Category Archives: Cheating

Today’s Class: Intro to Pitch Doctoring

spitball

In the wake of yesterday’s Michael Pineda pine tar firestorm:

There’s an entire chapter in The Baseball Codes devoted to cheating, including a rundown of the various substances pitchers use to alter the flight path of the ball. (Plus: titillating stories of said substances in action!)

For an online primer that’s both free and doesn’t require a trip to the bookstore, you can turn to yesterday’s Deadspin account by ex-hurler Dirk Hayhurst (who has appeared in these pages previously). There’s just no getting away from this stuff.

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Substance Abuse, NY Style: Yankees Pitcher Puts the ‘Pine’ in ‘Pineda’

So Michael Pineda loaded up his hand with a substance that would only be shocking if it was not pine tar. Why is this of interest? A few reasons:

  • His Yankees are playing the Red Sox, with just a couple people paying attention.
  • He did the worst job of hiding it we’ve seen since Kenny Rogers in the 2006 World Series. (Considering the Detroit-St. Louis matchup that year, Pineda did it on an arguably bigger stage.)
  • He was busted quickly by the BoSox TV crew, who called it quickly and accurately.
  • Despite the fact that Pineda struck out seven over six innings of one-run ball in a 4-1 New York victory, nobody in the Red Sox dugout saw fit to challenge him on his proclivities.

The latter point is the most pertinent. Lots of players cheat, after all, and even more of them fail to see the use of pine tar—employed primarily to improve grip—as even qualifying as cheating.

The Red Sox themselves know a thing or two about the topic. Why, just last October there was speculation about Jon Lester doing some World Series doctoring of his own. Earlier last season, Clay Buchholz raised some eyebrows by repeatedly dabbing at his unnaturally shiny forearm during a start.

Boston manager John Farrell is aware of all of this. It is almost certainly why he chose not to act, despite being made aware of the substance on Pineda’s hand in the fourth inning. (Official lines: Pineda, It was dirt; Girardi, I saw nothing; Farrell, He cleaned it off so we’re cool.)

In 2012, then-Nationals manager Davey Johnson was not nearly so cool when he got Tampa Bay reliever Joel Perralta ejected from a game for secreting pine tar on his glove. Afterward, Rays manager Joe Maddon raged about the impropriety of it all. The Code, of course, says that managers will wink across the field at each other when this kind of thing goes down, because nobody’s closet is devoid of skeletons, and the opening salvo in an accusation battle is rarely the final shot fired.

So Farrrel played this one close to the vest. Lester is still on his roster, after all. Buchholz was on the mound, as the Red Sox starter opposite Pineda.

Similar silence was precisely the course of action taken by Tony La Russa back in ’06, when Rogers was spotted with a palm smudged similarly to Pineda’s: He made sure Rogers washed his hands, and let it go from there.

Joe Girardi is undoubtedly grateful.

 

 

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Perry Gets Greasy in Mid-Summer Classic

Gaylord PerryResearch for my next book, about the OaklandA’s dynasty of the 1970s, to be published by Houghton Mifflin in 2015, has turned up boundless examples of unwritten rules from that bygone era. The latest concerns the 1972 All-Star Game, in which Hank Aaron touched Gaylord Perry for a go-ahead homer in the sixth inning. Because it’s Gaylord Perry, the topic is cheating (of course). From the Associated Press: 

Hank Aaron, sitting on 659 career home runs, hit a two run homer in the sixth inning, putting the National League up, 2-1, in front of a hometown crowd in Atlanta Stadium. …

“The pitch I hit off him was a spitter. It wasn’t one of his best spitters, but it was a spitter,” Aaron said.

Of course, this was followed shortly by a pro forma denial.

“Man, don’t you know that pitch is illegal? I don’t have any such pitch in my arsenal,” Perry declared.

If ever it was possible to see somebody wink through a 40-year-old statement to the sporting media, this is it.

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Spit Take: Marlins Hurler Opts Against Subtlety in the Subtle Art of Loading up a Baseball

Alex Sanabia

What does one do when one is a scuffling pitcher, trying desperately to hold on to one’s rotation spot on the National League’s worst team?

