I think it’s pretty safe to say Hector Santiago was not the whale that MLB may have envisioned snaring when it decided to step up its enforcement of foreign substances on baseballs.
Nor is his suspension Tuesday the “aha!” moment that finally brings into light the nefarious web of deceit that major-league pitchers have supposedly been weaving for the past several years.
More than anything, it seems to be nothing more than the combination of a well-meaning pitcher who ignored the fine print in the directives sent out by MLB and a league determined to adhere to the letter of the law to make a point.
Whether or not this will serve as a cautionary tale for other pitchers determined to keep using sticky substances in order to rev up their spin rates — which is believed to be a major contributing factor to the alarming and steady decline in offensive production leaguewide — is highly debatable.
We’re not talking about Trevor Bauer or Gerrit Cole, two pitchers at the forefront of the spin-rate revolution. If you want to call Santiago a scapegoat or someone used by MLB as an example to scare others, that seems reasonable. But it’s also reasonable to point out that he brought this upon himself by not following the rules laid out by MLB.
Santiago is the very definition of a journeyman, a pitcher who had a good run with the Angels in the mid-2010s, even making an All-Star team. But since then, he has gone from the Angels to the Twins to the White Sox to the Mets, then back to the White Sox before signing with the Tigers and finally, very late this spring, the Mariners.
Santiago, who didn’t pitch at all in 2020, was so desperate for a job this year that he sent an amusing letter to all 30 teams in which he said: “Need a guy to abuse to save the rest of the bullpen, that’s been my career! Let’s do it. I’m all in. It’s all me. I’ll throw 162 games. I’ll throw live BP for hitters before games and be ready for the game the same night. Trust me, you can’t throw me too much.”
The Mariners were intrigued enough to take a chance on him, and when the 33-year-old was called up from Tacoma in late May, he explained his determination to Seattle Times reporter Ryan Divish.
“You definitely don’t want somebody to rip the jersey off your back,” he said.
Now, MLB is metaphorically doing just that with the 10-game suspension handed down Tuesday, two days after Santiago was ejected from Sunday’s game in Chicago following an inspection of his glove by umpires.
It’s a double whammy for the Mariners, who not only lose an effective pitcher out of their bullpen (in nine appearances, Santiago has a 2.65 ERA with 23 strikeouts in 17 innings), but they won’t be able to replace him on the roster.
Santiago has appealed, but it doesn’t seem likely he’ll win. Because MLB has him by the fine print. Specifically, the June 15 memo sent to all clubs informing them of their increased enforcement of the foreign substance rules.
It comes down to this: Amid all the talk about the scourge of such gripping agents as Spider Tack, Tyrus Sticky Grip, Firm Grip spray and Pelican Grip Dip stick that pitchers have been using to enhance their spin rate, rosin is indeed a legal substance for pitchers. But rosin in the glove? Not legal.
The June 15 memo stated: “Although pitchers may continue to use the rosin bag as contemplated by the rules, Official Baseball Rule 6.02(d) prohibits players from applying rosin from the bag to their gloves. To assist in managing sweat, pitchers may apply rosin to their pitching hand, pitching wrist and pitching forearm.’’
Santiago acknowledged using rosin on his glove hand, which ended up in his glove, stating after the game that he didn’t know that was prohibited. But as is the case in legal matters, ignorance of the rules has been deemed to not to be a valid excuse.
Santiago’s glove was confiscated and sent to MLB’s offices for examination. In handing down the suspension, MLB is citing Rule 6.02(d)(5), which says that umpires are the “sole judge” of whether “any portion” of the foreign substances rule has been violated.
At this point, our only knowledge of what substance Santiago used comes from his own admission of applying rosin to his glove to give him a better grip on a hot day in Chicago. MLB has not examined his glove, and it is unclear if it will, because the presence of rosin in the glove alone is enough to get Santiago suspended.
If we learned one lesson from the steroids era, it’s that there is no standard profile of a player who cheats to get an advantage. The juicers ranged from the most talented of superstars to fringe players desperate for an edge that would keep them in the majors.
But at the risk of naiveté, Santiago seems to be the victim of the MLB being a stickler for the rules at a time when it’s trying desperately to make a point. His spin rate on Saturday wasn’t much different than it had been in appearances prior to the MLB crackdown, or after it. It’s hard to imagine any pitcher being brazen enough to intentionally flaunt the rules when they know full well inspections are coming. And Mariners manager Scott Servais said Santiago has been at the forefront of getting Seattle pitchers to adhere to the new enforcement of rules.
“He’s been a huge proponent, as far as taking on a leadership role in our clubhouse about this particular topic, and the fact that we need to stick to the rosin, yada yada yada, do the right thing,’’ Servais said in his pregame Zoom session Tuesday from Buffalo, New York. “We are doing the right thing, we’re following the rule, and then lo and behold, something like this happens.”
It would be easier to work up indignation on Santiago’s behalf if it weren’t for that pesky memo. It would also be easier to staunchly defend MLB if not for the clumsy, ham-handed way they’ve handled the whole issue of foreign agents on the ball.
Yes, Santiago got caught. But unless they take his glove to the lab and produce evidence of one of the more hard-core gripping agents, it appears they got him on a technicality.