After his fifth pitch in Sunday’s Big Ten Tournament game against Iowa, senior right-hander Willie Weiss was caught with a foreign substance on his glove and ejected. He received a four-game suspension from the NCAA for the infraction.
And while the Wolverines went on to beat the Hawkeyes and later Rutgers to win the Big Ten Championship, Weiss’s actions left a dark cloud over that achievement. The ejection was overshadowed by the trophy, but it will not be forgotten as Michigan’s postseason continues.
“We made a mistake,” Michigan coach Eric Bakich said. “He had some pine tar on his glove, and that’s not allowable. We have to own it. We apologize for it. That happens in baseball but that should not happen in our program. … Willie will have a tough, tough penalty with a four-game suspension.”
The four-game suspension will cost Weiss the first three NCAA Regional games in Louisville after the first was served against the Scarlet Knights. Bakich said that Weiss will still travel with the Wolverines, and he did not discuss an internal punishment when asked about Weiss.
The effect of the sticky substance scandal could have an impact on Michigan’s performance in the upcoming week, but the bigger impact will be on its image.
The clip of Weiss getting blatantly caught spread like wildfire through social media. A TikTok by @sportsbettingtiktok has more than five million views only one day after the ejection — not to mention that the incident was nationally televised and made its rounds on Twitter.
A veteran caught cheating doesn’t just call his own actions into question. It jeopardizes the whole program and its history.
Questions as to whether Weiss has used pine tar in the past, if anyone in the program knew he was using a sticky substance and if there are any other Wolverines cheating are bound to be asked by many who saw what happened.
Before Sunday, Michigan had some issues on the field, but none concerning its character. And in a year already littered with blemishes like the Juwan Howard slap and the Michigan hockey team program’s investigation, the last thing Michigan Athletics needs is another scandal to widen the target on its back.
Bakich and the Wolverines responded about as well as they could have when Weiss was caught. They apologized and put it behind them to focus on the task at hand. However, due to the viral nature of the affair, it will stick with the program forever. No matter how significant or insignificant the problem truly is, it will be a lasting scar on Michigan baseball — including the ongoing postseason if the Wolverines make a deep run.
Weiss’s five-pitch appearance was his shortest of the year by far, but it may turn out to be the most significant of Michigan’s season.