The answer isn’t always “load up the ball” … but in the case of Miami right-hander Alex Sanabia, how much could it hurt?

Well, there’s the aftermath. On Monday, Sanabia pitched his best game since opening day, picking up a 5-1 victory against Philadelphia while tossing six-plus innings of one-run ball. In the second inning, immediately following a Domonic Brown home run, Sanabia very clearly spit all over the next ball he was to pitch. (Watch it here.) Ever since, the Internet has been abuzz.

Seems damning, to be sure, but there’s almost undoubtedly more to the story. As evidenced by L’Affaire d’Buchholz two weeks ago, pitchers looking for viscous augmentation rarely turn to spit so much as gels and jellies like Vaseline and K-Y. Even those chewing on slippery elm (a noted saliva producer, of which Brooklyn Dodgers manager Charlie Dressen was so enamored that he would cut it into strips and hide it inside chewing gum wrappers for ready access by his pitchers) use their spit to slide the ball off their fingertips—they don’t rub it into the ball, as Sanabia did with his videotaped expectoration.

Marlins manager Mike Redmond went so far as to say that first base ump Joe West even saw Sanabia in action, and merely tossed the ball out before it was put into play. The Commissioner’s office doesn’t appear to have much interest, either.

So while some are having fun with it—Yahoo, for example, came up with 10 nicknames for the guy—we here at Global HQ will settle for offering a spitball-related excerpt from The Baseball Codes, detailing the greatest spitballer ever, Gaylord Perry. Some of the below ended up seeing print, but much was cut from the final copy.

Nineteen-eighty-two marked a watershed occasion in the annals of spitballing. It was the first (and only) time Gaylord Perry, the master, was disciplined for doing that for which he was known so well.

Perry was 43 years old, in his first season with the Seattle Mariners. Umpire Dave Phillips had already warned him about throwing illegal pitches in a game against Boston, but in the seventh inning Perry unleashed an offering that dropped dramatically. Phillips at first called the pitch—on a 1-0 count to Rick Miller—a strike, but, after thinking about it for a moment, changed it to a ball. Then, without even checking for evidence, he tossed Perry from the game. The pitcher was eventually fined $250 and suspended for 10 days—the first such suspension since Nelson Potter in 1944.

This was noteworthy because by that point Perry had for two decades been accused more consistently of doctoring his pitches than any man in baseball. This was the guy who titled his autobiography “Me and the Spitter,” and released it midway through his 22-year career. This was the guy whose North Carolina license plate read “SPITTER.” This was the guy who was so thorough that when, in 1971, a TV reporter asked his five-year-old daughter, “Does your daddy throw a grease ball?” she replied, “It’s a hard slider.”

At 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, Perry was highly touted as a prospect in the San Francisco Giants organization, but struggled through his first two major league seasons, both of which involved stints at Triple-A Tacoma. Perry’s good fortune came before his third campaign, when the Giants traded for pitcher Bob Shaw.

Shaw was a journeyman who wouldn’t last even three seasons in San Francisco, but he knew how to throw the spitball. Under his tutelage, so soon did Perry. “Bob and I worked for hours,” he wrote in “Me and the Spitter. “I studied his every movement. I had to learn how to load it up, how big a load the ball would carry, where to drop the load, how to grip the ball, and how to release it as well as how to control it. And probably most important of all, how to hide it from four umpires, three coaches, a manager and 25 players on the field as well as spying executives up in the box seats. I spent hours in front of a mirror at home practicing decoy moves.”

Perry finished second on the team in victories that year, and two seasons later won 21 games and made his first All-Star team. From 1966-78 Perry never won fewer than 15 games, and picked up two Cy Young Awards along the way.

“I’d always have (grease) in at least two places, in case the umpires would ask me to wipe off one,” he wrote. “I never wanted to be caught out there without anything. It wouldn’t be professional.”

Perry put Vaseline or other lubricants under the bill of his cap, behind his neck and inside his belt. If he thought people were paying special attention, he’d load up his back with hot muscle balm, which would spread over his body as he started to sweat, suited his purposes for lubrication, and was virtually undetectable.

