'Awkward': Cubs question ‘spectacle' of MLB crackdown


Scuffing and loading baseballs is a practice almost as old as some Chicago baseball writers — along with the perp walks from the field after getting caught.

It’s that last part that seems to be on the minds of some Cubs pitchers as they prepare for Monday’s debut of baseball’s sticky-stuff crackdown — and what exactly enforcement by the umpires will look like.

Perp walks with no perps?

“It can be a little awkward, because everyone is watching you,” said rookie Adbert Alzolay, who returns from the injured list to start Monday. “Everyone is seeing you getting inspected right away after you throw an inning right there. But we will see how it goes.”

MLB says starting pitchers will be checked at least twice per start, with relievers checked at the end of each outing — except for the ninth inning, when they will be examined upon entering the game.

The Cubs held a team meeting Tuesday in New York, when the memo went out to all the teams, and several pitchers and team officials discussed then their thoughts on the impact of the crackdown — on the game’s excessive spin rate, pitchers’ command and potential injury as guys make adjustments.

The Cubs didn’t get as worked up about that part of it as some White Sox pitchers did.

Hottovy said it’s how the checks will be conducted that sparked the most curiosity among his group.

“I still don’t know exactly how they’re going to do the closers,” said Hottovy, who wonders if the pre-inning check can “mess with” a closer who’s coming in hot after warming up and “mentally prepared to take over a one-run game, and now they’re going to stop you and check you and all that process.

“It’s just going to be awkward,” Hottovy said. “It’s going to take time.”

What does Kimbrel think?

“Nine days,” the closer said with a smile before Sunday’s game.

Kimbrel, who later moved into a ninth-place tie on the all-time saves list with No. 368 in Sunday’s 2-0 victory, said five days earlier he might talk about the sticky-stuff crackdown once some of it has played out in a couple of weeks.

“I’ve walked them through the steps they’ll go through as they come off the field and what that looks like,” manager David Ross said of the checkpoint process. “It’ll be an adjustment for everyone, right? Like any new rule or any new thing that you put in play on the field during a game, it definitely will be probably a little awkward [initially].”

Beyond who’s using “Spider Tack” and other sticky stuff to enhance pitching performance and who’s not, the possibility of the mere process of a crackdown could get in some pitchers’ heads, Ross said earlier in the week.

“The psychology of players in general — not just pitchers — we’re routine oriented,” he said. “Any slight adjustments to our routines as players could definitely have an effect on their performance, no doubt.”

At least it figures to be intriguing, if not fascinating, to watch the machinations of the policy in game.

How will the check of a pitcher coming out of a game look when it’s a reliever who’s just been roughed up without getting an out? Or a pitcher at the end of, say, the sixth inning who doesn’t know he’s done for the day? And what about a starter who might duck into the clubhouse in the fifth when he’s been unexpectedly replaced by a pinch-hitter because of the game situation? Will he have to come back to the field just to be checked? (With a new hat? Jersey? Or in a T-shirt and shower shoes?)

“It’s going to be interesting,” Hottovy said.

“Hopefully, we can see some other teams first, and see what the checks look like,” Tuesday’s starter Kyle Hendricks said of the two games on Monday’s schedule that start before the Cubs’ 7:05 p.m. game.

“We’re all curious to see what that’s all about.”

Which brings it all back to what Hottovy called the “spectacle” of “pat downs” in front of capacity crowds and TV audiences.

It’s one thing to look back at the history of guys like Seattle’s Rick Honeycutt with the tack taped under his glove in 1980 or Minnesota’s Joe Niekro tossing the emery board from his back pocket to unsuccessfully hide it from umps seven years later.

They were actually doing something nefarious.

The mere suggestion of impropriety because of what’s noticed from the press box or caught on TV cameras made “stories” for several days out of a pine-tar-looking substance on Kenny Rogers’ hand during his World Series victory in 2006 and, yes, of Kimbrel’s smudged cap three weeks ago when he chatted with ump Joe West on the way to the bullpen ahead of a save.

Perp walks with no perps?

“Nine days,” Kimbrel said.

“We don’t really know where it’s going to be or how,” Hottovy said. “Some umpires might grab them right by the mound. Some might do it over there [in foul territory].

“It’s just going to be unique.”

In fact, it might be more unique to watch than a disruption for most pitchers, say Alzolay and Hendricks.

“‘Maybe a specific guy here or there,” Hendricks said. “But there could be anything that happens in the middle of a game, and you have to deal with it. This is just added to the list. It’s another thing that we’ll just make part of our routine almost.”

Said Hottovy: “We’re ready. Whatever they want to do.”

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