Alex Sanabia Might Be In Trouble For Spitballing

Let me preface all of this by saying that it’s always possible that a quick video replay could be missing necessary context and misrepresenting what actually happened. There is some uncertainty when viewing events from afar, especially in a narrow timespan. It is possible that what you’re about to see isn’t what it looks like.

But, uhh, it sure looks like Alex Sanabia was caught on video spitting all over the baseball after allowing a home run to Domonic Brown tonight. As pointed out by one of our commenters, you can see the video here, and pay attention at around the 13 second mark.

Or, if you’d rather, just watch this helpful GIF, care of Jeff Sullivan.


If you’re curious, here’s the relevant portion of the MLB official rules:

8.02    The pitcher shall not—

(a)          (1)  While in the 18-foot circle surrounding the pitcher’s plate, touch the ball after touching his mouth or lips, or touch his mouth or lips while he is in contact with the pitcher’s plate. The pitcher must clearly wipe the fingers of his pitch- ing hand dry before touching the ball or the pitcher’s plate. EXCEPTION: Provided it is agreed to by both managers, the umpire prior to the start of a game played in cold weather, may permit the pitcher to blow on his hand.

PENALTY: For violation of this part of this rule the umpires shall immedi- ately remove the ball from play and issue a warning to the pitcher. Any sub- sequent violation shall be called a ball. However, if the pitch is made and a batter reaches first base on a hit, an error, a hit batsman or otherwise, and no other runner is put out before advancing at least one base, the play shall pro- ceed without reference to the violation. Repeat offenders shall be subject to a fine by the League President.

(2)     expectorate on the ball, either hand or his glove;

(3)     rub the ball on his glove, person or clothing;

(4)     apply a foreign substance of any kind to the ball;

(5)     deface the ball in any manner; or

(6)     deliver a ball altered in a manner prescribed by Rule 8.02(a)(2) through (5) or what is called the “shine” ball, “spit” ball, “mud” ball or “emery” ball. The pitcher is allowed to rub the ball between his bare hands.

PENALTY:   For violation of any part of Rules 8.02 (a)(2) through (6):

(a)      The pitcher shall be ejected immediately from the game and shall be sus- pended automatically. In National Association Leagues, the automatic suspension shall be for 10 games.

(b)     If a play follows the violation called by the umpire, the manager of the team at bat may advise the umpire-in-chief that he elects to accept the play. Such election shall be made immediately at the end of the play. However, if the batter reaches first base on a hit, an error, a base on balls, a hit batsman, or otherwise, and no other runner is put out before advancing at least one base, the play shall proceed without reference to the violation.

(c)      Even though the team at bat elects to take the play, the violation shall be recognized and the penalties in subsection (a) will still be in effect.

(d)     If the manager of the team at bat does not elect to accept the play, the umpire-in-chief shall call an automatic ball and, if there are any runners on base, a balk.

(e)      The umpire shall be sole judge on whether any portion of this rule has been violated.

Rules 8.02(a)(2) through 8.02(a)(6) Comment: If a pitcher violates either Rule 8.02(a)(2) or Rule 8.02(a)(3) and, in the judgment of the umpire, the pitcher did not intend, by his act, to alter the characteristics of a pitched ball, then the umpire may, in his discretion, warn the pitcher in lieu of applying the penalty set forth for violations of Rules 8.02(a)(2) through 8.02(a)(6). If the pitcher per- sists in violating either of those Rules, however, the umpire should then apply the penalty.

Rule 8.02(a) Comment: If at any time the ball hits the rosin bag it is in play. In the case of rain or wet field, the umpire may instruct the pitcher to carry the rosin bag in his hip pocket. 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.

(b)         Have on his person, or in his possession, any foreign substance. For such infraction of this section (b) the penalty shall be immediate ejection from the game. In addi- tion, the pitcher shall be suspended automatically. In National Association Leagues, the automatic suspension shall be for 10 games.

(c)          Intentionally delay the game by throwing the ball to players other than the catcher, when the batter is in position, except in an attempt to retire a runner.

PENALTY:   If, after warning by the umpire, such delaying action is repeated, the pitcher shall be removed from the game.

(d)         Intentionally Pitch at the Batter.

If, in the umpire’s judgment, such a violation occurs, the umpire may elect either to:

  1. Expel the pitcher, or the manager and the pitcher, from the game, or
  2. may warn the pitcher and the manager of both teams that another such pitch will result in the immediate expulsion of that pitcher (or a replacement) and the manager

If, in the umpire’s judgment, circumstances warrant, both teams may be officially “warned” prior to the game or at any time during the game.

