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MIKE CLARK: Greg Tagert has little sympathy for MLB pitchers during crackdown
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MIKE CLARK: Greg Tagert has little sympathy for MLB pitchers during crackdown

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We're only a few days into Major League Baseball's crackdown on the use of foreign substances, and pitchers are not happy.

Tampa Bay's Tyler Glasnow is blaming it for his UCL injury. Washington's Max Scherzer says it's why he nearly beaned Philadelphia's Alec Bohm with a 95 mph fastball during a game he was checked — and cleared — three times by umpires. And Oakland's Sergio Romo took off his belt and lowered his pants in protest.

But if those or any other pitchers are looking for sympathy, they'd best steer clear of RailCats manager Greg Tagert.

In his mind, a rule is a rule. And all of them should be enforced, especially those that tip the playing field in one direction or another.

"The game has worked — maybe I hope they work a little bit harder — but the game has worked hard to eliminate that blemish of steroids, anything artificial," Tagert said.

"And these are nothing more than artificial enhancements. If the ball was deliberately juiced, it was an artificial enhancement."

Same for parks getting smaller, Tagert said.

"The story of home runs is easy," he said. "You talk about our lively baseball, ball park (fences) being moved in."

As pitchers try to swing the balance back in their favor, Tagert said, they have figured out how to use sticky or slippery substances to make baseballs move in new and unpredictable ways.

But as long as the rule book says that's illegal — never mind whether it's been enforced over the years — Tagert is a fan of holding pitchers accountable for their actions.

He's also as much of a baseball purist as you will find. Or as he put it:

"I think anything that's done to artificially enhance anything is wrong. We're trying so many things to make the game interesting, we're (taking away from) the fact that the game itself is interesting."

So what does this mean for the RailCats and the American Association?

Right now, not much. MLB has assumed greater control over both the affiliated minor leagues and the AA and other independent leagues — some of which are now designated MLB partner leagues, with similar COVID-19 protocols among other things.

But there is no matching crackdown on pitchers doctoring baseballs in the AA, at least not yet.

Is there a need for one? Maybe not. Tagert says the issue, when it has come up, tends to be about veteran pitchers with MLB or Triple-A experience. The kids, in this instance, apparently are all right. They haven't started experimenting with new and shady ways to manipulate their pitches.

Tagert said, despite having occasional suspicions, he's never asked an umpire to check a pitcher's hat or gloves for foreign substances.

But, he noted, "we have had a couple of our guys asked (that) question over the years," though none were ever caught doing anything illegal.

In any case, Tagert doesn't expect to see American Association umpires halting play to do spot checks for banned substances.

"I don't think the enforcement will trickle down because it's not as prevalent here," he said.

So don't expect any of the pitchers' performance art we've seen this week in MLB games to happen anytime soon at U.S. Steel Yard.

Instead, the only fireworks will be the scheduled ones after every Friday night home game.

Mike Clark can be reached at (219) 933-4197 or michael.clark@nwi.com. The opinions are the writer's.

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