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The implications of a cheating accusation in baseball can be enormous. Jack Morris, a color commentator for the Toronto Blue Jays radio broadcast, put Clay Buchholz and the Boston Red Sox at risk of these implications when he accused the starting pitcher of throwing a “spitter.” However, the hard throwing righty demonstrated mental fortitude and resilience as he emerged from the accusations unscathed and took a key step forward in his young big league career.
When asked how he came to his conclusion that Buchholz was cheating, Morris said, “I found out because the guys on the video camera showed it to me right after the game. I didn’t see it during the game. They showed it to me and said, ‘What do you think of this?’ and I said, ‘Well, he’s throwing a spitter. Cause that’s what it is.”
While Buchholz was never found guilty and avoided a suspension, a potential consequence remained. This is a consequence that has plagued many athletes across all sports. It is the consequence of psychological manipulation. We’ve seen Phil Jackson inflict Kevin Durant with it in the 2010 NBA playoffs, we’ve seen countless NFL players fall victim to it after serious injuries, and we almost saw Morris strike down Buchholz with it.
When Morris made his accusation, Buchholz had just dominated the already slumping Blue Jays lineup striking out eight while surrendering zero runs and just two hits through seven innings of work. The loss knocked Toronto down to 10-17 overall and 8.5 games behind Boston. This wasn’t just any Toronto team, however. This was a Toronto team that aggressively opened their wallets during the off-season and acquired R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Melky Cabrera, and many other expensive players. This was a team that many experts picked to win the AL East and was instead severely underachieving.
Morris said, “I told him I was sorry that I had taken attention away from what he was doing — that’s not what I was trying to do,” However, it is an accusation like this that can easily stir up the media and change the complexion of the season.
In his next start, Buchholz immediately ran into trouble. The Minnesota Twins jumped all over the right hander in the first inning and revealed weakness in a way that had never been done up to that point in the season. Back-to-back doubles and a base hit to center field put the Twins up 2-0. After proceeding to walk the next two batters, it appeared that his pitch command was gone with the bases loaded and just one out.
It was right after NESN broadcasters Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy began discussing the role that the accusation could be playing in his struggles that he went on to strike out seven of the next nine batters he faced. After allowing just four hits through the remainder of his appearance, it was evident that he had quickly recovered to his pre-accusation form.
Since that start, Buchholz has allowed just five earned runs and 17 hits over 27 innings and remains undefeated with a record of 8-0. It is safe to say he has emerged from the accusation, and the media frenzy that came with it, unharmed.
This is an accomplishment that should be acknowledged and celebrated as the 28-year-old demonstrated the poise that is crucial to becoming a top pitcher in Major League Baseball. While raw talent and a work ethic are also important, the ability to shake off unwanted media attention is vital for consistent success. Buchholz’s attitude throughout the entire process demonstrates this attribute with flying colors.
“I don’t have any ill feelings against anybody,” he said. “That’s the way it works. I didn’t do anything wrong.”
While he is young, he is surrounded by a veteran rotation that includes Jon Lester, Ryan Dempster, and John Lackey who have all had at least five seasons with 30 or more starts. It is very encouraging to see him take after his teammates and handle the situation like a true veteran.