October 25, 2006

Umpire, MLB Made a Foolish Mistake With Rogers

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In Game 3 of the 1988 NLCS, the Dodgers were clinging to a 4-3 lead over the Mets entering the bottom of the 8th inning, when Los Angeles manager Tommy Lasorda turned the ball over to his closer Jay Howell. Howell ran the count full to leadoff hitter Kevin McReynolds, when suddenly, Mets manager Davey Johnson emerged from the dugout and asked umpire Harry Wendelstedt to inspect the pitcher’s glove. Sure enough, Wendelstedt found a clump of pine tar. Howell was immediately ejected from the game and subsequently suspended for the remainder of the series.

In light of Kenny Rogers’s pine tar incident on Saturday night, it is very clear that he should have faced a similar fate. There is absolutely no question that he violated the rules — not just in this series, but also in his starts against the Yankees and the A’s. Unfortunately, home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez was derelict in his duty, allowing Rogers to blatantly disregard the rules of the game.

Rule 8.02(a) clearly states “A pitcher shall not apply a foreign substance of any kind to the ball,” and if a pitcher is even in possession of such a foreign substance, “… the penalty shall be immediate ejection from the game.” Under such pretenses, it is quite curious that Rogers was allowed to continue his start in Game 2.

However, whether or not Rogers should have been ejected is no longer the issue at hand. Rather, should we as fans consider Rogers a cheater, or just another ballplayer bending the rules?

Interestingly, Tigers reliever Todd Jones authored an article in The Sporting News in the summer of 2005, sharing a surprising take on pine tar.

“I pitched in Denver for two years, and at a mile above sea level, I used pine tar every time I pitched at home. My thinking was that I was more than 5,000 feet in the air and was entitled to at least do that much. I never thought one thing about it. Was it cheating? My numbers say no, given that my career ERA at Coors Field is 7.64 in 59 games. It’s very dry in Denver and that makes the baseball slippery. I needed the tar to hold onto the ball. I didn’t want the ball to slip and hit a hitter. At least, that was my thinking. I never considered it cheating: I was breaking even.”

Some baseball insiders would agree — they do not consider pine tar to be a cheater’s tool. It is no secret that over the years, both pitchers and hitters have used a variety of methods to gain even the smallest advantage on the diamond, regardless of whether or not they were in blatant violation of the rules.

The spitball was used as far back as the early 1900s, and was ultimately banned in 1920, even though pitchers continued to use such illegal methods thereafter. Gaylord Perry was notorious for doctoring baseballs starting in the early 1960s, going as far as to title his autobiography Me and the Spitter. In fact, Perry would often sniff red peppers to make his nose run, using it to grease up the baseball.

Yankees pitcher Whitey Ford used to accomplish a similar effect by scuffing the ball with his wedding ring or applying a slimy mixture of baby oil, turpentine and resin.

Pitchers have kept a piece of sandpaper in their gloves or even a nail file in their back pockets. In 1987, Twins pitcher Joe Niekro was caught with the latter, claiming that he had been filing his nails in the dugout.

Nowadays, pitchers often spray silicone on their fingers, while hitters rub their bats on bathroom sinks to make the wood seem harder.

Each one of these techniques provides an advantage of varying degrees; however, all of them are illegal. Many members of the media have overlooked the pine tar on Rogers’s hand, justifying the action due to the frequency that it occurs within the game.

The incident seems to mirror the controversy over performance-enhancing. Baseball has often been accused of ignoring the steroid problem because the game was peaking in terms of popularity. Only until there was strong external pressure to reform did the league agree to crack down. Every player and executive within the game knew about the rampant steroid use, just as they know about the use of illegal substances on the field. However, once again, nobody seems to care.

Maybe this incident with Kenny Rogers will open some eyes. The fact is, just because everyone is doing it doesn’t mean it’s acceptable. Baseball needs to address illegal activities on the field, just as it has done so off of it.

Bryan pepper is a Sun Senior Writer. Raising the Apple will appear every other Wednesday this semester.