Baseball BeatOctober 23, 2006
Open Chat: PineTarGate
By Rich Lederer

We have two posts for you today. Two-for-the-price-of-none. A World Serious special.

First of all, be sure to read Al Doyle's feature on Mickey Lolich, entitled The "Fat Man's Hero" and the 1968 World Series. It's a good read, whether you remember following the series back then or for those of you who may not have been born quite yet.

Secondly, let's turn this entry over to the readers with a return of the Open Chat that was unveiled last week.

The Cardinals won the first game behind the solid pitching of Anthony Reyes, who was backed by an early two-run HR by Albert Pujols. The Tigers came back and took the second game with Kenny Rogers turning in another masterful start in October. He has now joined Christy Mathewson as the only pitchers to make three starts in the postseason without allowing a run. Mathewson, of course, threw three shutouts in the 1905 World Series.

Rogers had either a "clump of dirt" or pine tar on his pitching hand. I don't know about you but is this dirt? If it was a one-time thing, I might say "ehh, maybe." But ESPN ran video clips after the game that clearly showed Rogers with pine tar in the same spot on his pitching hand in every postseason start this year. Coincidence? I think not!

My first question to you is:

  • Should Rogers have been examined more closely by the umpires and thrown out of the game on the spot?

    For some background info on the subject, here is how Rule 8.02 reads: "The pitcher shall not . . . (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 addition, the pitcher shall be suspended automatically for 10 games."

    There is a precedent for ejecting a pitcher for the use of a foreign substance in a postseason game. Jay Howell, a reliever for the Los Angeles Dodgers, was ejected and suspended for two games in the 1988 National League Championship Series. Don't ask me why it was two games rather than 10. (Tip of the hat to Viva El Birdos.)

    Some folks might argue that Rogers shut out the Cardinals for seven more innings after washing off the clump of dirt (as he called it). Well, who is to say that Rogers didn't simply transfer the pine tar to his glove or the bill of his cap? Could this help explain why he has suddenly turned into Whitey Ford in the ALDS, ALCS, and World Series? I mean, it's not like this guy is without controversy.

    My second question is:

  • Is Tony La Russa guilty of not making a bigger issue of the matter? Is his friendship with Jim Leyland getting in the way here?

    Thirdly, speaking of TLR. . .

  • Should he have pinch hit Chris Duncan for Yadier Molina in last night's game with the bases loaded, two outs, and down 3-1? Is this a case where going with the so-called "hot hand" got in the way of logic? Personally, I don't see how La Russa can lose that game with Duncan sitting on the bench.

    It's all yours. Have at it.

  • Comments

    Its pine tar, plain and simple. According to the rule you stated he should've been ejected. However, like speeding down the highway, am I breaking the law if no one is enforcing it? Silly logic but a similar theme. If the Redbirds aren't going to complain then they only have themselves to blame.

    *shrug* Doctoring balls and getting away with it has a long and proud history for pitchers in MLB. Gaylord Perry is in the bloody Hall of Fame. If LaRussa doesn't care, neither do I.

    Pinch-hit Chris Duncan for Yadier Molina in the 9th inning? Absolutely yes. To my knowledge there was no Tiger lefty warming up on the bullpen in the bottom of the 9th. Todd Jones would have continued pitching. Duncan was much more likely to tie the game or put the Cards ahead than Molina was.

    John Kruk actually said something pretty reasonable on ESPN tonight, something to the effect of "we know that we don't know anything." Whether Rogers transferred the foreign substance to his glove or his cap, or whether it's responsible for his performance this October: that's so speculative that it's best just to set that aside. But here's what we more or less do know:

    1. Rogers' word isn't to be trusted here. He changed his story twice, and contradicted his own manager both times, so his claim that it was a clump of dirt is virtually meaningless.

