Varitek pine tarring his fingers

Astute reader Lance Elroy wrote to point me to a bit of footage where, in the sixth inning, you can – maybe – see Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek putting pine tar on his fingers. It’s during Manny’s at-bat, the 2nd 3-2 pitch: (“good rip by Manny Ramirez…”) there’s a shot of Varitek in the dugout, and it looks like watching the dugout camera to make sure it’s not on, rubbing his hands…? He certainly looks fishy, but I’m not convinced he was up to anything nefarious: he might be getting ready to be put in with Wakefield out (which he was) — you can see during Drew’s at-bat Varitek’s putting his batting gear on, and he’s on-deck with Crisp up. It seems unlikely that Varitek was tarring his hands that early in the inning, and any advantage is deadened by his at-bat preparations.

It wouldn’t be a new trick, though. Catchers assisting their pitchers in ball-doctoring is a long and time-honored tradition. The pitcher’s under a lot of scrutiny, while their catchers are far freer to scuff or put something on a ball for the pitcher to make use of.

But was he trying to get pine tar onto the ball for Lester’s sake? Even if he was intending to go out on the field with tarred hands, there’s another, more prosaic explanation: Varitek’s not particularly good at throwing out runners (this year, he threw out 24% of opposing runners, putting him in the lower half of AL catchers). Pine tar on the fingers would give him a better grip on the ball making the difficult transfer to through, and help him get the throw off faster.

You’re not supposed to do it. But if you can get away with it and gain an advantage, why not?

Football cheating goodness: Patriots in trouble

I’ve been gleefully following the Patriots-Jets controversy, because it’s interesting and because it brings out interesting contrasts in how the two sports handle this. Here’s Chris Mortensen’s ESPN story.

The summary: the NFL took a camera and a videotape from a Patriots “video assistant” when they thought he was taping signals from the Jets coaches.

For one, there hasn’t been a similar coach-taping controversy in baseball yet, even though the nature of baseball makes it so, so tempting. In football, even if you put people on it, to make use of the information you have to either decode it in-game or hope that it’s still valid when you play them again later in the year.

But in baseball, where the series frequently run three or four games, if you crack a team’s system by videotaping their coaches and analyzing it all night, there might be two, three games left where you can take advantage of that information. And if you don’t, you’ve got another chance at it.

Football seems particularly well-suited to this kind of sign-stealing. In baseball, sign-stealing by the home team can give their batters an advantage for a hundred pitches, but that advantage is not all that huge. We can look at teams known to have been stealing signs and there’s no dramatic increase in their offensive performances.

But in football, where a team might only get to run fifty, sixty plays a game, being able to gain insight into the other team’s plays can be game-changing on that next snap. If you knew that every time the other team’s line coach made a particular sign that they blitzed two men, and you could be prepared for it, that could easily be a first down or six points.

The other interesting contrast is that the league’s anti- this. From the article:

Goodell is considering severe sanctions, including the possibility of docking the Patriots “multiple draft picks” because it is the competitive violation in the wake of a stern warning to all teams since he became commissioner, the sources said.

Baseball doesn’t have a rule, much less a stern warning memo to teams. And when these kind of things are suspected, baseball’s head office likes to investigate – and put the screws to teams – out of the public eye. You rarely even hear about them, and that’s generally only an accusation by an angry player that doesn’t get much play.

Here, we’ve already seen “sources” almost certainly close to the commish talking to the press about what happened, why, leading to reporting like “Sources say the visual evidence confirmed the suspicion”. Compared to the absolute silence MLB manages to enforce from their offices, it’s a huge difference. This is strange to me, because as I understand it, the NFL is way, way more controlling of the rules and regulations of how the game is run and what is and isn’t allowed than MLB. But faced with a controversy, they took action and they’re controlling the story.