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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: May 25, 2024 9:45 am PDT

BY KEVIN KERNAN

Let’s talk S.O.S. and sticky legal substances.

Let’s start with the Padres, who sure could use the help.

All that money spent by Peter Seidler, and yet his Padres are 25th in runs scored in the early part of the season. They are under .500.

The Padres are lucky that the overrated Dodgers are 9-10 while the even more overrated Giants are 6-11 and leading the world in strikeouts. Even though infielders have been chained in place by the overzealous commissioner of baseball Rob Manfred, it seems Gabe Kapler’s men are having a hard time putting the ball in play. The 11-8 Diamondbacks lead the NL West … for now.

All this sets up perfectly for the return to the major leagues of Fernando Tatis Jr. on Thursday against those first-place Diamondbacks at Chase Field.

For Tatis Jr., his return is a moment of truth for himself and the franchise.

The last time we heard from Tatis Jr., he was basically telling everyone to get lost in promoting The Show 21. He was playing a new brand of baseball – and what you thought really didn’t matter. Then he got in a motorcycle accident, breaking his left wrist; and then he got himself suspended for 80 games for PED use. Three surgeries later, and the suspension complete, he is finally back in The Show for ‘23.

Tatis began to take himself a bit too seriously, and from what I heard, this me-first attitude has been going on for quite a while.

We all remember his “Breaking Rules’’ commercial.

That’s when a defiant Tatis Jr., to a chorus of cheers from Gen Z and Commissioner Zero, boldly stated: “I’ve been asked to apologize for changing the game. Apparently I’ve been breaking the unwritten rules of baseball. I’m sorry if things got too exciting and this isn’t the game you remember. But here’s the thing, we are never going back.’’

Well, we are going back, Fernando.

AMBS has no problem with breaking the unwritten rules of baseball, nor exciting baseball – if in fact, you’re doing it for the good of your team. Unfortunately for Tatis Jr., though, he was also breaking the written rules of baseball when it came to PED use.

Baseball has a way of humbling players.

Will we see a different Fernando Tatis Jr. come Thursday? For his good and for the good of the Padres, I sure hope so.

With that in mind, I asked one of the game’s best talent evaluators what he wants to see from this version of Fernando Tatis Jr. when he returns to the Padres ailing lineup.

A pitcher should never be tossed for using legal substances like rosin and sweat to get a better grip.

The evaluator did not hold back, but you already know that – because that’s what we do here at Baseball or Bust.

“Hopefully, Tatis comes back and plays with a little bit of humility for what he’s done to his teammates, and plays the game the right bleeping way, just lets his ability go play. Not be into yourself only,’’ the evaluator said.

What a great comment.

Hopefully there is someone in the Padres clubhouse who will tell that to Tatis Jr. The Padres made it to the NLCS without him. Perhaps if Tatis Jr. had not let his teammates down by getting the 80-game suspension, they might have made it all the way to the World Series. And once you make it to the World Series, all bets are off (except in MLB now, of course, where all bets are on – 24/7).

Manny Machado is batting .241 with only a .275 on-base percentage and a .320 slugging percentage. That’s pretty bad for someone who just inked an 11-year extension worth $350 million. Perhaps Manny is feeling some pressure. The Padres have to hope it’s not something worse.

One scout has noticed Manny isn’t the same Manny he’s watched in the past.

“He’s getting beat with fastballs that he used to not get beat with,’’ the scout told BallNine. “The Mets pounded the crap out of him, the only thing he hit were breaking balls that were mistakes out over the plate.’’

But Manny has time to get right.

Manny Machado #13 of the San Diego Padres takes the field before the game against the Atlanta Braves on April 17, 2023 at Petco Park in San Diego, California. The Padres are wearing their 1948 replica jerseys from the Pacific Coast League Padres to honor San Diegan Johnny Ritchey breaking the color barrier 75 years ago with the PCL Padres. (Photo by Matt Thomas/San Diego Padres/Getty Images)

The biggest disappointment so far, actually, has to be Juan Soto – who’s batting .194; but he hit the home run that gave the Padres a much needed 1-0 victory over the Braves on Wednesday and hence the season series, if tie-breakers come into play come postseason.

Soto has been so out of rhythm because of the Pitch Clock, he’s calling timeout when he steps into the box to get ready.

That’s a bad sign. Soto is not hitting with any confidence.

“Juan Soto is not very good at all right now,’’ the scout said.

Perhaps the home run from Wednesday will get him going. Perhaps the Padres’ confidence as a team will rise with Tatis Jr. back in play. Perhaps he will answer the S.O.S.

Manager Bob Melvin said as much after the 1-0 win, saying the team is “very excited’’ to have Tatis Jr. back. “Myself included,’’ Melvin noted. “It’s been a long time. You’re looking forward to getting him in there to see what he has to offer. In spring training you see how he was swinging the bat. In AAA, too. We couldn’t be more excited to get him in the lineup. It’s almost like the reinforcements are coming. Joe (Musgrove) is going to pitch this series too, so personnel-wise we’re going to have a much better team.’’

Tatis Jr. crushed the ball in his AAA warmup at one point, blasting six home runs in 12 at-bats.

For Tatis Jr., this is about growing up and not letting your teammates down, that’s the bottom line here. Stop acting like you’re an Instagram influencer and start acting like a ballplayer.

Like I said, the Padres need the help.

