Cheating, Pine Tar

Stick With Me, Baby, And I’ll Stick With You

Smith arm

Two trains of thought here. One is that foreign substances—particularly of the tacky (as opposed to viscous) variety—are commonplace among the ranks of pitchers, used to increase grip on the baseball. It can help slightly with performance (more tightly spun breaking pitches), but also helps prevent balls from slipping out of the hand, which in turn means fewer inadvertently hit batters. Most hitters are willing to take that trade-off. With all that in mind, there is protocol for those who take exception to such practices. Verbal warnings are a start.

On the other hand, a pitcher so stupid as to wear the stuff right out in the open deserves whatever the hell he gets.

Debate is open whether Brewers reliever Will Smith deserved it on Thursday, but he certainly got it.

Smith entered the game in the seventh, with his team trailing Atlanta, 2-1, and promptly hit the first batter he faced, Pedro Ciriaco. Against his second batter, Jace Peterson, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez requested the pitcher be checked. Smith was subsequently ejected. (Watch it here.)

Was Gonzalez correct? He said that he had been aware of the substance from the start, but waited until he saw Smith go to it before alerting the umpires. Any history of Smith and/or the Brewers cheating against Atlanta has so far gone unreported; if it exists, Gonzalez had every right to do what he did. Otherwise, however, he’d have been better served to utilize less formal methods. The reality is that there are pitchers on Gonzalez’s own staff who turn to the tack (because there are pitchers on every staff who use the stuff), who now must exercise undue caution when playing Milwaukee.

This is hardly the first time this topic has come up over recent  years.

The best example comes from the 2006 World Series, in which Cardinals manager Tony La Russa had the umpires request that Tigers starter Kenny Rogers clean an obvious patch of pine tar from his palm, but did not request that they check—and subsequently eject—the pitcher. In that case, a warning sufficed. Rogers cleaned his hand and everybody moved right along.

Not so in Atlanta. Smith insisted that the substance on his arm was a combination of rosin and sunscreen,a fairly typical concoction for pitchers. (The part where he said that he forgot to clean it off before entering the game holds less water.) Brewers manager Craig Counsell said on that he couldn’t imagine a scenario in which he would call out an opponent in such a matter. “It happens everywhere in the league,” he said. “And it happens on his team, too.”

Ulitmately for Gonzalez—who himself admitted in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that “every pitcher does it”—it came down to conspicuousness. “Just hide it better next time,” he said.

Despite a pissed-off Smith, who left the field screaming curses at the Atlanta dugout, this incident does not merit retaliation in any way beyond possible eye-for-an-eye gamesmanship. Knowing that, Braves pitchers better make sure that for the six games remaining against Atlanta this season they’re on their best, and least tacky, behavior.

Cheating, Pine Tar

Yankees Somehow Forget to Tell Pineda Not to Be Stupid. Red Sox Help Out

This one’s on the rest of the Yankees.

When Michael Pineda was caught by TV cameras with pine tar on his palm last week in a game against Boston, talk centered around whether use of pine tar is even considered cheating, and why the Red Sox opted not to have him prosecuted for it.

John Farrell seems to be viewing it similarly to the way many in the game approach opponents stealing signs from the basepaths: It’s hardly egregious, and every team does it to some degree—but when you’re caught, you have to stop … or at least make it less obvious.

Pineda failed on both counts.

It was under Farrell’s watch last week that Pineda was first caught, and Farrell was again in the opposing dugout when Pineda tried it again yesterday—this time with the substance on his neck. The manager was right in letting it slide the first time, and he was right in putting a stop to it the second, with the operating theory being, Guy’s dumb enough to get caught twice, he deserves whatever he gets. (Watch it play out here.)

(Farrell himself said in his pregame presser, “I expect that if it’s used, it’s more discreet than the last time.” Can’t be much more clear—or accommodating—than that.)

Where were the rest of the Yankees after the first incident? Who took the youngster aside and tutored him in the high art of pitch doctoring, or at least the lesser art of simply laying low?

The Captain could have said something, but Jeter’s not a pitcher. C.C. Sabathia has certainly been around long enough, but either kept to himself or did not promote sufficient urgency in his tutoring. The team’s next two most prominent starters are from Japan, and may have either little experience with pine tar, or little enough comfort with either the language or their standing in the clubhouse to lecture on the subject.

This is where a leadership void comes at a cost. (Joe Girardi, we’re looking at you.) Pineda faces a 10-game suspension, minimum. It’s difficult to picture things playing out like this on Yankees teams of recent vintage featuring the likes of Pettitte, Cone, Wells and Clemens. Some of them may have lectured Pineda about knocking it off, while others whispered hints about how to do it right.

It’s rare to see such a clear example of the importance of team leadership. The Yankees dropped the ball on this one.


Cheating, Pine Tar

Today’s Class: Intro to Pitch Doctoring


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.

Cheating, Pine Tar

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.



Cheating, Spitballs

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.

Cheating, Spitballs

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.

Cheating, Clay Buchholz

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, 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 RogersTony 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.

Cheating, Joel Peralta, Pine Tar

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.

Cheating, Jose Valverde

Spit-Gate Underway: Did Valverde Hock? More Importantly: Does it Matter?

Well, it sure looked like Jose Valverde spat onto the ball—or at least into his glove, which contained the ball—in Sunday’s game against Cincinnati. A clip distributed (over and over again via Twitter) by a Reds fan named Justin Tooley shows Valverde, on the mound facing Devin Mesoraco, pursing his lips and doing something that looks an awful lot like spitting into his glove.