    2. La Russa said that a couple Cardinals hitters were complaining that Rogers' ball was "acting a little funny." I think it's fair to believe this was the case, as it was Leyland who passed along that tidbit to the press, whereas La Russa himself was doing everything to avoid controversy.

    3. The Cards had two runners on in the 1st inning -- the same inning Rogers was shown to have some unknown foreign substance on his hand, and the same inning where more than one Cardinal hitter was reportedly fooled by the "funny" action on Rogers' pitches -- and they ended up losing the game by two runs.

    What do I make of all that? I would say that this dirt/pine tar/mystery substance most likely did NOT cost the Cardinals the game... And yet I'd love to re-run that first inning -- with all sides playing fairly -- and find out.

    I think it was Joe Buck who said something to the effect that because the pine tar was so conspicuous, it's hard to believe he was trying to cheat with it. I don't buy the notion that he wasn't aware it was on his hand, but if you're going to cheat--on the game's biggest stage with a televised national audience, no less--wouldn't you conceal it a little better than that?

    i'll only address the 3d point, re riding molina's "hot hand" --- in point of fact, molina came into that at-bat with 4 hits in his previous 17 trips. his "hot hand" consists of one at-bat --- the pennant-winning homer off of heilman.

    that's how terrible a decision it was to let him bat for himself last night.

    While I think it pretty apparent that Rogers was cheating (he didn't even know it was on his hand? C'mon.) he was also dealing. Tip of the cap.

    I'm a little amazed at the ninth. Why on earth did Leyland remove Rogers to bring in Jones? It's not like Todd Jones is the second coming of Mariano Rivera. Almost a HUGE mistake by Leyland.

    LaRussa's reluctance to call out Rogers makes me suspicious of a larger conspiracy. On June 16, 2005, Brendan Donnelly of the Angels was caught with pine tar during a game against the Nationals and was suspended. Frank Robinson pointed it out to the umpires (it is widely speculated that Jose Guillen tipped him off) and Mike Scioscia flipped out. Scioscia said something that insinuated that, if the umpires checked the Nationals pitchers, they would find offenses as well. I found this argument disconcerting at the time, but even more so now.
    Did LaRussa not call out Rogers out of fear that Pandora's box would open and his pitchers would be found guilty too? If he didn't think this was the case, why on earth would he not make a bigger fuss about it? It doesn't make sense, unless he is trying to think big picture for his own team and the league in general.
    I wouldn't be surprised.

    I tend to agree with most of what has been said: if LaRussa aint gonna complain, well, who am I to make a fuss? (The if-I'm-speeding-and-don't-get-caught example, basically a variation of the old if-a-tree-falls-in-the-forest, is apt.) It makes me think of why opposing managers never called Frank Thomas on his habit of standing a little behind the batter's box while at the plate. Sure, Thomas might be "cheating", and making an issue of it would take away his slight advantage, but you've probably got a couple of guys of your own who are making a career out of bending the rules.

    I will say the fact Kenny's hand looked clean for the rest of the game at least suggests that he was completely capable of befuddling the Cards on his own.

    Am I surprised LaRussa didn't pinch hit for Molina? God no. It wouldn't be the postseason if managers didn't bank on OPS-challenged scrubs continuing their hot hand because they're so clutch in the postseason. Or whatever.

    I don't think LaRussa WASN'T complaining, he may have been shut up... I thought it was interesting that the announcing crew pointed out that Rodgers DID NOT take his glove as he was getting congratulatory high-fives on his way the clubhouse...

    I'm a Tigers fan and I believe Kenny had pine tar on his hand. I'm not blind to the fact that this type of behavior probably goes on alot more often than we care to think. But I'm really disappointed in Kenny, not as much for the cheating, as for the blatant way in which he did. The Tigers have been the laughing stock of baseball for the past 10 years or so. This season has been magical for the Tigers and the city. Why would you risk tainting the World Series, especially one that has been such a long time coming? I wouldn't have had a problem with him being ejected and suspended for the rest of the series. If you are going to cheat, you've got to do a much better job of hiding it. Rogers put LaRussa and Leyland in a tough spot. Obviously the Managers would like the game to be decided on the field, not by having a player ejected. I think the Tigers should consider themselves lucky that LaRussa didn't pursue the matter further.

