Will Smith’s ejection once again shows baseball’s silly approach to foreign substance rules

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Last night Will Smith was ejected from the Brewers-Braves game because he had a big bunch of goo on his arm. Hey, big bunches of goo on your arm is illegal if you’re a pitcher, so do the crime, do the time. He may get a ten-game suspension out of this. He may not. We’ll see in the next day or so.

But before anyone tut-tuts the evil, cheating Will Smith here, let us remind ourselves that just about every pitcher uses something to mess with baseballs and/or enhance their grip, and for the most part baseball is content to look the other way about it.

We went through this last year when Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda was caught with pine tar on his neck and hand in multiple starts and two years ago when Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz was accused of using sunscreen to doctor baseballs. Or to get a better grip. Or a less-good grip which some argued was better (too much friction is bad!). It’s hard to keep track of these justifications, actually. The one thing we do know for sure, though, is that a huge number of pitchers do this and, generally speaking, no one cares. Hitters have said they don’t mind if it means the pitcher has better control over the ball. The people who pointed out the use of foreign substances in these instances actually got more crap thrown their way than the actual foreign substance users.

But it’s not totally kosher, right? If it was, would Michael Pineda have gotten suspended? If it was, would Fredi Gonzalez have gone out to the umps last night and told them about Smith’s goo? Hardly. Heck, right before the ejection Smith hit a Braves batter with a pitch. Perhaps Smith, therefore, wasn’t really interested in getting a better grip with whatever that goo was? Perhaps Gonzalez was merely suggesting to the umps that they tell Smith to put more goo on his arm and the message was just garbled? English is such an imperfect language for communicating nuance!

That’s the key word here, of course. “Nuance.” Ultimately these situations come down to someone arguing about how it’s totally cool for the pitcher to doctor up the ball, but maybe they shouldn’t be so obvious about it. It’s a standard that, for whatever reason, never ever flies with any other kind of rules violations in baseball. Imagine if it did. “Hey, he may have been taking HGH, but he was doing it to recover from an injury faster, not to get an unfair advantage! Everyone does it, he just took a substance that was too easily-detected. He just shouldn’t have been so obvious about it!” I can tell you from experience, that kind of nuance DOES NOT get you a lot of converts to your cause.

Generally I’m not a fan of  “rules are rules” arguments. I think you have to enforce rules when you have them so, for that reason, I have no problem with Will Smith being ejected for his goo and Joe Shlabotnik being suspended 80 games for whatever PEDs are found in his system, even if he says he took them so he can recover from injury more quickly. But it you have rules which everyone ignores for what everyone argues are good reasons, perhaps you need to examine those rules and reassess whether they reflect reality rather than to only enforce them when someone really obviously breaks them. Because if you do the latter, you’re not policing behavior, you’re playing P.R. games.

Alternatively, maybe we should just acknowledge that a lot of people lie about why they break a rule, acknowledge that non-enforcement tends to boil down to an “our guys do it too, so shut up about it” rationale and stamp out this “hey, everyone does it” talk before people start believing it. I’m good either way.

Ex-Angels employee charged in overdose death of Tyler Skaggs

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FORT WORTH, Texas — A former Angels employee has been charged with conspiracy to distribute fentanyl in connection with last year’s overdose death of Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs, prosecutors in Texas announced Friday.

Eric Prescott Kay was arrested in Fort Worth, Texas, and made his first appearance Friday in federal court, according to Erin Nealy Cox, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas. Kay was communications director for the Angels.

Skaggs was found dead in his hotel room in the Dallas area July 1, 2019, before the start of what was supposed to be a four-game series against the Texas Rangers. The first game was postponed before the teams played the final three games.

Skaggs died after choking on his vomit with a toxic mix of alcohol and the powerful painkillers fentanyl and oxycodone in his system, a coroner’s report said. Prosecutors accused Kay of providing the fentanyl to Skaggs and others, who were not named.

“Tyler Skaggs’s overdose – coming, as it did, in the midst of an ascendant baseball career – should be a wake-up call: No one is immune from this deadly drug, whether sold as a powder or hidden inside an innocuous-looking tablet,” Nealy Cox said.

If convicted, Kay faces up to 20 years in prison. Federal court records do not list an attorney representing him, and an attorney who previously spoke on his behalf did not immediately return a message seeking comment.