Entries Tagged 'Spitballing' ↓

Peavy becomes the latest pitcher caught with “dirt” on his hand

And I had nothing to do with it. Like Kenny Rogers, there was something that looked a lot like pine tar on his hand, and he claimed it was rosin and dirt.

“Peavy laughs off dirty-hand controversy” runs the MLB.com headline, which obviously endorses one side of the controversy.

Here’s a great bit from the LA Times, though:

Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt was handed a picture of Jake Peavy, the image showing a dark substance on the thumb, forefinger and middle finger of the San Diego Padres ace’s extended right hand.

“Pine tar,” Honeycutt said. “Rosin’s not that dark.”

Rick Honeycutt, of course, was once caught scuffing balls up with a tack hidden in his glove while pitching in a game.

Another interesting angle here is that the story – much like the K-Rod story – blew up, generally without anyone citing the online source for the story.

From that MLB.com story:

Photos of a dark substance on Peavy’s hand circulated after he tossed a two-hitter in the Padres’ 4-1 victory over the Dodgers on Saturday at PETCO Park, a complete-game victory with eight strikeouts.

The images were reportedly still shots taken from the televised broadcast of the game.

When I ran the K-Rod stuff, ESPN built a segment on it including using the game footage timestamps I posted to do video freeze-frames they could highlight and show off their technical wizardry, but they never mentioned me (or the book) at all.

The best I saw any mainstream outlet say was that it started on “a Dodger message board” with no elaboration.

So while this kind of event, with fans armed with increasingly better tools and supplied with better-quality footage to use them on, is going to become only more common, that aspect of the story goes entirely uncovered.

They – and here I include MLB and ESPN along with other outlets – don’t know what to do with this kind of thing. They want to cover the controversy without creating a monster they can’t control. In the political world, sites like the Drudge Report control much of the news coverage, and that’s power other outlets often wish they hadn’t ceded. MLB doesn’t want every fan deputized, and ESPN doesn’t want sports news democratized, so — you see where that’s going.

Again, from the LA Times:

A Major League Baseball spokesman said that the commissioner’s office was aware of the existence of the photographs, but didn’t know whether it would launch an investigation. Bob Watson, baseball’s vice president of on-field operations, was forwarded the pictures via e-mail by The Times and was asked whether he would look into the matter, but never responded.

Lemme take a stab at this: they will do nothing.

Manny Corpas cheating in the playoffs!

The Philadelphia Daily News:

TBS cameras on Corpas warming up before coming into yesterday’s 4-2 Colorado win in Game 1 of the National League Division Series at Citizens Bank Park clearly showed the righthander pour a cup of water or soda on the front of his shirt before leaving the bullpen and then rubbing dirt on the area.

Then, when he went into the game, he appeared to go to that spot before several of his pitches in order to get a better grip on the baseball. Since the Rockies’ road jerseys are black, any discoloration on the shirt would have been difficult to detect.

The article notes that it’s illegal for pitchers to apply anything to the baseball. The problem here, as we’ve seen with K-Rod and Joe Nathan and many other pitchers, is that the rule’s entirely unenforced. You can go out there with pine tar smeared all over your cap and rub your fingers in it before a pitch and not get called.

Here’s a totally awesome video of what went on, at least until MLB takes it down:

Will baseball, having failed to do anything about similar incidents all year – including cases where there was clear video evidence – take any action here? As much as the playoffs are higher profile, it still seems unlikely.

Pelekoudas vs. Regan

Chris Pelekoudas makes a couple of appearances in the book, as an umpire trying to enforce the spitball and foreign substance rules through his career even when baseball’s offices didn’t back him. His confrontation with Phil Regan provides a great example of how the dynamics of these confrontations worked. In 1968, the umpires were supposed to call suspect pitches balls even if they didn’t find anything on the ball.

So in the first game of a Cubs-Reds doubleheader on Auguest 18th, Pelekoudas went out to the mound after the first greaseball…

“I said to him, ‘Phil, I’m not going to search you. I just want you to know that any time you throw one it’s going to be a ball.’
Leo Durocher came out and threatened to forfeit the ballgame. He said we didn’t have evidence. He never once denied that Regan was throwing them. He merely said to show him the evidence.”