“(Perry) taught me something early that I never forgot: (Umpires) couldn’t touch your skin when they came to the mound to check you out,” said pitcher George Frazier. “They could touch your shirt or your glove or check your pockets, but no skin. Gaylord told me he used to put the stuff under his shoe tongue, ‘in case I have a long game and it runs out.’ ”

Perry was traded to the Indians after the 1971 season, at which point a member of the Giants organization said, “I don’t know what he throws, but our Vaseline bill is down.”

It didn’t take Perry long to get under the collective skin of the American League. In April 1973, Yankees outfielder Bobby Murcer exploded to the press after facing Perry in the pitcher’s second start of the season, yelling “Just about everything he throws is a spitter.”

“The only pitch he threw me that wasn’t a spitter was the first one,” he went on. “The more he knows you’re bothered by him throwing it, the better he is against you. … He’s got the stuff behind his ear and on his arm and on his chest. He puts it on each inning. I picked up the balls and they’re so greasy you can’t throw them.”

How angry was Murcer? Before the game he called commissioner Bowie Kuhn “gutless” for refusing to do anything about Perry’s proclivities, then managed to channel his aggression into a three-hit day. When confronted with Murcer’s accusations, however, Perry said the outfielder hit “fastballs and sliders,” not spitballs. (It might have been an acceptable excuse had Perry been on the same page as his catcher, Dave Duncan, who in a separate contrived denial said that Murcer had hit “off-speed stuff.”)

If further proof be needed, the New York Times hired an unnamed Yankees pitcher to chart Perry’s every pitch throughout the game, and mark those that he thought were spitballs. When the resulting pitch chart was compared to a replay of the game, the Times said that before every pitch identified by the Yankees operative as a spitter, Perry tugged at the inside of his left sleeve with his right (pitching) hand—an action he failed to repeat for the rest of his repertoire.

Second baseman Horace Clark, according to the chart, struck out on a spitter that, on replay, dropped at least a foot. In the fourth inning, Thurman Munson asked to see the ball twice during his at-bat—during which, said the chart, Perry threw four spitters.

Perry wasn’t just a practiced spitballer, however—he was also a practiced spitball deceiver. One of the strengths of the pitch, according to virtually everybody who has been suspected of throwing it, is that making a hitter believe it’s coming is nearly as valuable as actually throwing it.

“The more people talk and write about my slick pitch, the more effective I get,” wrote Perry. “I just want to lead the league in psych outs every year.” To this end, Perry turned into his era’s version of Lew Burdette, all fidgets, wipes and tugs once he got atop the mound.

“Perry’s big right hand started to move and people started to boo,” wrote the Times about its charted game. “First he touched his cap, sliding his fingers across the visor, bringing them down along the right side of his head, stopping behind his ear. Then the hand went across his uniform, touching his chest, his neck. Was all this to create a diversionary action? Was he simply having fun? … ‘I did the same things I always did,’ he said later, suppressing a smile. If people want to read things into it, so be it.’ ”

Perry admitted in his autobiography to having doctored pitches, but, along with his confession, said upon the book’s release in 1974 that he “doesn’t throw it any more.” Maybe, responded Twins manager Gene Mauch, but “he doesn’t throw it any less, either.”

In 1991, after 314 wins over 22 seasons, Perry was inducted to the Hall of Fame. It was noted that when Rod Carew was inducted, Panamanian flags flew; when Ferguson Jenkins was inducted, Canadian flags flew; and when Perry was inducted, it rained.

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Arm Butter Accusation Storm Builds in Toronto

buchholz arm

Sportsnet’s Buchholz graphic

It started last week when Dirk Hayhurst—ex-pitcher, sometimes author and current broadcast analyst for the Toronto Blue Jays—unleashed some damning suspicions on Twitter about Boston pitcher Clay Buchholz, who’s currently setting the American League afire with a 6-0 record and 1.01 ERA:

Forget the hair, I just saw video of Buchholz loading the ball with some Eddie Harris worthy slick’em painted up his left forearm. Wow.

It continued when Hayhurst’s colleague, ex-Tigers great and current Blue Jays broadcaster Jack Morris, piled on, telling ESPN Boston that “it was all over his forearm, all over the lower part of his T-shirt, it’s all in his hair,” while in the next breath stipulating that he has no actual proof of impropriety.

