If there’s anyone in baseball who should know pitchers and pitching better than the pitchers and their pitching coaches, it’s the catchers. Fellows like the Phillies’ J.T. Realmuto.
The number one job a catcher has is handling his pitching staff. The pitchers who’ve thrown to Realmuto in eight years major league time have a 4.50 ERA with him behind the plate. That’s 4.16 above the league average over those seasons.
But that was also Realmuto behind the dish Friday night, when Aaron Nola struck ten straight Mets out from the first through the fourth, beginning and ending with Mets outfielder Michael Conforto . . . and tying the record set by the Mets’ late Hall of Famer Tom Seaver.
(How Phillies was this—their man breaks a record like that and they still lose the game? That Philadelphia wedding changed from “You may now boo the bride” to the couple reciting their wedding vows—and the minister handing them their divorce decree.)
So presume that Realmuto might be a little better and smarter than his pitchers’ overall ERA indicates. Could also depend on the pitchers, too. Nola’s an established ace, even if he’s not in the deGrom/Scherzer/Kershaw society.
Thus you might listen when Realmuto—who was rather outspoken before baseball’s government decided to enforce a foreign substances law it hadn’t enforced in a couple of generations—admits he can’t figure out what commissioner Rob Manfred was or wasn’t thinking when he decided it was time to stop, frisk, and dock almost midway through the working season.
“The biggest deal was to get guys to stop using the stuff that increased their spin rate the most,” Realmuto told The Athletic‘s Matt Gelb. “Guys have been using sunscreen and rosin forever. Now they’re not letting you do anything. So I really think the best thing they could possibly do, which obviously can’t happen during the season, is to get a better ball. Find a better ball. That’s the logical thing. It would make everybody happy.”
“He’s kidding, right?” said Sticky Fingers McSpidertack when he rang me too early this morning. I hadn’t even finished my first big mug of coffee, and Sticky was already trying to pick my reawakening brain. Remind me to get even some way.
“I don’t think he was kidding, Stick,” I replied. “Bear in mind that I’m still a little groggy. Dogs awakening you prematurely can do that to you.”
“Yeah, I know,” Stick said. “But when he says the best thing to do is to find a better ball, that scares me a little bit.”
“Why?” I asked. “It makes perfect sense, even to my still half-cloudy brain. I’ve said it myself before. Commissioner Nero needs to quit fiddling with the balls the way it’s been done the last few years and get a ball the pitchers can work with and the hitters can still hit.”
“You really need me to tell you?” Stick said. “Look at the past few American generations overall, never mind in baseball. Once upon a time, you built a better mouse trap and got rid of a better class of mice. That was then, this is now. Now, you build a better mouse trap and the cats gang up on you.”
“This is Commissioner Nero we’re talking about,” I said. “When he played the Mouse Trap Game as a kid, the mouse usually escaped.”
“I hear that. Even if you still sound like you’re talking underwater.”
“I still need my second mug of coffee, Stick.”
After I retrieved mug number two, I turned back to Realmuto’s commentary. He knows there were a few guys on the mound using their naughty sauce not to get a grip but to relieve the hitters of their grip—with a spin cycle that could get clothes completely dry as opposed to just damp dry if their pitches were the tumblers inside a front-loading washing machine.
But he also knows that most pitchers, plying their trade like the honest artisans they strive to be, weren’t using that new-fashioned medicated goo just to divide and conquer, either. “[T]hey can’t just not work with pitchers. You can’t throw them out there with these slick balls,” he insisted to Gelb.
It has to be somewhere in between where they can make a ball that has enough grip where guys don’t have to do that to be able to control it, but also a ball that’s not so sticky that it’s increasing spin rate. Which they should be able to do. It’s been different every season for the last four or five years. So it’s like, they can change the ball if they want. They just need to find the ball that works for everyone.
“Sounds so simple a child of five could do it. Now, somebody send the Phillies a child of five,” Stick said, channeling his inner Groucho Marx.
Gelb said, practically, that asking the Phillies themselves about the balls proved to be something like asking Jacques Cousteau about space exploration.
“Hey, I’m sure they’re trying, right? I guess for whatever reason they haven’t been able to find a ball that’s acceptable to everybody, but I know they’re working on it,” said Phillies president of baseball ops Dave Dombrowski. “I’ve been in GM meetings years ago where they passed around the ball with more tack on it, like they use in Japan, and say they were trying to develop something like that. But for whatever reason, we haven’t been able to find it. I hope they do. It would solve a lot.”
The dear boy.
News flash: MLB owns Rawlings, the sporting goods giant charged with making the Show’s balls. And, as Gelb writes, “it has pleaded ignorance to the constant changes in how the ball feels and behaves.”
“That’s the problem,” Stick said. “Commissioner Nero and his minions don’t have to plead ignorance. Their ignorance is the worst kept secret in baseball.”
“It is the single most important element to everything about the sport right now,” Gelb went on. “A consistent baseball. The lower seams and tighter-wound balls, combined with a lax attitude toward how doctoring the ball was policed, compelled pitchers to use sunscreen and stickier substances to better grip it.”
“That’s the other problem,” Stick said. “You don’t need me to tell you that, if you show me twenty pitchers finding solutions to working with these baby-ass-smooth balls, I’ll show you one or two pitchers figuring out they can squat inside hitters’ heads without even signing a lease.”
“I thought your own best pitch was what you called the Irish Spring Slider.”
“It was, until I switched to Ivory. Then every side was the dry side getting clobbered on me.”
Realmuto admitted he’s glad the Nero Regime did “something,” but he also admits he doesn’t know that they did the right thing. “But something had to change.” Something still has to change. If only Realmuto knew something about the art and science of making a baseball. He’d be better running Rawlings than the Nero Regime seems to be.
Since the Nero Regime are that ignorant about how to make baseballs, and that insouciant in their ignorance, how about coming up with a ball gripper both the Show’s government and, you know, the ones who actually go out there and play the game, can live with, without operating the Ball Police or the Stickum Security Service?
“I lost my Internet,” Stick said. “What does Gelb say about that?”
I read the quote back to him: “A mud machine and a rosin swab would be great. Science is amazing, and so is modern technology. Anything is possible — except a more consistent baseball with a transparent process about how it is manufactured.”
Stick pondered that a moment. Then, he said, “How come the country that came up with baseball in the first place can’t build a better baseball?”
“Because,” I said, “the moment someone comes up with that better mouse trap, the cats are liable to gang up on him.”