(League Presidents may take additional action under authority provided in Rule 9.05)

Rule 8.02(d) Comment: Team personnel may not come onto the playing surface to argue or dispute a warning issued under Rule 8.02(d). If a manager, coach or player leaves the dugout or his position to dispute a warning, he should be warned to stop. If he continues, he is subject to ejection.

To pitch at a batter’s head is unsportsmanlike and highly dangerous. It should be—and is— condemned by everybody. Umpires should act without hesitation in enforcement of this rule.

And, because no one uses the word “expectorate” anymore, here’s the dictionary definition: To cough or spit out phlegm from the throat or lungs.

It sure looks like Alex Sanabia “expectorated” all over that baseball, doesn’t it? I don’t know how else you would possibly describe that action.

It’s worth noting that the Marlins won this game, and that Brown’s home run was the only run Sanabia allowed all night. Sanabia has been a replacement level pitcher this year, but tonight, he shut down the Phillies. I would think this is probably not the last you’ve heard of this story.

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Dave is a co-founder of and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

86 Responses to “Alex Sanabia Might Be In Trouble For Spitballing”

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  1. Harold Reynolds says:

    just part of the game.

    +31 Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. Colin says:

    I would love to see video of the next pitch.

    +20 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • murphym45 says:

      Next pitch was a slider outside for a ball, followed by a warning track fly out to Delmon Young.
      He also takes off his glove and works the ball between both his hands after he spits on it.

      +5 Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. vikedawg says:

    If your not cheating your not trying.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Grammar Police says:

      Learn the rule: your / you’re

      your is a possessive adjective, indicating ownership of something

      That is your sock.
      Where is your potato?

      you’re is a contraction (combination) of you and are
      Do you know what you’re doing?
      You’re stupid.

      The two are not interchangeable.
      Getting it wrong makes you look stupid. And ugly.

      -15 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • snoop LION says:

        taking that much time to correct it makes you a loser

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Idiot says:

        If you’re going to be an asshole and attack people’s orthography, you shouldn’t call ‘your’ a possessive adjective, it is not an adjective, see genitive pronoun.

        You’re clearly a dick by your posting, and even worse you’re wrong but you think the shit coming off your fingers smells of roses.

        +58 Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Blofkin says:

          But more importantly, why is there shit on his fingers in the first place?

          +20 Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Ummm says:

          Actually, it is a possessive adjective.

          +30 Vote -1 Vote +1

        • cavebird says:

          It is both an adjective and a pronoun, and genative and possessive more or less mean the same thing, so yes, it is both. I find it sad that, given the post ratings as evidence, the anything goes crowd are crushing the correct grammar people here.

          +9 Vote -1 Vote +1

        • yeah says:

          Down with prescriptive grammar!

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • snoop LION says:

          were on a baseball blog COMMENT section. you understood what he was getting at with little confusion so why fucking bother.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • nathaniel dawson says:

          [we're], not [were].

          Vote -1 Vote +1

      • rickeycanstillplay says:

        I fucking love the internet.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Bill says:

        If yure not making grammatical errors, yer not trying.

        +26 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Who will Police the Grammar Police? says:

        “And ugly.” is not a sentence.

        While not strictly forbidden, beginning a sentence with a conjunction is usually improper.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Anon21 says:

          While not strictly forbidden, beginning a sentence with a conjunction is usually improper.

          Totally wrong. This is another myth propagated by the Cabal of English Teachers Who Don’t Know How People Write in the Real World.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Jason B says:

          Then again, people also write things like “Luv 2 luv U gurl”, so I don’t know that I would lean too heavily on “how people write in the real world” as support for anything.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Anon21 says:

          The real world of people who write professionally for a living. (Meaning not just novelists or journalists, but researchers, lawyers, consultants and the like.) The “rule” against beginning a sentence with a conjunction is just complete nonsense.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

      • vikedawg says:

        Thanks for the constructive criticism. I really appreciate your grammar lesson. Now if I can just remember them when I am half drunk at 2 in the morning. Can you send me some sort of guide or cheat sheet so I have a reference? Also please make it like 16 font so I can read it through my double vision.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • thalooch says:

        We’re talking about BASEBALL here. This is not !@#%^&*#@#$ English class! You’re in the wrong forum. Find a forum for English teachers and you will be received with open arms.

        -5 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Brian says:

      If you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t competin’

      Get it right. You’re on the internet, cheat, use Google when you don’t know a phrase.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • FlamaBlanca says:

        I’ve heard of his before and never heard of yours. A quick google search of “If you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t” turns up a whole lot of trying and no competin’. So maybe you should follow your own advice

        +8 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • TKDC says:

        This post is competin’ in the irony hall of fame.