It really picked up steam when the video crew at the Rogers’ Centre unleashed some video from Wednesday’s Jays-Sox game, in which the right-hander allowed only two hits to Toronto over seven shutout innings, of Buchholz’s left (non-throwing) arm, glistening with what appears to be something other than sweat. (Hayhurst went on to say that it might be sunscreen mixed with rosin. The Jays’ crew added some talk about Red Sox reliever Junichi Tazawa possibly doing something similar.)

To be expected, Buchholz subsequently denied everything (“Definitely no foreign substances on my arm,” he told MassLive.com), as did Red Sox catcher David Ross (“I know when a pitcher is messing with the ball, he said. “He’s not putting anything on it”).

People came out for Buchholz. Dennis Eckersley told Morris to “zip it,” and Jerry Remy defended him on the air. Cliff Lee discussed his own innocent accumulation of sweat and rosin. Tim Hudson had some fun with the situation.

People came out against Buchholz. Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci discussed details about what he feels is a fishy situation, and ESPN’s David Schoenfield compared the break on Buchholz’s pitches to those on offerings nearly 30 years ago from notorious ball scuffer Mike Scott. (He also quoted from The Baseball Codes, so credit to him on that one.)

What does it all mean? Nothing, almost literally. The Blue Jays haven’t accused Buchholz of impropriety. Neither has any other team. Umpires have yet to check him. The accusations are based on TV footage that can be realistically explained any number of ways.

It appears to be a Kenny Rogers-Tony La Russa-type situation. When  the Fox TV crew spotted Rogers with an unusual brown spot on his palm during his start in the 2006 World Series, it became national fodder—especially when video evidence showed the same brown spot during his previous postseason appearances. Instead of having the umpires check Rogers, however (knowing that if they found a foreign substance, he’d be ejected and likely suspended), Cardinals manager La Russa merely asked them to make sure he washed his hands. From The Baseball Codes:

In the face of this World Series controversy, the Gam­bler did the only thing he could reasonably do—he cleaned his hand and continued to pitch well. Fifteen postseason shutout innings with an obvi­ous foreign substance were followed by seven shutout innings without it. Alleged pine tar or no alleged pine tar, the Cardinals, who scratched out only two hits against Rogers in eight innings, fared no better than the Yan­kees or the A’s had in earlier rounds.

The primary question was, why did La Russa not come down harder? A variety of theories surfaced, one of which gained particular traction: Pitchers cheat in Major League Baseball. Not all of them, but enough to touch every clubhouse in some way. La Russa’s own pitcher, Julian Tavarez, had been busted for using pine tar only two seasons earlier, and suspended for 10 days. La Russa called it “an example of bullshit baseball.”

La Russa, the theory held, had kept quiet because he was reluctant to travel this particular road on behalf of his own pitchers, who would undoubtedly come under increased scrutiny. No less an authority than Buchholz accuser Jack Morris weighed in, telling the Detroit Free Press that “Tony’s been through a lot himself, so I don’t think he wanted to push that enve­lope.” (An entire chapter was devoted to this particular situation in The Baseball Codes.)

So even if the Blue Jays did recognize something askew about Buchholz on the mound, they may well have opted (and continue to opt) to keep it to themselves. This could be equally true for every other team in the league, regarding every other pitcher in the league. Rare is the guy like Davey Johnson, who just doesn’t give a crap.

Chances are that Buchholz will dial back whatever it is he’s doing (even if it’s legal, he’ll likely strive to make it less suspicious), and that the entire situation will blow over within the week, assuming he does not get uncharacteristically blown out of his next start.

Which is as it should be. Most folks around the big leagues view cheating as largely acceptable, so long as the cheaters knock it off (at least for a while) once they’re caught. Buchholz’s arm butter, legal or otherwise, is no exception.

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‘To My Hero, Ozzie. Love You,’ Sincerely, Bryce Harper

After Sunday’s Ozzie Guillen-Bryce Harper Hey, Are You Showing Me Up? staredown, some members of the Nationals brought a touch of levity to the situation.