    I just want to thank Kenny Rogers for making baseball fun again. These kind of controversies are part of the fabric of the game - Burdette, Perry, etc. And on a World Series stage ... fantastic!

    As for Leyland replacing Rogers with Jones for the ninth - I keep hoping some day a manager will just say, 'Stop this madness.' Roger's was dominating and should have remained in the game. Period. No reason to remove him, except current conventional wisdom that a closer should finish the game.

    I'm kind of surprised by the whole, "it's been going on for years, so it's not a big deal" sort of argument. The world has been turned upside down over a few people who MIGHT have done steroids and yet this is just part of the game? Where's all the sanctimony and righteous indignation now? Is what Rogers did any worse than what Bonds, McGwire, or Sosa are alleged to have done? Cheating is cheating and the rules are there for a reason. I still don't follow the logic that Bonds doesn't deserve to be in the HOF b/c he cheated but it's OK that Gaylord Perry is there. But it seems that that viewpoint is still alive and well here.

    As for the point about LaRussa having his players checked, interesting point!

    Are people so naive as to believe that Rogers pitched clean in innings 2-8? Couldn't he have just hidden the pine tar? How 'bout in his glove, since FOX booth so clearly pointed out how odd it was that he kept his glove on in the dugout?

    And why is it LaRussa's job to enforce the fairness of the game? Isn't that what the umps are for? When Inge interfered with Rolen in Game 1, LaRussa didn't have to point it out--the umps just cited the interference rule and enforced it. Why didn't they cite the "foreign substance" rule and enforce that with Rogers?

    Did they really tell Rogers to wash his hands??? Leyland said it twice, and he has no reason to make that up. Wouldn't you want to examine the substance before you tell him to wash it off? Isn't that like a homicide detective telling his primary suspect to go wash the "red paint" off his hands?

    For the first time in my life, I found myself nodding while John Kruk was talking: "It's like telling a bank robber 'if you just give the money back, you can keep banking here.'" If Pujols breaks his bat in the first inning and cork is revealed, would the umps tell him to just make sure he uses unadulterated bats for the rest of the game? Would Leyland have to protest, or would the umps just eject him without manager input?

    I've read that the umps checked it out and confirmed it was dirt, but what we saw on FOX was the umps talking to Rogers AFTER he'd already been in the dugout, gotten warned by someone in his dugout (Van Slyke?), and gone into the clubhouse to remove the evidence. And what about the yellowish, discolored residue that remained? Dirt washes off; pine tar doesn't. Could the umps really not see what was so clear to the viewer at home?

    As for all the people who are saying "yeah, but Rogers has been lights out throughout the postseason"...why isn't there more (any?) outrage over the "clump of dirt" that's been present on Rogers' hand in all of his wins? ESPN showed the footage of the same substance (awfully shiny and gooey dirt) v. the Yankees and A's. Doesn't this guy ever wash his hands? Everyone else seems to see the Second Coming of Christy Mathewson, but all I see is the emperor who has no clothes.

    What about Rogers contradicting himself in consecutive sentences in the postgame conference? Something to the effect of "I didn't know it was there until they told me" and "no, no one told me, I just noticed it myself" in consecutive responses. One of those statements isn't true. Why lie if you have nothing to hide? As for Rogers saying it was some dirt he hadn't noticed...c'mon, that's his pitching hand! That's his livelihood! That's THE tool of his trade! Are you kidding me, that you wouldn't notice a gigantic smear of sticky, slime on your pitching hand??? That's like a sports columnist not noticing the column he submitted was laced with racial and ethnic slurs. That's like a cop not realizing he mistakenly tucked an AK-47 in his belt. That's like Katie Couric not noticing a gigantic piece of spinach between her two front teeth before she goes on the air. Nope, not buying it. He knew it was there, and yes, Joe Buck, he WAS audacious enough to allow his cheating to be so conspicuous. He got away with it all through the playoffs--why bother hiding it where it's harder to get to, if you know that everyone's just winking, nodding, and looking the other way?

