 against the Atlanta Braves.

Scherzer joins Hector Santiago and Caleb Smith as the only pitchers to receive 10-game suspensions since MLB instituted its crackdown on illegal substances.

The ejection, which occurred before the fourth inning, was preceded by umpire Phil Cuzzi determining that Scherzer's hand was "slightly sticky." Scherzer offered to wash the hand and was checked again before the third inning, when Cuzzi said his glove was still too sticky. Scherzer then changed gloves but was ejected after he came out for the fourth inning and the umpires again found his hand to be sticky.

Scherzer vociferously denied using any illegal substance to umpires and to reporters after the game. The veteran repeatedly yelled that he had been using only rosin, the MLB-approved and standardized substance that pitchers are allowed to use to improve their grip. However, when mixed with sweat or sunscreen, rosin is known to become unusually tacky.

Crew chief Dan Bellino disputed the notion that it was only rosin with a pool reporter, saying that Scherzer's hand "was so sticky that when we touched his hand, our fingers were sticking to his hand."

New York Mets starting pitcher Max Scherzer (21) has hit glove inspected by umpire Phil Cuzzi, left, and umpire Dan Bellino during the third inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Los Angeles, Wednesday, April 19, 2023. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)
Max Scherzer will be suspended 10 games. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

Scherzer didn't need a non-rosin substance to break the rules

Even if you take Scherzer at his word that he was using only rosin — and for his children's sake, we will — that doesn't mean he was operating entirely above board.

The MLB rulebook states that applying rosin to your glove is illegal:

Rule 6.02(d) Comment: If at any time the ball hits the rosin bag it is in play. In the case of rain or wet field, the umpire may instruct the pitcher to carry the rosin bag in his hip pocket. A pitcher may use the rosin bag for the purpose of applying rosin to his bare hand or hands. Neither the pitcher nor any other player shall dust the ball with the rosin bag; neither shall the pitcher nor any other player be permitted to apply rosin from the bag to his glove or dust any part of his uniform with the rosin bag.

Further, the league sent a memo to teams on March 16 warning about such rosin use:

“Please keep in mind that player use of rosin always must be consistent with the requirements and expectations of the Official Baseball Rules. When used excessively or otherwise misapplied (i.e., to gloves or other parts of the uniform), rosin may be determined by the umpires to be a prohibited foreign substance, the use of which may subject a player to ejection and discipline. See OBR 3.01 and OBR 6.02(d). Moreover, players may not intentionally combine rosin with other substances (e.g., sunscreen) to create additional tackiness.”

That likely left Scherzer without many options to defend himself, as using rosin alone doesn't mean a player didn't break the rules. Scherzer's fastballs also had a somewhat higher spin rate in the second inning, when his hand was found to be "slightly sticky."

That's not to say Scherzer is the only one at fault here, as enforcement of the illegal substance rules has been lacking in consistency since the league's crackdown began.