Why Casey Mize’s glove had nothing — and everything — to do with foreign substances in MLB

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Tigers rookie Casey Mize wants the world to know he wasn’t cheating Tuesday night in Kansas City.

After pitching a scoreless first inning, Mize was pulled aside by home plate umpire John Tumpane. Catcher Jake Rogers joined the conversation. The umpire said Mize’s glove color was too light.

The lighter the color, the more districting the glove becomes for the batter, which is why pitchers aren’t supposed to use white or light-colored mitts. Tumpane demanded Mize get rid of his glove.

“It’s kind of a matte color gray,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “I guess he said at the end of the inning he needed to change it, for whatever reason. It’s a glove he’s used before. I guess it’s a tick faded than a brand new one because of the sun.”

Mize, 24, grabbed Kyle Funkhouser’s glove and pitched a perfect second inning in the Tigers’ 4-3 win over the Royals at Kauffman Stadium. He gave up three runs on seven hits and one walk, with three strikeouts, over 6⅔ innings, throwing a career-high 103 pitches.

Later in the game, Kansas City’s Ervin Santana used a light blue glove, so the Tigers are trying to get an explanation from MLB about Mize’s glove.

Mize wasn’t pleased.

“He said the gray color was too light,” Mize said. “I thought it was pretty (expletive), pretty (expletive) thing to do.”

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All of this?

It’s about a much bigger situation.

The hottest topic in baseball is the sticky stuff, synonymous with Spider Tack, gripping agents and sunscreen-and-rosin mixes. It’s a part of the bigger word: foreign substance. And this leads to the next word: illegal. Pitchers have used foreign substances to increase their spin rate; the sunscreen-and-rosin mix, some say, simply helps pitchers control the baseball.

MLB didn’t like any of this, as hits are at an all-time low and strikeouts are at an all-time high, so commissioner Rob Manfred decided to enforce the ban of sticky substances. MLB announced Tuesday that pitchers caught using foreign substances will be given an automatic 10-game suspension.

“That memo was very direct,” Hinch said. “It is zero tolerance, and the league has been very straightforward with the managers, and we have with the players, that we’re going to get an even playing field. We’re going to get that sticky stuff out of the game and away from the competition.

“I’m not surprised. We all saw this coming. We were all communicated with in the spring that there was the evaluation over the first couple months. Quite honestly, this is long overdue.”

Which brings us back to Mize, who has used the same gray glove for all 12 of his previous starts this season. Why did he have to change now?

Like an established veteran, Mize bluntly spoke his mind.

“I assume everyone thinks that I was using sticky stuff, which I was not,” Mize said. “I just thought the timing of it was pretty (expletive), honestly. The umpires need to get on the same page because I’ve made 12 starts (with the glove) and everybody was fine with it, or John Tumpane just needs to have some feel and let me pitch with the glove that the other team did not complain about. He brought it up himself. John’s a good umpire and a very nice guy, just have some feel for the situation.

“I hate that I’m in a position now where I assume everyone thinks I was using sticky. In reality, that was not the situation at all.”

Hinch backed his rookie.

“I think Casey has every bit the right to defend himself and be proactive on that,” Hinch said. “I think it’s more of a show of times where perception means a lot. On a day that the foreign substance conversation was at its highest, we have a glove coming out of the game. That’s completely unfair to Casey, and there was no reason for it.”

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The whole thing really bothered Mize.

“I mean, I was pissed off,” he said. “Once we got me a new glove, I kind of drained it after that. But I was pretty pissed for a couple minutes or so.”

Under MLB’s memo, starting pitchers will be checked by umpires for sticky substances more than once per game as soon as Monday. Relief pitchers will be checked at least once. Team employees can be suspended or fined if substances are found in their clubhouse or dugout.

“After an extensive process of repeated warnings without effect, gathering information from current and former players and others across the sport, two months of comprehensive data collection, listening to our fans and thoughtful deliberation,” Manfred said in a release, “I have determined that new enforcement of foreign substances is needed to level the playing field. 

“I understand there’s a history of foreign substances being used on the ball, but what we are seeing today is objectively far different, with much tackier substances being used more frequently than ever before. It has become clear that the use of foreign substance has generally morphed from trying to get a better grip on the ball into something else — an unfair competitive advantage that is creating a lack of action and an uneven playing field.”

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Players won’t lose pay if they’re suspended, but teams cannot replace a suspended player on their active roster. The crackdown mainly focuses on pitchers, but position players can be checked for substances in hopes of preventing them from discreetly adding something to the ball.

The result of any foreign substance use, besides the rosin bag, includes an ejection from the game and an automatic suspension.

“Going forward, that’s just going to be a part of what’s going to happen,” Mize said. “Starting Monday, they’re going to start checking us. It’s not going to be too suspicious then, but obviously today it looks very suspicious.

“Memo comes out today and then I come out for the second inning in a completely different color glove. Everybody’s first thought, I assume, is he got caught using sticky, but they’re letting him stay in the game, which is not true whatsoever. That’s what I mean about the timing being pretty bad.”

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During the first two months of the season, from April through May, the league-wide batting average was .236, with a .312 on-base percentage and a .394 slugging percentage. Pitchers were logging 9.24 strikeouts per nine innings.

The strikeout rate was at 24.2%, with an 8.9% walk rate.

Since the beginning of June, those results have shifted a bit.

From June 1-15, the 30 teams combined for a .246 batting average, .317 on-base percentage and .414 slugging percentage. Pitchers averaged 8.99 strikeouts per nine innings. The strikeout rate was 23.4%, and the walk rate was 8.4%.

“It’s coming down to it,” Rogers said. “It’s a slippery slope. Guys are using it. It’s just one of those things where they’re going to crack down on it … I mean, it’s pretty harsh. I read it today. We’ll see what happens with it.”

To make sure his team understood the ramifications, Hinch had three meetings after MLB’s announcement Tuesday. He first spoke with his coaches, then his players, and then with the team’s traveling party.

“There’s zero tolerance with this,” Hinch said. “We are fully supporting the commissioner’s move to get this stuff out of the game and get an even playing field.”

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter

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