    And why is it accepted that pitchers cheat--"part of the game"--but hitters can't? Just because ESPN cites an unscientific survey that finds 60-70 percent of pitchers cheat, does that make it okay? Doesn't seeing Rogers getting away with it encourage others to try it?

    I get the argument defending LaRussa, that he wants to win on the field--not in the rulebook. I get that he doesn't want to distract his team from their mission (a la the Denkinger distraction in '85). I get that he doesn't want to appear as a "sour grapes" loser. But HE shouldn't have to enforce the rules! The umps really blew this one.

    i'm pretty much in agreement with c'mon play fair.

    and to the tigers fan: it's only bad because he was blatant and got caught?? cheating is cheating, regardless. speeding is speeding, and a tree falling is a tree falling.

    i think what we need here is an investigation, though. we need to determine the level of taint

    Um, Mike. Didn't Ozzie Guillen stop the madness last year? I mean, didn't the Chisox have 4 complete games against the Astros? Sheeesh. Short term memories.

    I don't get the "it was only dirt, so whats the big deal?" argument. If it was only dirt on his hand (it wasn't, but even if it was), shouldn't he have been thrown out of the game anyway? Doesn't dirt count as "any foreign substance" the same as pine tar, glue, snot, or any other substance that a pitcher could use to doctor a ball?

    To me, this is the same as if Rogers stuck a needle in his butt and injected horse tranquilizers or some such stuff. He cheated, the umps and LaRussa didn't sufficiently call him on it, for some reason, and he got away with it. Despicable. So, to answer the question, of course Rogers should have been thrown out.

    I am a Tigers fan, but I also play vintage baseball according to the gentlemanly codes of the 1860's. I am deeply disappointed that Rogers is putting any kind of gunk on the ball.

    Sure, Lew Burdette ran off 24 scoreless innings with a well-timed spitter, but that was no more authentic than Rogers' streak. I still hope the Tigers win, but I am rooting for Rogers to give up a run early in Game 6 and leave Christy Mathewson his rightful record.

    Why is LaRussa playing mum? I think he's furious at Leyland, but he's too gentlemanly (and concerned about fueling the media firestorm) to end their long friendship in a public and acrimonious manner.

    PS: LaRussa has no excuse for not pinch-hitting Duncan for Molina.

    Even after he washed it off...the Cards only got 1 hit until after Kenny was out of the game in the 9th. So his pitching hasn't been ALL pine tar influenced this month.

    I'm not buying the whole "he was still using it from innings 2-8" claim.

    No, it's not odd for Kenny Rogers to keep his glove on in the dugout. For all anyone knows, he might do that during every game.

    And do you really think that Rogers would go back out there with pine tar somewhere on him after nearly being caught pine-handed? If LaRussa asks for an inspection, or the umpires get proactive, they'd find it in his glove or on the brim of his cap. Why even take the risk when there's a gigantic microscope watching your every move?

    There have also been some claims that Rogers held his glove up, as if preventing something from falling out, while entering & exiting the field. My only response to this is that Kenny made several plays in the field, and if there was something in his glove it most certainly would have fallen out one of those times.

    I do think Kenny Rogers was using pine, but even if he was he certainly did not use it after the first inning (his worst inning on the mound, anyway), and dominated seven more innings.

    And while it doesn't make what Rogers did any more legitimate, pine is commonplace in baseball.

    Article from June 2005, written by Todd Jones.

    You wonder if they knew he was using pine, why the Cardinals wouldn't have spoken up a little more loudly, or why we aren't reading stories today from current players who decry the practice. Couldn't it be because in the same situation they might do the same thing that Rogers did?