Fernando Tatis Jr. #23 of the San Diego Padres jogs around the bases after hitting a home run during a spring training game against the Los Angeles Angels on March 24, 2023 at the Tempe Diablo Stadium in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Matt Thomas/San Diego Padres/Getty Images)

Matt Carpenter is hitting .143 and Jake Cronenworth is batting .215. Only Xander Bogaerts has saved the Padres with a .342 average. Tatis Jr. is stepping into a situation where he can immediately be a hero. How he handles everything physically and emotionally is going to tell the tale of the 2023 Padres.

Tatis Jr. will play right field. The Padres’ right fielders have been abysmal. They are 28th in batting average with a .169 mark. They are dead last in home runs with a big fat zero.

I do like Tatis Jr.’s approach to playing right field now that he is about fourth on the depth chart to play shortstop for the Padres.

“I feel like I’m still gonna impact the game a lot that way, controlling the game from right field,’’ Tatis Jr. told my former newspaper, the San Diego Union-Tribune. “You don’t really see many outfielders who have a really good arm anymore. I’m trying to be one of those guys. I mean, 30 out of 30 right fielders in the big leagues used to have a cannon. They would control the game on the back end. I can be one of those guys.’’

Yes, he can. And Tatis Jr. is right. No outfielders, for the most part, can throw anymore because throwing is not worked on at pretty much any level. The Nerds not only don’t think it’s important, they don’t know how to teach it and how it should be worked on nearly every day. It’s the Lost Art in the game – and like everything else, MLB is so fixated on New Rules, it’s forgotten that it’s the little things the majority of fans take pleasure in seeing when they go to a game, like strong, accurate throws by outfielders.

Here’s hoping Fernando Tatis Jr. works to make his multi-talented baseball game better, not his breaking rules game better.

Max Scherzer #21 of the New York Mets argues with umpire Phil Cuzzi #10 during the fourth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on April 19, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

A MOST STICKY SITUATION 

As for those rules, MLB is so busy changing the game they’re confusing the players and others; and there was no better example of that than how Max Scherzer was ejected in the fourth inning on Wednesday by umpire Phil Cuzzi during the Mets’ solid 5-3 win over the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium.

I have been warning about this for a while – that the game is changing so rapidly with Pitch Clocks, bigger bases, no infield shift, the shorter distance between bases, rocket fuel baseballs, pitchers’ sticky checks and super bats, and pitchers only having two disengagements per batter to go along with the fake runner and other recent changes, that up is down and down is up in the game.

Scherzer was beside himself after the ejection, insisting he did everything that MLB wanted him to do. He wasn’t using Spider Tack, all he used was legal rosin and legal sweat and he essentially got tossed for using rosin and sweat to better control the baseball.

To be clear, hitters have no problem with pitchers having better control of the baseball because the last thing they want is to have a 96-mph fastball get away and hit them in the head. But as I often say here, you have people in charge of baseball who don’t know baseball and they over-correct by implementing changes that disrupt the game. A pitcher should never be tossed for using legal substances like rosin and sweat to get a better grip.

The MLB offices made checking pitchers’ hands a point of interest this year and they have gone overboard with the umpires. Again, up is down and down is up in Rob Manfred’s World. Not to mention that every change MLB makes is made, it seems, to favor the offense.

After the game home plate umpire Dan Bellino said of the ejection and the sticky stuff via a pool reporter: “It was far more than we have ever seen before on a pitcher in live action and we understand the repercussions of removing a pitcher from the game … this is something that clearly went too far, it went over the line.’’

Cuzzi concurred, saying, “It was far stickier than anything that we felt certainly today and anything this year … we felt as though he had two chances to clean it up and he didn’t.’’

Once teams realize how easy it is to steal bases, and once the Nerds drop their risk aversion to stolen bases, the game is going to get even more out of hand. And I am not even going to bother to comment on the new Atlantic League rule changes being tested in that Frankenstein League. They are all ridiculous and at some point the real fan, the heart and soul of the game, is just going to say enough is enough.

I give Scherzer credit for standing at his locker and explaining his side of the story. And after getting checked and told to get the sticky stuff off his hand, he did that in front of an MLB official in the dugout. Scherzer had to twice go through the cleansing process.

Of that second fourth inning check, Scherzer told it like it was.

“I knew I was going to get checked in the fourth,’’ he fumed. “So I would have to be an absolute idiot to try and do anything when I come back out for the fourth. After that third inning, I’m in front of that MLB official, that is underneath here. I wash my hands with alcohol in front of the official, reapply rosin, and then I grab sweat. Phil Cuzzi said my hand was too sticky. Yes, when you use sweat and rosin your hand is sticky. I don’t know how I get ejected when I am in front of an MLB official, doing exactly what you want and being deemed my hand is too sticky when I am using a legal substance.’’

Scherzer told Cuzzi, “I swear on my kid’s life this is sweat and rosin, I keep saying it over and over and they touch my hand and they say it is sticky and yes it is because of sweat and rosin. It was sticky and he threw me out because of that … Now it is becoming a legal matter and I don’t want to comment what happens next, if I get suspended or not. We’ll see what happens.’’

His spin rate on Wednesday was the same it has been all season. Scherzer could be suspended 10 games.

This is a perfect example of the confusion that has become MLB under Manfred and his confusing maze of new rules. This is a perfect example of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing in baseball.

You can blame Phil Cuzzi and the other three umpires on the field if you want, but baseball has created this entire goofy, confusing situation with the overreach of rules and the fine line of disengagements, fake runners, fake balls, fake strikes, and fake sticky substances.

Rosin has been part of baseball since 1887, but that is not good enough for Manfred and his minions like Morgan Sword.

Max Scherzer is not an idiot.

We all know who the idiots are in baseball and they can be found in the MLB offices.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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