On Monday, Edwin Jackson and Adam LaRoche had Harper sign a bat (not an unusual request in a big league clubhouse), then, without his knowledge, added the phrase “To my hero, Ozzie. Love you.” After slathering it with pine tar, and also without Harper’s knowledge, they sent it down the hall to the Marlins clubhouse as a sort of twisted peace offering.

(Why those two players? Jackson played under Guillen with the White Sox, and LaRoche—whose father, Dave, was a White Sox coach when Guillen played for them—has known the Miami manager since childhood. Both obviously harbor some fondness for the guy.)

Guillen received the bat with a laugh. The incident had already started to fade, but this was as happy a bow as one could have put on it. Still, not every such gesture is taken so lightly.

In 1987, after Mets slugger Howard Johnson had homered twice against St. Louis in two days, Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog suggested that corked bats might be involved. Johnson was in the midst of a breakout year—he had never hit more than 12 homers in any of his five major league seasons to that point, but his second blast against the Cardinals, on July 31, was his 26th in about four months. Herzog had the umpires check Johnson’s bat, which they determined to be clean.

It took just three days before Johnson found the perfect opportunity to respond. The Mets had wrapped up a series in Montreal, leaving town on Aug. 2. The next team to visit Olympic Stadium was none other than the Cardinals.

Knowing this, Johnson conspicuously left a bat in the visitors’ clubhouse, adorned with 20 wine corks dangling from strings. St. Louis pitcher Bill Dawley, who had served up one of Johnson’s home runs the previous week, wasn’t laughing.

“Very funny,” he said when the bat was discovered. “He’s going to get drilled.”

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Pine Tar Gate 2.0: Ozzie Strikes Back

When Ozzie Guillen is positioned as a paragon of tact, it’s usually because one of two things has happened: we’ve entered bizarro world, or he’s being compared to somebody completely off the rails.

Sunday, it was the latter. Guillen’s managerial opponent was Davey Johnson of the Nationals, and the issue of the day was pine tar.

Apparently, Bryce Harper likes to use a lot of the stuff on his bats—more than the legal, 18-inch limit. The eyeball test puts that mark at about the bat’s logo, which makes the infraction relatively easy to spot from a distance.

Guillen noticed. Unlike Johnson, however—who just under a month ago got Rays pitcher Joel Perralta kicked out of a game and subsequently suspended for using the stuff—Guillen showed some restraint. After Harper’s first-inning at-bat, he quietly requested that the umpires make sure the problem was taken care of, in a way that nobody in the viewing audience would even notice.  (Short of embarrassing Harper, it’s largely a moot point; unlike Perralta’s situation, the worst penalty Harper could have incurred had he been officially checked was being forced to get a new bat, which is ultimately what he did, anyway. This is partly because pine tar on a bat has less effect than it does on a ball, the theory being that the extra tack could add backspin, leading to extra distance on flyballs.)

The umpires followed through, much to the disgruntlement of Washington’s young superstar. When the left-handed-hitting Harper came to the plate in the fourth inning, he pointed his new bat toward the third-base dugout—something he does as a matter of course when settling into his stance—which happened to be where Guillen and his team were sitting. This time, though, Harper stared daggers as he did it. It was a clear message, and Guillen took it as such, although because nobody’s really talking, the context remains muddled.

Guillen, clearly feeling disrespected after having gone out of his way to keep his initial criticism low-key, spent the next few moments informing Harper about new ways he could violate his own anatomy, while waving a bat of his own. Johnson shouted right back from Washington’s bench. (Watch Guillen taking his grievances to the umps here.)

“Ozzie complained that the pine tar was too high up on Harper’s bat, so we changed it,” said Johnson after the game in an MLB.com report. “Then, he was still chirping about it. It got on the umpire’s nerves. It got on my nerves.”

Davey Johnson as the voice of well-intentioned reason. Bizarro world, indeed.

Johnson guessed that Guillen was trying to intimidate Harper, which could well have been the case. Of course, he’d have to have willfully ignored the 19-year-old’s history with such tactics, lest he consider that Harper tends to respond to bullying by taking extra bases as a runner, then stealing home.