    "Why even take the risk...?"

    Umm...

    ...because you were a subpar postseason pitcher and now you're suddenly unhittable?

    ...24 1/3 scoreless innings?

    ...the umps already gave you a free pass with the evidence CLEARLY on your hand? And if they let that go, they're not likely to request a cavity search later in the game?

    My question: Why would you risk your reputation by slathering on the pine tar throughout the 2006 postseason if you knew you could get the same results legitimately?

    I probably wouldn't be so suspicious were it not for the body of evidence so neatly compiled on ESPN. How do you explain this guy's sudden emergence as the most dominant postseason pitcher in a century? Checking the tape on his ALDS and ALCS appearances, the repeated presence of pine tar calls into question all of his accomplishments.

    I don't know where you read about how Rogers held his glove...why would he need to hold his glove up a certain way? Pine tar wouldn't fall out.

    p.s. Re: the third question...of COURSE pinch-hit Duncan for Molina! Gotta play the percentages, not the (not-so) hot bat!

    Funny that Rick would say that Rogers has suddenly turned into Whitey Ford...who was a notorious cheater himself...how appropriate

    Larry Dierker has a blog entry at the Houston Chronicle which addresses the pine tar incident.
    http://blogs.chron.com/larrydierker/2006/10/spin_doctor.html
    Reading between the lines, it seems like it may not be unusual for pitchers to put pine tar on the pitching hand when it is very cold. Dierker doesn't believe that such a small amount of pine tar can be used to alter the flight of the ball, but that it can give the pitcher a better feel for his pitches when cool temperature makes the ball seem slick. Given some of the previous comments about a "conspiracy" among players/managers not to complain, Dierker's comments are interesting.

    I think everyone is in agreement at this point that Rogers was using pine tar to control the location and spin of the ball. I suggest an experiment for those who don't think it matters: If you live in a cold climate go outside with your baseball, wait until your hands get good and cold and try to hit a target. Now go find a pine tree and rub some sap on your hands and try it again. You will probably be amazed at how accurate you can be. Now go inside and try to wash it off, after you realize it does't come off go and try the same pitches again.

    As for the Dierker reference here are his comments:
    "When it is cold, your hands feel slick and the hide of the ball feels slick. You feel like you can't make it spin the way it does in warmer weather when the skin -- flesh and hide -- feel normal. I always had pine tar in that exact same place when it was cold and the balls felt that way. Perhaps you noticed how wild Kinney was. I bet he would tell you the balls felt slick."

    I guess Kinney would have been better served to use some pine tar.

    ESPN has actually covered this topic respectably. One of the aspects that has not been discussed on this forum is that Rogers uses a different hat than his fellow pitchers (it's in the UniWatch article). The underside of the brim of his hat is navy blue-black (it's the Tigers' BP hat), while the traditional home hat has a light gray underside. Taken on its own, this seems to be unimportant. But within the context of pine tar concealment, it should at least be mentioned. A navy blue-black brim makes it a lot easier to conceal pine tar than a light gray brim. Rogers also goes to his hat a lot between pitches.
    So I am not convinced that Rogers was "clean" after the first inning.

    James T -

    Ozzie may have done it last year in the WS, but sadly, the madness is still with us ...

    If you want to load up an occasional pitch instead of getting caught in the act, the catcher can always put a dab of something on the ball.

    Pinch hit Duncan for Molina? Absolutely.

