BOSTON – Let's get past the feigned shock and horror and disillusionment of the little gloop of whatever-it-was that showed up in Jon Lester's glove during Game 1 of the World Series, because that's all the reaction is: the ugly marriage of fandom and bluster that's more than willing to overlook the facts of modern baseball.
Fact: Lester and his Red Sox teammates have used BullFrog sunscreen, which, when mixed with rosin, creates a tacky substance that enhances a pitcher's grip on the ball. BullFrog was seen in the Red Sox's dugout during the division series at Tropicana Field – a domed stadium.
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Fact: Major League Baseball is well aware of this and does not consider it an issue despite rules about foreign substances because pitchers, hitters, coaches, managers and executives agree that a substance used to better a pitcher's grip, as opposed to doctor a ball or make it dip and dive in unnatural directions, is within the confines of the rules.
Fact: This is not just the Red Sox. Repeat: This is not just the Red Sox. Almost every other pitcher in the major leagues – the St. Louis Cardinals included – use some sort of trick to get better grip, whether it's a dab of pine tar, licking fingers or other methods of subterfuge.
Fact: If Lester were throwing a Vaseline ball, as Cardinals minor leaguer Tyler Melling alleged, the team would have done one of two things: 1) Talk about it or 2) Seek vigilante justice by having one of their pitchers hit Dustin Pedroia or David Ortiz. The time was especially ripe to do so in a blowout. The Cardinals didn't do either.
It is easy to gin up controversy, especially during the World Series, but what Lester did is not worth bellyaching over. MLB isn't looking into it. The Cardinals aren't taking any sort of action with the league. Inside the game, a little bit of sunscreen – or Cramer Firm Grip or whatever it was – is not worthy of a second glance, let alone a conniption.
Perhaps there will come a point at which fans understand this. Probably not, because baseball history is littered with spitballers. They're romanticized in movies (Eddie Harris is the best) and they're in the Hall of Fame (here's lookin' at you, Gaylord Perry) and everybody loves a good cheating story, whether it's Jason Grimsley crawling through the air duct to retrieve Albert Belle's corked bat or Kenny Rogers' mystery substance during the World Series – against the Cardinals, of course.
All of this will blow over because it's something that shouldn't be an issue in the first place. A kid got a little overzealous, a fan base reeling from a miserable loss got a little overexcited and all of a sudden you'd think BullFrog sunscreen was powerful enough to take down dictators around the world.
Sometime next year, of course, when a starter paints his arm with sunscreen indoors like Clay Buchholz did earlier this year, or when another pitcher happens to leave a big enough glob on his glove for HD cameras to capture the sheen, false outrage will rumble through Twitter for a couple hours until it comes to its natural conclusion.
Which is, and should always be, this: If you're gonna complain, at least save it for some real cheating.