Boston Red Sox right-hander Clay Buchholz, the American League Pitcher of the Month for April, has been accused of doctoring baseballs during his victory over the Toronto Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre on Wednesday night.
Buchholz tossed seven scoreless innings in the series opener and limited the Jays to two hits as Boston won convincingly, 10-1. He improved to 6-0 on the season with a 1.01 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 47 SO. With this latest dominant performance, the 28-year-old was looking like an early favorite for the 2013 AL Cy Young Award.
But now, Buchholz and Red Sox personnel have some explaining to do.
Former major league pitcher Dirk Hayhurst called attention to a suspicious substance on the pitcher's left forearm. Hayhurst happens to be a broadcaster for Sportsnet, the Canadian sports channel that carries the Blue Jays games. He compares Buchholz to Eddie Harris, the notorious cheater from the 1989 movie Major League:
Forget the hair, I just saw video of Buchholz loading the ball with some Eddie Harris worthy slick'em painted up his left forearm. Wow.— Dirk Hayhurst (@TheGarfoose) May 2, 2013
*Warning: This video contains adult language.
The following day, Boston manager John Farrell explained to reporters—including Alex Speier of WEEI.com—that his pitcher had made legal use of the rosin bag that lies behind the mound.
"Rosin was designed to get a grip," Farrell said. "[Buchholz's] got it on his arm."
Buchholz shared his side of the story with MassLive.com's Evan Drellich. He spoke generally about why he uses rosin and others substances, and reiterated that he wasn't manipulating balls with anything "foreign":
Put rosin on my arm throughout the game. Sweat, water, whatever...Sometimes I put a little thing of water on my hip just to get moisture on your hands. Cause sometimes the balls that they throw to you feel like cue balls off a pool table. Got to find a way to get grip. But yeah, I mean, definitely no foreign objects or substances on my arm.
Well, the Toronto media wasn't buying that. Sportsnet's Shi Davidi writes that the scoreboard crew at the Rogers Centre uncovered additional video that revealed "a creamy white substance on his left forearm, which he would run through with his index and middle fingers."
Hayhurst tweeted this Sportsnet screenshot prior to Thursday's series finale:
Could be rosin, could be something else. Looked awfully fishy, is all.twitter.com/TheGarfoose/st…— Dirk Hayhurst (@TheGarfoose) May 2, 2013
Then the big guns got involved.
Longtime MLB starter and former World Series hero Jack Morris is also a Blue Jays broadcaster. According to ESPNBoston.com, he believes Buchholz was throwing spitballs. Even though Buchholz's substance of choice was all over his body, Morris says, this generation of baseball professionals can't recognize it:
Funny thing, the way the game is played today. In our generation, every player, every coach would have seen it, the umpire would have gone out and made him change, made him stop and that changes everything. Or else they throw him out of the game. So what kind of bugs all of us is nothing is done here.
Dennis Eckersley, a first-ballot Hall of Famer and analyst for the New England Sports Network (NESN), didn't take kindly to that.
He began an on-air rant, WEEI.com reports, by pointing out that the key to Buchholz's success is pinpoint location—"the guy paints"—rather than dramatic, unpredictable movement associated with the spitball. “When you throw a spitball," Eckersley continued, "the ball falls off the table, and you know it right away. The hitters didn’t complain."
But next, the legendary closer went way out of bounds, belittling Hayhurst by calling him "a career minor leaguer" and dismissing Morris' opinion because, "He hasn't even made the Hall of Fame yet!"
After 24 hours of back-and-forth, this whole thing truly went national: the juggernauts at ESPN weighed in. Anticlimactically, studio analysts/former superstars Barry Larkin and Curt Schilling dismissed the notion that Buchholz knowingly cheated.
Update: Saturday, May 4 at 7:39 a.m. ET
Orel Hershiser, the 1988 NL Cy Young Award winner, is the latest retired player to come to Buchholz's defense.
He made an appearance on The Herd with Colin Cowherd and reminisced about using a similar tactic. Hershiser often wet his hair between innings because the moisture would "activate the rosin" and help him get a better grip.
"It's not illegal, it's not even close to illegal," he insisted.
--------End of Update-------
Their assurances have not discouraged Hayhurst. In a column on Sportsnet.ca, he reiterated that "close-up video" confirmed his suspicions. He concludes by leaning on his baseball experience.
"I was around long enough to know I needed an edge," Hayhurst writes, "and subsequently learn how to spot others who are finding one."
Let's see if the Minnesota Twins have any complaints when they oppose Buchholz on Monday night at Fenway Park.