After the game, Harper rose above the fray. “Yeah, I switched bats,” he said, “but I just didn’t feel comfortable with the first one, so I moved to the second one.” (Also, this: “[Guillen] is a great manager to play for, and he’s going to battle for you no matter what. That’s a manager you want to play for.”)

Guillen, for perhaps the first time, kept some of the details to himself. “I was just telling him how cute he was,” he said.

Left to break it all down was Marlins outfielder Logan Morrison.

“Ozzie did it the right way,” he said. “He said, ‘I don’t want to make a big deal about it,’ and he told him to watch out about that pine tar. . . . [Ozzie] did him a favor by not going out there and saying, ‘Hey, your pine tar is too high,’ to the umpire. . . . He did it in a way that wouldn’t show Harper up, and Harper showing him up was kind of a slap in the face, I guess.”

Ultimately, Morrison’s right. Fault Guillen for his response to Harper’s bat pointing, a display that seemed benign and would have been a simple matter to ignore, but when it came to handling the initial situation, he was the antithesis of Billy Martin having George Brett’s bat checked, or Johnson with Perralta’s glove. In other words, tone perfect.

Update (7-16): Guillen says that if Harper keeps this kind of thing up, “he might not make it.” I love Ozzie Guillen—love him—but from where I sit, however, Harper doesn’t have much to worry about in that regard, having consistently taken the high road through the course of whatever big league tests have come his way. Except for maybe his All-Star spikes. Not much humble-rookie about those.

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The Question is Raised: How Much Inside Information is Too Much?

Not to beat on the Maddon-Johnson pine tar affair too much (it may already be too late), but it’s given rise to at least one more interesting point. From Buster Olney’s column at ESPN.com:

When a player is traded and later faces his old teammates, his old team will change its signs, as a matter of course. It’s considered fair game to ask an incoming player for information about his previous team’s signs, or about how to pitch to batters on his old team, or about some other elements of that club. I’ve heard of teams specifically acquiring a player recently dumped by a rival largely for the information—especially catchers, who are the information highways of the sport.

But where is the line about what information you can use?

The key here, at least to me, is in a team’s ability to adjust. Catcher Bengie Molina went from the Giants to Texas in mid-season 2010, and when the teams met just over three months later in the World Series, the discussion was raised about how much advantage the Rangers might gain from his insider knowledge.

To judge by San Francisco’s five-game victory, not much. There’s a simple reason for that, at least as far as signs are concerned: They’re astoundingly simple to switch up. For all the gyrations a third-base coach goes through in delivering coded instructions to a baserunner, they typically don’t mean a thing until he hits his pre-designated indicator signal (such as, say, wiping across his belt buckle or touching his left shoulder), at which point the actual directive will follow. In this situation, changing signs can be as easy as switching the indicator.

Catchers’ signals are similar, in that many of the signs put down are subterfuge; the trick is knowing what to look for. It can be based on the count (a 3-1 count added together means the hot sign is the fourth one the catcher drops) or the number of outs or whether it’s an even- or odd-numbered inning. Sometimes the signs themselves are meaningless, and the pitcher is simply reading the number of pumps, or times the catcher flashes something. There are myriad possibilities, and for most players, changing from one to another is sufficiently simple to do multiple times during the course of a single game.

There’s also the reality that because many pitchers are particular about the signs they use, catchers have individual sets for different members of the pitching staff. This means that if a pitcher is traded, there’s a real possibility that he has little clue about what’s being used by any number of his former teammates.

This is a simplistic overview, of course, and teams can bring far more nuance to the practice—about which inside information may prove useful. Ultimately, though, I think there’s a straightforward answer to Olney’s question of whether sharing an ex-team’s signs is comparable to sharing intel about a pine tar habit: It isn’t. In Joel Peralta’s case, the fact that his pine tar was okay for the Nationals when he used it in Washington, but not okay for them once he left town, speaks to some hypocrisy. When it comes to signs, however, all teams use them, all players learn them, and they’re introduced with the understanding that, while they’re to be protected as closely as possible, they will inevitably have to be changed at some point.

If a former player hastens that inevitability, it’s simply part of the game.

