Nats GM Rizzo calls Phillies manager Girardi a ‘con artist’

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PHILADELPHIA — Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo called Joe Girardi a “con artist” a day after Philadelphia’s manager asked umpires to check Max Scherzer for illegal substances during Tuesday night’s game.

“It’s embarrassing for Girardi, it’s embarrassing for the Phillies, it’s embarrassing for baseball,” Rizzo said in a radio interview Wednesday on Washington’s 106.7 The Fan.

Scherzer threw his glove and hat to the grass, then stared down Girardi after getting checked for a third time by umpires for sticky stuff in Washington’s 3-2 win.

Major league umpires began a crackdown on Monday by regularly examining pitchers for tacky substances that can give them a better grip on the baseball. Managers also can request a check, although umps can deny it if they believe it’s not in good faith.

Girardi said he became suspicious because Scherzer was touching his hair more than usual on the mound. Scherzer said he did that because he couldn’t grip the ball and needed moisture on his fingers. He also said he got tired of tasting rosin.

“He’s a con artist,” Rizzo said of Girardi. “He’s been doing that for years on TV.”

Phillies President Dave Dombrowski defended his manager, who was ejected after he left the dugout when Scherzer stared him down.

“That’s not Joe Girardi,” he said. “It’s totally improper for (Rizzo) to say that. … Joe Girardi is the farthest from a con man of anybody that I know. He’s a very sincere individual. He was within his rights.”

Dombrowski added that he called Commissioner Rob Manfred’s office about the issue. MLB has consulted with the umpires and determined Girardi’s request was legitimate.

Nearly 200 pitchers have been checked across the majors since the enforcement began.

When he was examined for the third time, Scherzer unbuckled his belt. Umpire crew chief Alfonso Marquez said he told the three-time Cy Young Award winner not to unhitch his pants.

“Immediately I spoke with him and I said, `Hey, don’t get ejected over this. Let us just do our job and then we’ll be fine,”‘ Marquez said.

Scherzer gave up one run and two hits in five innings, striking out eight.

“I love Joe Girardi,” Rizzo also said in his radio interview. “I’ve seen him play since he was in high school at Peoria, Illinois, scouted him at Northwestern. I know him well. But, I know him well.”

MLB crowds jump from ’21, still below pre-pandemic levels

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PHOENIX — Even with the homer heroics of sluggers like Aaron Judge and Albert Pujols, Major League Baseball wasn’t able to coax fans to ballparks at pre-pandemic levels this season, though attendance did jump substantially from the COVID-19 affected campaign in 2021.

The 30 MLB teams drew nearly 64.6 million fans for the regular season that ended Wednesday, which is up from the 45.3 million who attended games in 2021, according to baseball-reference.com. This year’s numbers are still down from the 68.5 million who attended games in 2019, which was the last season that wasn’t affected by the pandemic.

The 111-win Los Angeles Dodgers led baseball with 3.86 million fans flocking to Dodger Stadium for an average of 47,672 per contest. The Oakland Athletics – who lost 102 games, play in an aging stadium and are the constant subject of relocation rumors – finished last, drawing just 787,902 fans for an average of less than 10,000 per game.

The St. Louis Cardinals finished second, drawing 3.32 million fans. They were followed by the Yankees (3.14 million), defending World Series champion Braves (3.13 million) and Padres (2.99 million).

The Toronto Blue Jays saw the biggest jump in attendance, rising from 805,901 fans to about 2.65 million. They were followed by the Cardinals, Yankees, Mariners, Dodgers, and Mets, which all drew more than a million fans more than in 2021.

The Rangers and Reds were the only teams to draw fewer fans than in 2021.

Only the Rangers started the 2021 season at full capacity and all 30 teams weren’t at 100% until July. No fans were allowed to attend regular season games in 2020.

MLB attendance had been declining slowly for years – even before the pandemic – after hitting its high mark of 79.4 million in 2007. This year’s 64.6 million fans is the fewest in a non-COVID-19 season since the sport expanded to 30 teams in 1998.

The lost attendance has been balanced in some ways by higher viewership on the sport’s MLB.TV streaming service. Viewers watched 11.5 billion minutes of content in 2022, which was a record high and up nearly 10% from 2021.