You’ve probably already heard, but Jack Morris, a not-quite-Hall-of-Fame former pitcher and current Toronto Blue Jays broadcaster, came out this past week to accuse Clay Buchholz of throwing a “spitball,” conveniently right after Buchholz dominated his Blue Jays to the tune of seven shutout innings on Wednesday.
The resulting news story on the controversy is a study in unintentional comedy. Let’s take a look at some quotes.
“I found out because the guys on the video camera showed it to me right after the game,” [Morris] said. “I didn’t see it during the game. They showed it to me and said, ‘What do you think of this?’ and I said, ‘Well, he’s throwing a spitter. Cause that’s what it is.”
That’s nice, but what exactly makes you think that? You can’t just say something happened and then will it to be true. Care to elaborate? Provide some evidence?
“It was all over his forearm, all over the lower part of his T-shirt, it’s all in his hair,” Morris said. “I can’t prove anything. I can’t prove anything.”
So… let me get this straight: You actually can’t prove he’s doing anything wrong here, but some guys showed you a video, so now you’re completely, undeniably sure that he’s cheating?
It can’t possibly be that Buchholz just outperformed your Blue Jays, a team that went all in this winder for high-profile players like R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson and Jose Reyes, forming a – dare I say – Dream Team? A Dream Team, by the way, that has thus far fallen dramatically short of expectations, and is batting a pitiful combined .226/.291/.398 on the year?
The Blue Jays are the fourth-worst team in baseball in terms of wOBA, with a .298 mark, and Buchholz currently has an ERA lower than most pitchers’ WHIPs. Is it possible he’s just a hot pitcher who ran over a bad lineup? Nah, he rubbed his left arm with his pitching hand, he must be guilty as charged.
Maybe I’m just misunderstanding his argument here, though. Let’s keep going.
“Funny thing, the way the game is played today. In our generation, every player, every coach would have seen it, the umpire would have gone out and made him change, made him stop and that changes everything. Or else they throw him out of the game. So what kind of bugs all of us is nothing is done here.”
And here, we have the “back in my day,” routine. We all know baseball today is far too corrupt and tainted for its own good. Back in Jack Morris’ day, though, the MLB simply would not have stood for this kind of hooliganism. You wouldn’t see somebody from his time ever pull something like this; they would be out of the game faster than you can say “performance-enhancing drugs.”
“He’s not the first guy to ever do it. You can get away with it. Gaylord [Perry] made a nice career out of it.”
But on the “they’re not doing anything” front: perhaps no action has been taken because no wrongdoing occurred? Clay Buchholz has been around for a while now; you’d think somebody would have noticed this by now. Maybe the fact that you, Jack Morris, are the only person yelling about this should tell you something?
“Look at the pitches. Fastball at 94 that goes like that,” Morris said, his hand darting swiftly down and away. “On a fastball?”
This is where the whole thing approaches conspiracy theory levels, to me. Can’t you just see Morris sitting at home by himself at some terrible hour in the morning, tracing the movement of Buchholz’s pitches?
Regardless, how much Buchholz’s pitches move is something worth looking into, isn’t it? After all, it seems like that would settle this debate pretty quickly; the main advantage of a spitball is the added motion it gives the ball. Luckily, SweetSpot’s own David Schoenfield already took a look at the issue. What did he find?
Horizontal break on fastball, 2013: minus-4.7 inches
Vertical break on fastball, 2013: 9.9 inches
Horizontal break on fastball, 2012: minus-4.8 inches
Vertical break on fastball, 2012: 9.1 inches
That’s not what you would call altogether unusual, right there. Schoenfield continues to explain that while Buchholz’s pitches showed a bit more movement Wednesday against Toronto, there was only really one pitch (a 96 mph fastball to Jose Bautista) that seemed almost too good to be true.
Was it a spitball, or was it a pitch that just happened to come out abnormally well?
Let’s consult Mr. Morris for more information. Perhaps he can provide us with some statistical evidence that something was wrong.
“I went up to [Jarrod Saltalamacchia]…”
“…and I told him,” Morris said. “He said, ‘It’s dry in Boston, and I’ve seen him put water all over his pants.’ I said, ‘Salty this isn’t my first [expletive] rodeo.’ He didn’t know what to say to that, so we ended the conversation right there.”
So, Morris suspects Buchholz is cheating, so he goes and consults one of Buchholz’s teammates? What did he think Salty was going to say? “Yes, you’re totally right, Buchholz is cheating and that’s the only reason we won?”
Regardless, I think I would have paid actual money to witness this confrontation. Poor Salty probably didn’t know what hit him.
Morris said he never threw a spitter in a game.
“One game I tried it in the bullpen, and that’s why I know.”
Of course, Saint Jack Morris would never dirty his hands (or the ball) with such things. He just did it one time, and therefore became an expert on all things spitball.
Careful, there, Jack; you don’t want everybody to find out about the web of conspiracy up on your wall back home. The world isn’t ready for that kind of information just yet.
Morris said he took no issue with his spitball accusations being reported.
“I’ve got no problem with it,” he said, “because I know he was.”
I don’t doubt he is perfectly fine with all this attention, for sure.
Look, I’m not here trying to say it’s impossible a member of the Boston Red Sox did something illegal in a game. I’m not that kind of fan, and if it turns out Buchholz was actually throwing a spitter Wednesday night, I’ll happily eat the appropriate amount of crow. But for these kinds of accusations to bear any kind of weight, in my mind, they’d have to come from somebody who would actually be in a position to know.
Jack Morris isn’t that guy. Jack Morris wasn’t even on the field that night. Jack Morris comes off, to me, as a Blue Jays broadcaster who doesn’t like that his star-studded team couldn’t get the job done against a pitcher on a hot streak. And now he’s gotten himself an impressive amount of media attention, so overall, this works out pretty well for him. With that in mind, you’ll have to excuse me if I don’t set much store in his expertise on Buchholz’s pitching practices.
For now, we can only hope other members of the Blue Jays broadcast team might take a more measured approach when it comes to such a controversial issue. After all, they wouldn’t want to make this look like some kind of partisan grudge against the Red Sox.
Former major league pitcher Dirk Hayhurst, now a broadcast analyst for the Blue Jays, told Toronto radio station Sportsnet 590 The Fan on Thursday that Buchholz was “absolutely” cheating in Wednesday’s start.