        +6 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • philosofool says:

      If you’re suspended for 10 days, you’re not trying either.

      Getting suspended harms the team.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • for realz? says:

      Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt–I thought that he wrote “your” on purpose. For me, saying “your stupid” has a different connotation than “you are stupid.” It’s like more immature and informal, though obviously incorrect.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Baltar says:

      If you’re not cheating, you don’t have TWTW.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. Telly says:

    Looks like he’s doing it to run the ball down rather than to make it slick. Still a violation, but I highly doubt it affected his ability to make the ball move.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. Gaylord Perry says:

    Personally, I think they should bring the ol’ spitball back! Give pitchers some revenge for all the steroid junkies they had to deal with for 15+ years.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Roger Clemens says:

      You know pitchers were on steroids as well right?

      +46 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Bedraggled Dangler says:

      The rule does not mention whether a pitcher can smear his loin dumplings upon the ball or drag it between his bare ass cheeks. No imagination? For shame, Major League Baseball.

      +24 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Jim says:

      The spitball was outlawed primarily for safety reasons, since it moved unpredictably and was hard for batters to see since it took the white shine off the ball. Ask Ray Chapman if bringing it back is a good idea.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. Gaston says:

    I’m especially good at expectorating!

    +26 Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. #nitpicking says:

    Extreme semantics but phlegm is different from saliva.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • wahooo says:

      If we are going to get deep into semantics, I thought expectorate referred to any kind of spitting, not just phlegm–although the definition cited here seems to suggest otherwise.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. yeah says:


    Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. FeslenR says:

    the spitball didn’t seem to help Sanabia much, did it?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. Wobatus says:

    Clear case of EEDs.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. Delmon Youngs Sprained Left Fat says:

    Better to spit than to swallow
    A loss…..

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  12. Grant Brisbee says:

    I use the word expectorate, but only to make headline puns.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  13. It’s a wonder more pitchers for the Fish don’t throw a spitter occasionally. Imagine the mental wear and tear of knowing that giving up one run could quite likely result in you getting the loss. If anyone should be allowed to cheat, it’s their rotation.

    I say that in jest, but should we really penalize someone that plays for the Marlins for trying to level the playing field? If all of them were on steroids, they’d probably still finish last.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  14. Tim Leary says:

    Video evidence wouldn’t mean anything if he was Yankee

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  15. Wobbles says:

    though shalt not rub the ball anywhere on your person? every pitcher rubs up the baseball.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  16. Clayton says:

    Am I the only one on here that thinks the MLB should give the Marlins a pass. Just to make things interesting they should give all Marlins players corked bats and permit their pitchers to take electric sanders onto the mound for the rest of the season.

    This would serve two purposes: (1) we in the analytics community could really put an actual value on cheating; (2) we could see just how really bad the Marlins are when the still win 60 games with these advantages.

    +16 Vote -1 Vote +1

  17. Jack Morris says:

    This is horsesh#t!!

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  18. Leave it to the Base Ball rule book to utilize the spelling ‘addi- tion’.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  19. chuckb says:

    So, pitchers can’t expectorate on the ball. It says nothing of masticating the ball. Pitchers are allowed to do that?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  20. Angel Hernandez says:

    I didn’t see him spit on anything…

    +16 Vote -1 Vote +1

  21. chuckb says:

    Sanabia is a replacement level pitcher but only allowed 1 run all night. I still say SSS — small sample saliva.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  22. Yunel Escobar's Eye Black (translated) says:

    Sanabia’s phlegm-buoyant!

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Train says:

      He’s certainly phlegmblematic of what ails the Marlins, although, speaking of phlegm, what Loria’s done with that team you have to phlegmpathize with Sanabia.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  23. Matty Brown says:


    Vote -1 Vote +1

  24. Stickler for the Rules says:

    “(e) The umpire shall be sole judge on whether any portion of this rule has been violated.”

    So wouldn’t this mean Sanabia can’t be punished? Since the umpire didn’t determine any portion of the rule was violated, how can you suspend him after the fact if “the umpire shall be sole judge”?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  25. Paul AB says:

    I’d love to see the pitchfx of his pitches in that game, especially the next few pitches after this. The movement on his pitches would be interesting to see in a scatterplot.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  26. wobatus says:

    Given that he then rubbed up the ball I think he just wanted a better grip. I assume any effect of a spitball is from an uneven surface.

    If I recall, Whitey Ford would scuff the ball with his belt buckle.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  27. Breadbaker says:

    How old is this rule? There haven’t been League Presidents since 1999.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

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