How not to strip the naughty sauce

Max Scherzer

Max the Knife wasn’t quite ready to perform a full strip tease over his third stop-and-frisk Tuesday night . . . but but perhaps some pitcher will, soon.

Long before she surrendered the newspaper columnist’s life for life as a novelist and eventual periodic Newsweek columnist, Anna Quindlen observed cheekily (in her early New York Times column, “Life in the 30s”) that basketball allowed women a sublime extracurricular pleasure. It was the only sport, she wrote, in which women got to watch men run around in their underwear.

Let’s be kind and allow that Quindlen thought boxing was as much of a sport as Charles Manson was a family counselor. But she wrote when the NBA’s uniforms still resembled something as close to men’s underwear as you could get away with in public without filming a comedy movie scene.

That was also then, and this is now. Major League Baseball’s ham-fisted mid-season bent on enforcing foreign-substance rules long on the books and long un-enforced may yet give women another such sublime pleasure. Baseball may yet be the first American sport in which women at the ballpark will get to watch men perform strip teases on or around the pitcher’s mounds.

Don’t be afraid to bet the rent or the mortgage on it. There just might be a pitcher ready to coordinate with the ballpark’s public address people and have David Rose’s ecdysiastical  classic “The Stripper” cued up and ready to go, hard and loud, at the split second he hands his hat to an umpire under orders to stop and frisk for naughty sauce.

It nearly happened at least twice on Tuesday night. First, Nationals ace Max Scherzer finally decided too much was enough with Phillies manager Joe Girardi’s harassment in the fourth inning—and thrust his hat and glove to the ground before yanking his belt open savagely enough that you thought he would drop trou on the spot.

Scherzer didn’t, of course. But Athletics reliever Sergio Romo almost did out in Oakland after finishing the seventh. Romo dropped trou just enough that his almost knee-length uniform jersey still kept his hind quarters covered well and good. He bent forward just so, leaving you the impression Romo was trying to moon the fools who imposed the current crackdown without quite being too cheeky about it.

So neither Max the Knife nor El Machon felt confident enough to perform baseball’s first known on-the-field striptease. Somebody just might, though. It could take long enough for Jacob deGrom to make plans, coordinate, then sail into it to David Rose’s tune at the moment he’s accosted and handed the search warrant.

When deGrom had the dubious honour of being the first under the fresh crackdown (or should that be crackup?) to be stopped and frisked Monday afternoon, he couldn’t stop grinning wide when he wasn’t laughing his head right off his shoulders. Maybe if Scherzer had been the first he’d have thought it was funny, too. Maybe.

But do you think a fellow like deGrom, who’d laugh his way through one of his sport’s most ridiculous over-compensatory gestures, would find it hard to resist a shot at making the Chippendales resemble the Chipmunks in order to send a counter-message to baseball’s garbled and clumsy one?

Commissioner Rob Manfred is a man with a ten-thumbed touch and a pronounced cognitive inability to recognise the true roots of crises that spring from his apparent need to demonstrate that Rube Goldberg should have been a baseball executive.

But even Manfred and his gang couldn’t ignore the ridiculously sublime message sent if and when baseball’s best pitcher decides the way to start putting a stop to this is to channel his inner Gypsy Rose Lee. Could they? They already seem somewhat immune to the concept that there might have been a better way to address the naughty sauce than this.

Resisting Manfred’s Rube Goldberg side to experiment with the baseballs themselves would have kept this issue from getting sticky in the first place. Pitchers normally have enough trouble just keeping their arms, elbows, and shoulders from breaking and tearing, whether they’re throwing speeding bullets, voluptuous breaking balls, or slop.

Not to mention their sides, swinging the bats, in the National League at least, since the designated hitter is not yet permanently universal as it should be.

(Don’t even think about it. Just as Nolan Ryan was an absolute outlier for his 27-season career and insane in the brain work loads—though it’s oft forgotten that Ryan had physical issues very early in his career, including missing all 1967 with one—Jacob deGrom and his .407/.407/.444 slash line as of Wednesday morning is an absolute outlier among this years pitchers hitting a whopping .112/.153/.142 slash line thus far.)

Of course, resisting Manfred’s Goldberg side would also require—what do you know—the immediate disappearance of the three-batter minimum for relief pitchers and the free cookie on second base to begin extra half-innings. Don’t say it as though disappearing them would be terrible things.

What has Manfred thought about his precious pace-of-play improvement campaign now that the mandatory stop-and-frisking for naughty sauce has gone from the ridiculous to the deranged and has probably delayed games by a few more minutes apiece?

What does he think’s going to happen to the pace of play when an indignant pitcher finally gets beyond Max Scherzer’s or Sergio Romo’s kind of annoyance and goes as full Ned Braden as a baseball player can go on grass and dirt?

(Who’s Ned Braden? As played by now-retired actor Michael Ontkean, Braden was the anomalously non-violent minor league hockey player diverting the bloodthirsties’ howling blood lust during an on-ice championship game brawl by performing a gracefully-skated strip tease around the rink—provoking the high school band in the stands to make with “The Stripper” and the ladies in the arena to go bonkers with delight—in the Paul Newman film Slap Shot.)

In absolute fairness, it doesn’t seem as though the umpires are necessarily thrilled about being under orders to stop and frisk for naughty sauce, either. Understandable. They have enough trouble with their current reputations for being only too human, with the almost-pandemic blown calls and enough in their ranks believing fans pay their hard earned dough to come to the park to see them behave as laws unto themselves.

They need to be the Commish’s Elite Guard about as badly as deGrom needs two more miles an hour on his best fastball. No member of the crew working the Yankees-Royals game Tuesday night could have felt thrilled about having to stop and frisk Yankee reliever Jonathan Loaisiga after coming out of an eighth inning in which he was slapped silly for four runs on five hits.

Some of us call that adding insult to injury. Others of us wondered if the umps were trying to tell him that, if he did have a little naughty sauce at hand (or anyplace else on his assorted anatomy), there was no excuse for getting pinata’d like that.

The crew working the Nats-Phillies game that got Scherzer’s underwear in a twist has the likewise dubious honour of having thrown out the first manager because of the naughty sauce crackdown.

Girardi called for the third Scherzer stop-and-frisk, just because a) he could, and b) there’s a too-fine line between real cheating alarm and bad-faith gamesmanship (which the memo says can get a manager suspended, folks), but when he tried goading Scherzer and several hollering Nats coaches into a fight Girardi got sent to bed without his supper for the night.

Clayton Kershaw thinks that’s not enough. “I think there should be a punishment if they don’t catch anything on the guy,” the future Hall of Famer said after he saw Max the Knife get knifed in the fourth. “I think Scherzer, you know, he’s one of the best pitchers of our generation. To see him get checked . . . and mess up his rhythm . . . you better find something if you’re going to call him out like that.”

So who’s it going to be, ladies and gentlemen? Who’s going to be the first pitcher to decide too much is enough and go Ned Braden on or around the mound before Manfred gets the a-ha! and addresses the naughty sauce—and the baseballs themselves—reasonably? Who’s going to be the first likewise indignant umpiring crew to let him?

Maybe make the Girardis strip tease if they’re going to cross the line between reasonable doubt and trying not to pay the rent to live in a pitcher’s head. (Oops. Better be judicious about that, especially if you’ve seen Tony La Russa lately.)

I wonder if someone makes breakaway baseball uniforms. If this keeps up, he or she may soon find themselves making such Mets, Nats, A’s, or other uniforms. Unless entire teams decide to play with nothing on but their briefs, jocks, and socks. Nothing to see there! Move on! David Rose, wherever you are, cue up the band.

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