    I understand TLR wanting to ride the hot hand, molina was the big hero and all n game 7. but yeah, duncan was the logical choice there, or even john rodriguez. i just hope as a card fan that we can make him pay. dude's izzy with a handlebar mustache and a ron burgundy hairdo

    On dirtgate-imo, KR should've been out of the game. at least he shouldn't be allowed to pitch game 6 if it comes to that, because there's all kind of pictures now of him with that crap on his hand out there from lots of games. i know that guys cheat all the time and still get the crap kicked out of them. but i kinda wonder if this is new for rogers. 1. he doesn't hide it well at all. if so many guys are using it, why is it rogers has all this evidence on him now? he doesn't know what he's doing 2. all of a sudden, he's getting power pitcher type numbers in the playoffs, ie lots of swings and misses and K's. broadcasters in the ALDS and ALCS were commenting on how much his curve was breaking, the gunk has to be playing a part.

    you look around and some of the games played in the cold at Shea or Comerica, almost no one is getting that much movement in that weather, other then rogers. Chris Carpenter has one of the game's better curves, and he hasn't been commanding it lately. Wainwright has a hammer, and in game 7 he had troubles with getting a grip on the ball for a little bit.

    Nobody proved that Kenny Rogers used pine tar last night. Kenny Rogers shouldn't have to pay the price for the upires indolence, or their satisfaction with their alleged inspection.

    As for the comparison with steroids, pine tar is exponentially less problematic for the players health. "Arms races" with steriods will have long term repurcussions that should make anybody with a conscious shudder. I doubt the same is true for pine tar arms races...

    The 4 consecutive complete games by the White Sox were in the ALCS, not the World Series...

    It's pretty obvious why Larussa didn't push the issue: Because his own pitchers do the same kinds of things! And he knows that Leyland is not a stupid man.

    MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING. This has been going on for years and will go on forever. It's not cheating, it's gamesmanship. It's part of the game of baseball.

    1) Rogers was cheating. That's pine tar. Everyone I know who's played baseball and seen that picture, think it looks like pine tar. The umps totally blew the deal by not tossing Rogers. He should have been inspected and ejected from the game. MLB further compounds the willful ignorance of the cheating by not meteing out the 10 game suspension, when faced with photographic evidence that Rogers had cheated 2 twice before in the identical manner.

    For those who say, why would he cheat? Why wouldn't he. Rogers is a mediocre pitcher pitching in the biggest games of his life. Then he got off completely scott free THREE times. The only way the umps could condone it any more would be to put the pine tar on his hand for him.

    2) I think LaRussa's not making a huge stink had little, if anything, to do with his relationship with Leyland or "being a gentleman". First, he still has to deal with umpires for the rest of the series, so if he shows them up now, his team won't get a call for the rest of the series. Second, and sadly probably more importantly, his own pitchers are probably using the same stuff, and he doesn't want the same harsh light of inspection shone on his pitchers.

    3) Duncan should have been up for Molina. Full disclosure: I'm a Met fan, and I have an irrational hatred for Yadier.

    And the fact that he's put together a dominant stretch does not prove he's been cheating. It's not like Kenny Rogers is some hack out there--the guy's won over 200 games in the big leagues. It's a good pitcher who has put together three good starts (two of them against rather mediocre hitting clubs), and if the calendar read May instead of October no one would notice. When you're dealing with a small sample size like this, anything can happen.

    His performance isn't proof that he's cheating, the big brown spot of pine tar is (was).

    This pine tar business is a 100% non story. It's the result of what happens when you have too much media coverage and not enough story. That simple.

    Having read an interview with a pitching coach on the pine tar question, I go along with the idea that TLR stayed quiet lest his pitchers get increased scrutiny for pine tar. I also agree that it's the umps' job to enforce the rules vigilantly. And they don't Of course the rules also define the strike zone, and the umps universally either ignore it (likely) or are so incompetent they can't find it. Finally, I'm sympathetic with the pitchers. After all, baseball slashed the mound height down after Bob Gibson's 1.12 era year. That's like widening the strike zone to cut batting averages. But they've never done that.

    Bill

    I can not disagree more with the notion that "PineTarGate" is not newsworthy.

    That the people in charge of enforcing the game's rules so deliberately and willfully ignored and broke the rules, on the games biggests stage, is absolutely worth noting.