BOSTON -- At the outset of every series, major league officials and umpires usually meet with the managers and general managers of each team to review ground rules and other special circumstances, and to open communication before some of the biggest games of the year.
In the current context, there should be a particular request made of the managers: Please do not ask the umpires to check opposing pitchers for foreign substances. And this should be reiterated. Pretty please, with sugar and sprinkles on top.
Because everybody in the room will understand that most pitchers participating in the postseason probably use sunscreen or pine tar or something that violates baseball's rule against the use of foreign substances.
If a manager asks the umpire to inspect an opposing pitcher, then the umpire will be obligated to do so, and almost certainly he would find something; by rule, the pitcher would be ejected and subject to suspension from the postseason. Absolute chaos would ensue.
Retaliation from the other team would be inevitable, in the form of inning-to-inning requests of pitcher inspection or a fastball aimed at somebody's back, backside or neck. Some of the best pitchers might be taken off the field, and the media and fan response would overrun the postseason coverage.
The online version of Major League Baseball's rule book runs 169 pages, covering everything from the infield fly rule to official scorer decisions, and yet the tempered grace of the managers is all that can prevent a competitive debacle in this moment. Because the pitchers' growing use of foreign substances has not been addressed through a rule change, MLB and the union must trust that A.J. Hinch or Dave Roberts or Craig Counsell or Alex Cora doesn't suffer a dugout meltdown and wage all-out war on opposing pitchers.
This is a month of heightened scrutiny and posted screen shots, and already there have been pictures of very prominent pitchers with hands covered with what appear to be foreign substances. The Twittersphere mostly regards this as a big gotcha, a captured image of a criminal caught in the act.
But everybody involved in the sport knows how prevalent the use of sunscreen and pine tar and other stuff has become. Many catchers have pine tar on some part of their person, to apply as needed. Baseball officials would prefer that no foreign substances are used, but they also understand the practical reality: that the baseballs provided for the players are slick, and not always properly prepared.