St. Louis Cardinals minor league pitcher Tyler Melling sent out a tweet that started a bit of an internet firestorm; Melling wondered if Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Jon Lester had Vaseline inside of his glove Wednesday night during Game 1 of the World Series:
Jon Lester using a little Vaseline inside the glove tonight? pic.twitter.com/IyQn2iqg5f— Tyler Melling (@TylerMelling) October 24, 2013
Melling's tweet caused a search for more evidence, and a Vine of Lester going to his glove surfaced as well:
It's unclear what Lester is doing with his fingers or if anything is on his glove, but it seems likely that the Red Sox will have to comment on the issue.
Pitchers using a foreign substance to help grip the ball is not unheard of and may in fact be common practice. Tampa Bay Rays reliever Joel Peralta was ejected from a game last season for having pine tar in his glove. That led Cleveland Indians closer Chris Perez to comment on the issue, noting during an interview with XM Radio that "older" Cardinals pitchers used various substances to help grip the ball.
Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch talked with a number of Cardinals starting pitchers, who admitted to the reporter that they were familiar with mixing a foreign substance with resin to help improve grip on the ball. Chris Carpenter discussed the issue with Strauss:
"There are probably a lot of pitchers in this game who need something at times to help them get a better grip. If you're talking about scuffing or putting Vaseline on the ball to make it move differently, that's a separate issue. But to do something to get a better grip on the ball? With guys throwing 100 miles per hour? I don't think that's cheating....Pine tar, sunscreen, whatever... it's not there to help the ball sink, cut or do funny things. It's a tool to keep it from flying out of your hands."
Adam Wainwright acknowledged that he uses a mix of sunscreen and resin to help him grip the ball, stating:
"There's a difference in pine tar from oil and grease, things that make the ball sink, cut or do different stuff. That's different than doctoring a ball."
Former major-league pitcher C.J. Nitkowski also believes that Lester wanted to improve his grip, not alter the ball:
@TBrownYahoo It's likely firm grip. All these darn cameras, it used to be easier to get away with these things.— CJ Nitkowski (@CJNitkowski) October 24, 2013
The Cardinals have accused a starting pitcher of doctoring the ball in the past. During the 2006 World Series, the team alleged that Detroit Tigers starter Kenny Rogers used pine tar and scuffed the baseball during Game Two; St. Louis eventually won the series four games to one.
Update: An MLB spokesperson released a statement regarding Lester's potential use of a foreign substance, courtesy Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports.
"We cannot draw any conclusions from this video. There were no complaints from the Cardinals and the umpires never detected anything indicating a foreign substance throughout the game."
Update No. 2: Strauss talked to Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak about the incident, who told the reporter that the story is a "non-issue." A full quote from Mozeliak appeared in an article written by Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
"As far as I'm concerned it's a non-issue. It's something that arose in social media and not from our players or manager or our coaching staff. To me it does not represent a concern."
Goold also noted that a Cardinals team official reached out to Melling, who posted the original photo and sent out the Tweet. Melling has since deleted the original Tweet that started the controversy.