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Pine Tar Discussion Moves Beyond the Boundaries of Washington

It’s one thing to listen to voices outside the clubhouse maintain or refute the propriety of Davey Johnson’s decision to have Rays reliever Joel Perralta ejected from a game last week because he had pine tar on his glove.

Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon publicly questioned the wisdom of the move, but his is obviously a biased opinion. Now we have some clarity from an unaffiliated source: Cleveland closer Chris Perez.

“If before every game if they stopped and checked everybody’s gloves or something there would be one or two guys on every team that would just get popped,” he said in an Associated Press report.

Which is exactly the point. Washington’s No. 4 starter, Edwin Jackson, spent three seasons in Tampa Bay under Maddon. Does he have any secrets Maddon might be able to exploit? Jonny Gomes was a member of the Nationals last season, but spent six years prior to that with the Rays. If he has any dirt on Washington, he could well have passed it along to his friends in Tampa. Would it be appropriate for Maddon to use this information punitively?

Of course not.

“It’s probably sticking in their craw a little bit,” said an anonymous former manager and executive in the Washington Post. “They love the guy. He pitched on short rest for the Nationals. They grew to respect him. Then the plug gets pulled on him

“I think the Rays are more mad about somebody calling them out,” said Perez. “It had to be somebody that knew—that used to play with them. I have old teammates that I could tell (manager) Manny (Acta) to call out, but I’m not going to. It’s not bush league, but it’s still not on the up and up.”

Perez clarified that he was not speaking specifically about the habits of any of his former Cardinals teammates, who were nonetheless quizzed in the AP story. The most outspoken of them was Kyle Lohse, who mirrored Perez’s opinions. “If you’re going to start throwing guys under the bus, then you’d better be sure there’s nobody on your own team doing it,” he said. “That’s all I have to say.”

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Pine Tar Madness Grips Nation’s Capital!

What more fitting place than our nation’s capital for baseball’s latest incident involving high crimes and espionage, which we might as well call Pine Tar-gate right from the start because, well, somebody had to do it.

At one end of last night’s shenanigans was Rays reliever Joel Perralta, supplier of pine tar; at the other was Nationals manager Davey Johnson, who didn’t much care for the extra edge the substance may have afforded the opposing pitcher.

When Peralta came in to pitch the bottom of the eighth, Johnson asked plate ump Tim Tschida to check his glove. And with that, the right-hander was ejected before he even threw a pitch, for what Tschida later said was a “significant amount” of pine tar—a prelude to a likely 10-game suspension. On his way off the field, Peralta tipped his cap toward the visitors’ dugout, a sarcastic display that he later phrased in a Washington Post report as “Good for them.” (Watch it here.)

The moment held intrigue on several levels. One is the fact that the pitcher not only played for the Nationals, but absolutely blossomed for them, as well. At age 34, Peralta went from ERAs of 5.98 (with Kansas City in 2008) and 6.20 (with Colorado in ’09) to a splendid 2.02 mark for Washington in 2010. That season he led the team in WHIP, hits-allowed-per-nine-innings and strikeout-to-walk ratio.

We may now know the reason. Somebody in the Nationals organization obviously had inside information they were willing to share about Peralta’s extracurricular habits; on the coaching staff alone, Nationals bench coach Randy Knorr served as the team’s bullpen coach in 2010, and first base coach Trent Jewett managed Peralta in the minor leagues that same season.

Were either of these people—the Nationals insider who dropped a dime on Peralta, or the manager who was willing to exploit it—playing within the boundaries of the unwritten rules? The short answer is no, but comes with the caveat that Johnson clearly doesn’t care.

Davey Johnson

For proof of this, look no further than Game 3 of the 1988 National League Championship Series, when Johnson—then managing the Mets—asked the umps to check Dodgers reliever Jay Howell. Like Peralta 24 years later, pine tar was found on the laces of the right-hander’s glove. (Darryl Strawberry said that the extreme break on Howell’s pitches tipped Johnson off, but other sources fingered Mets minor league manager Tucker Ashford, who had played against Howell some years earlier.)