Chatter around the Internet concerns the possibility of Major League Baseball taking action against him. The quick response: No chance.

The first reason for this is plausible deniability. Implausible as it might seem, Valverde might simply have been sneezing. There’s also the fact that his ensuing pitch was a high-and-tight four-seam fastball, not the typical diver that pitchers look for from spitters. As Yahoo’s Kevin Kaduk noted, “Valverde is well known for throwing a split-fingered fastball, which makes you wonder why he passed on throwing that pitch if he did indeed spit on the ball.”

Writer/pitcher Dirk Hayhurst (who’s graced these pages before) weighed in on his blog with the notion that spitting on the baseball is, in the pantheon of ball-doctoring methodology, “like trying to kill an antelope with a sharp stick.” He also ran down the assortment of goops found in bullpen bags across the land:

Sun screen combined with rosin make for on the fly finger Fixodent. Firm Grip, found in every training room, makes the ball hang from your finger tips. Well rubbed in shaving gel gives a little extra tack, but no to so much that your hands suck up dirt and dust like chicken getting battered for deep fry.

Vasilene does the opposite. The ball slides out of your hand like a splitter and drops significantly more. If Vaseline is to advanced for you, try Skin Lube, it’s the gunk trainers stick under tape wraps so players don’t chafe while playing. It doesn’t gleam like Vasilene so you can smear it under your hat bill with out worry.

Umps really watching you? Try Kramergesic or Red Hot. Burns a little, but it also leaves a nice slime in it’s wake. If you get asked about it, you can say it’s medicinal. Plus, a mixture of lube and sweat works far better than spit or snot . . . Unless you prefer snot, in which case, rub a little Red Hot in your nose and get it running good. Just don’t get it in your eyes or you’ll leave the game in tears regardless of your performance.

Heck, in the case of Ted Lilly, it wasn’t even about substances he used, but where he (allegedly) stood atop the mound. With all this stuff at his disposal, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for a pitcher to expectorate in obvious ways as the center of attention on a baseball diamond. (Then again, very little about Jose Valverde actually does make sense.)

If you’re wondering whether any of the pitchers who utilize those methods have been caught, the answer is a resounding yes—a lot of them do it, and it’s impossible that they could all avoid detection. Their collective penalty, outside of the rogue moundsman every decade or so whose viscous  pursuits are so obvious as to leave no choice but punishment once they’re discovered : virtually nothing. Baseball has avoided punitive action with far more damning evidence in hand than Valverde just offered up. Take Red Munger, a pitcher for the Cardinals in the 1940s. From The Baseball Codes:

Munger was known by opponents and umpires alike to load up balls with tobacco juice. After umpire Larry Goetz called the second strike of an at-bat on one of Munger’s doctored pitches, the hitter complained that the pitch had been a spitter. “Yes it was,” Cardinals catcher Joe Garagiola recalled Goetz saying. “Strike two.”

A cheating pitcher may simply be a hornets’ nest that most umpires don’t appear inclined to poke. For something more recent, there’s this, also from The Baseball Codes:

In April 1973, Yankees outfielder Bobby Murcer exploded to the press after facing Cleveland’s greaseball king Gaylord Perry in the pitcher’s second start of the season, yelling: “Just about everything he throws is a spitter. . . . 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.” Murcer went so far as to call commissioner Bowie Kuhn “gutless” for refusing to respond—and this was after the outfielder had recorded a three-hit game against Perry. When the pitcher was confronted with Murcer’s accusations, however, he said that Murcer hit “fastballs and sliders,” not spitballs. It would have been a more credible 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.”

To further the argument, The New York Times hired an unnamed Yan­kees pitcher to chart Perry’s every pitch throughout the game, marking those he thought to be spitballs. When the resulting pitch chart was com­pared with a replay of the game, the Times noted that, before every pitch identified as a spitter by the Yankees operative, Perry tugged at the inside of his left sleeve with his right (pitching) hand—an action he did not take for the rest of his repertoire. Yankees second baseman Horace Clarke, according to the chart, struck out on a spitter that, on replay, was seen to drop 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. . . .

Partly in reaction to the uproar Perry caused, a rule was implemented in 1974 that removed the mandate for hard proof in an umpire’s spitball warning, saying that peculiar movement on a pitch provided ample evi­dence. It didn’t take long—all of six innings into the season—before Perry earned his first warning under the new rule. Not that it mattered; by the end of the season he had won twenty-one games, was voted onto the All-Star team, finished fourth in the Cy Young balloting, and was thrown out of exactly zero games for doctoring baseballs.

In fact, Perry wasn’t docked for throwing a spitter until 1982, when he was 43 years old and in his 21st big league season—eight years after his autobiography, Me and the Spitter, was published.

Hayhurst made the excellent point that some of the greatest pitchers of all time cheated. Greg Maddux’s name has come up repeatedly during the course of this particular conversation. Nolan Ryan, Don Drysdale and Whitey Ford either admitted to or were regularly accused of scuffing balls or loading them up. When Commissioner Ford Frick lobbied to have the spitball re-legalized in 1955, Pee Wee Reese responded with the classic comment, “Restore the spitter? When did they stop throwing it?”

So even if you don’t afford Valverde the benefit of the doubt; even if you’re outraged that a pitcher would resort to such underhanded tactics; try to get over it. You’ll be receiving no satisfaction from baseball’s response—if baseball responds at all.

Update (7-12-12): Valverde says he was just wiping sweat from his face.

Update (7-13-12): MLB has spoken with the Tigers, with no apparent ramifications.