Michael Kay, who broadcasts New York Yankees games for the YES Network, thinks that the combination of rosin and sweat on Lee's cap creates a "tackiness" that gives him a better grip on breaking balls.
"I would think that's illegal," Kay said on his radio show last Wednesday (via the New York Daily News).
Of course, the use of rosin isn't illegal. There's a bag right there on the pitching mound.
Here's the Official MLB Rulebook take on it:
"[...] A pitcher may use the rosin bag for the purpose of applying rosin to his bare hand or hands. Neither the pitcher nor any other player shall dust the ball with the rosin bag; neither shall the pitcher nor any other player be permitted to apply rosin from the bag to his glove or dust any part of his uniform with the rosin bag."
Sweat isn't against the rules, either. Every player sweats. Also, if touching the brim of your hat or tugging on your uniform were against the rules, everyone would get ejected.
But do the two substances — rosin and sweat — combine in some strange sort of alchemy to make Lee's cut fastball, well, filthy?
Lee will start Monday night's ALCS Game 3 at Yankee Stadium. While addressing the matter with the media on Sunday, he showed that talking about rosin and sweat also creates sarcasm.
CLIFF LEE: It definitely makes me way better. I know that much. Without that hat, I don't know if I could do it. I don't know. It's rosin is what it is. I go to the rosin bag quite a bit. I touch my hat in the same place over and over. And it just accumulates. I couldn't pitch without it for sure.
But if someone were to raise concern about this officially, during a game, it would be Yankees manager Joe Girardi. Never mind that Tampa Bay's Joe Maddon did not do it during the ALDS. Nor has any other opposing manager when Lee has pitched.
"It's rosin. It's available to everybody. If it was maybe right here and was a distraction to the hitter, I might question it. But I haven't seen it to be a problem."
Actually, Girardi could cause problems for his own team by making an issue of it. If umpires are suddenly checking Lee for how he uses rosin, don't they have to inspect the Yankees pitchers, as well?
And what if Lee ends up signing with the Yankees in the offseason? Surely, Kay will bring up these very same concerns about "tackiness" on his radio show and YES broadcasts.