Unlike Tuesday’s game, that move appeared to be tactical; Johnson waited until Howell was trying to protect a 4-3, eighth-inning lead, with a full count on leadoff hitter Kevin McReynolds. Howell was summarily ejected, and his replacement, Alejandro Pena, quickly served up ball four, helping ignite a five-run Mets rally.

The Nationals organization also has a history with the topic. In 2005, then-manager Frank Robinson had umpires—oddly, Tschida was behind the plate in that game, as well—check Angels reliever Brendan Donnelly. He was tipped off by his outfielder, Jose Guillen, who had recently left Anaheim under acrimonious terms.

“There’s etiquette and there’s lack of etiquette,” said Donnely at the time, in a Washington Post report. Robinson’s behavior, he said, was “the latter.” Angels manager Mike Scioscia was furious, and threatened to “undress” Nationals pitchers in response. His reaction was not so far removed from that of Rays skipper Joe Maddon—who happened to be Scioscia’s bench coach at the time.

Maddon was peeved enough yesterday to order a retaliatory examination of his own; at the manager’s request, Tschida checked Washington pitcher Ryan Mattheus a half-inning after tossing Peralta, and found nothing amiss.

“Heads up,” Maddon sarcastically told reporters after the game, according to a MASN report, as he wiped his unblemished desktop with a paper towel. “The desk is a little sticky right there.”

His follow-up comments were pointed.

“Insider trading right there,” he said. “It’s bush. It’s bogus, man. That’s way too easy right there. If you had done some really good police work and noticed something, that’s different. But that’s way too easy. That was set up on a tee for them.”

Much of Madden’s disconcert concerns the substance in question. Pine tar is as benign a material as can be illegally found on a ballfield; it is so common that a bag of its powdered form, rosin, is kept atop every major league mound.

Unlike lubricants such as Vaseline or K-Y Jelly, which increase a pitch’s movement by decreasing friction as the ball rolls off a pitcher’s fingers—in effect, allowing it to squirt out rather than roll, with minimal backspin—pine tar adds tack. It’s primarily used by pitchers to get a feel for the ball on cold, wet nights, but—as may have been the case with Peralta, who was pitching in near-70-degree swelter—it can also add snap to a breaking ball.

Said 1997 AL Cy Young Award winner Jack McDowell: “The only [illegal substance] I ever saw was pine tar, and I guarantee 80 percent of the pitchers still use it.”

Apparently, Maddon agrees.

“You’re going to see brand new gloves throughout the major leagues, starting tomorrow—pitchers on every Major League ballclub,” he said after the game, suggesting that pitchers everywhere will be inspired by Tuesday’s events to lay low for a while.

“It’s kind of a common practice—people have done this for years,” he said. “To point one guy out because he had pitched here a couple of years ago, there was some common knowledge based on that. I thought it was cowardly. . . . It was kind of a (expletive) move. I like that word. (Expletive) move right there.”

Ultimately, Maddon is right: If Johnson wanted to play by the unwritten rules, he would either have ignored the pine tar on Peralta’s glove or handled the situation in a far less obvious manner. It’s a stretch to think that having the pitcher tossed even served to level the playing field, because it’s likely that both teams have one or more pitchers who search beyond the rulebook for a similar edge. (“Before you start throwing rocks,” said Maddon to Johnson, through the press, “understand where you live.”)

The standard bearer for Code-based reactions in this category is Tony La Russa, who, when confronted with the fact that Tigers pitcher Kenny Rogers clearly had a clump of pine tar on his left palm during the 2006 World Series, opted against having the pitcher checked—which would have almost certainly led to ejection and suspension—instead requesting only that the umpires make the pitcher wash his hands.

La Russa’s comment at the time: “I said, ‘I don’t like this stuff, let’s get it fixed. If it gets fixed, let’s play the game.’ . . . I detest any B.S. that gets in the way of competition.”

Johnson nailed his man on Tuesday, but it’s easy to feel like a touch too much of La Russa’s B.S. got in the way of Tampa Bay’s 5-4 victory. Then again, it is Washington D.C., a city whose political culture appears to have been built on the stuff.

Update (6-18): Johnson thinks Maddon is a “weird wuss.”

Update (6-20): Peralta got eight games.

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Filed under Cheating, Joel Peralta, Pine Tar