BOSTON – “If you aren’t cheating, you aren’t trying.”
It’s one of the oldest sayings in baseball. It also has become part of the conversation surrounding Clay Buchholz, who started Monday night’s game against the Twins.
Last week in Toronto, Buchholz was dominating. He shut out the Blue Jays over seven innings, giving up just two hits while striking out eight. He was so good, in fact, that a couple of Toronto broadcasters thought he was cheating.
“I saw Clay Buchholz going to his forearm, where there was not skin-colored something there, taking two fingers, wiping it across, massaging said cream or Stickum or slickum or whatever the popular buzzword of today is, and then using it to grip the baseball,” said former big-league pitcher Dirk Hayhurst on his Toronto radio show. “That’s illegal. You can’t do that.”
Jack Morris, winner of 254 games as a major league pitcher, agreed with Hayhurst during a Blue Jays broadcast in Canada.
It was the first brouhaha of the season in a controversy-free season for the Red Sox. John Farrell has guided the team into the win column and out of the headlines since it broke camp at the end of March.
He has helped craft a clubhouse atmosphere that stresses harmony and a commitment to the team.
That’s why last week’s sudden discussion about an undefeated starting pitcher potentially using a foreign substance to create an unfair advantage was so jarring.
“It bothers me immensely when someone is going to make an accusation, in this case of cheating, because they’ve seen something on TV,” said Farrell.
“He’s got rosin on his arm. Rosin was designed to get a grip. He’s got it on his arm. I’ve seen some people that have brought photographs to me. They’re false. The fact is that the guy is 6-0. He’s pitched his tail off. People are going to point to cheating? Unfounded.”
All along, Buchholz has said he taps rosin, a legal substance used by pitchers to help them grip the ball, on his non-pitching arm before innings. He will touch that area to increase his grip, but wipes the throwing hand off before a pitch.
It’s also important to note that the only complaints in Toronto came from the broadcast booth, not from any uniformed personnel on the field.
While Hayhurst and Morris may have questioned the integrity of Buchholz, they may have inadvertently helped the righty become even more effective.
As if it wasn’t enough to try to hit against a guy throwing four pitches effectively right now, they also have to consider the possibility he is throwing a doctored ball.
There was increased scrutiny as Buchholz took the mound last night. It’s something he’ll be facing for a while to come now. His numbers through his first six starts of the season seemed almost too good to be true. Now, some former pitchers think they are.
Yet big-league hitters who faced notorious spit-ball artists like Gaylord Perry tell you a spitter is pitch that “falls off the table” with the bottom falling out on it. It doesn’t dart inward or outward with velocity the way Buchholz’s fastballs move.
So it would seem that the debate over Buchholz is just hot air. And, if he keeps pitching this way, he’ll keep hearing talk of how unfair it is to try to hit a baseball thrown by him.
Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.