(Dick Young, 8/25/1968)

I’m not as convinced as Pelekoudas was that Durocher was admitting through not denying, since Durocher may well have wanted to avoid questioning Pelekoudas’ judgement of pitches, but okay.

Another umpire, Shag Crawford (what a name) gave Regan the once over, found something greasy, and ended up wiping Regan off with a towel.

Pelekoudas invoked the rule to call balls repeatedly and at one point called Pete Rose back after Rose made an out: Pelekoudas “called it a no-play and Rose was given another swing. He singled.”

Mack Jones got out of a fly to center as well, the pitch ruled a ball.

Check out the boxscore and play-by-play, courtesy of Retrosheet and see what happened to the game, though — once Regan comes into the game in the 7th, there are two ejections immediately, and then Regan’s catcher is ejected after complaining about the Rose second chance, and then Rose is ejected after being caught stealing at second. Four ejections in two innings.

So in that game, the umpire used a rule as he was intended to use it and much more aggressively than perhaps had been anticipated, and one of his crew found something on Regan’s person that was greasy (this is “wiped the inside of his cap” in some accounts, but that they wiped his face and neck in others). What’d the league do?

They met with the pitcher, his manager, and the Cubs general manager.

“Phil told me he did not have any Vaseline or other lubricant on his sweatband,” said Giles later, “and I believe him. Chris Pelekoudas suspected he did have a lubricant of some kind, but told me his judgement of an illegal pitch was based almost entirely on the action of the ball in flight.”

Nothing happened to Regan.

It’s no wonder that by and large umpires didn’t want to even try to enforce ball-doctoring rules, given the support they got.

There’s another great example of this in Gaylord Perry’s career… which I’ll get to in due time.

You can’t go to your mouth, but you can go to the lake

More Phil Regan-related goodness. In the 6/29/1968 Sporting News (p16), Braves manager Luman Harris vents about the strange enforcement of new anti-spitball rules that year.

Harris and the Braves claimed that Regan got a substance of some kind from his forehead and put it on the ball.
“He did it every pitch,” said Harris.
But I don’t blame Regan, I don’t blame (Leo) Durocher and I don’t blame the umpires. What he did is legal, the way the rule is today.
“Why, you can set a bucket of water next to the mound and stick your hand in it all day just as long as you don’t go to your mouth.”

Harris is obviously exaggerating there, but let it go, as Harris talks about the new rule that going to the mouth while on the mound is an automatic ball.

“They’re enforcing that, all right,” said Harris. “But you can put stuff in your hair, on your cap or uniform. I know what these guys are using – and where they get it. It comes in a tube. But what’s the use of saying anything?”

The interesting thing is that Harris is entirely right: pitchers like Gaylord Perry and Phil Regan, seeing the rules change to focus enforcement on the mouth, figured out how they could continue to throw their “hard slider” and get away with it.

I found writing the book that there were a lot of little hints like this that rewarded more research, or confirmed other suspicions. Sometimes, like here, I could track the rest of Regan’s hijinks until Harris’ remarks fit into a larger puzzle, and sometimes, like with Tommy John, I ended up with nothing substantial enough to put in the book.

Phil Regan and Jack Hamilton

In the book, I talk about Phil Regan (and particularly his August 18th, 1968 start where umpire Chris Pelekoudas went after him all game) and Jack Hamilton, who was the highest-profile suspected spitballer of the time, but what I thought was particularly interesting was how fate put them together. Before the 1966 season, Phil Regan was traded to the Dodgers from Detroit, and I found a September 3rd, 1966 article (Sportiing News, p3) about his success with the Dodgers which included this:

Some Call It Spitter
Some of the leading hitters in the National League say it’s not a slider, but a spitter, and the best in the business at that.
Regan, always modest, made this rebuttal.
“Not me, my roomie at Syracuse last year, Jack Hamilton, has the best one.”

Regan, like many spit-ballers, cultivated the doubt in hitters’ minds to his best advantage.

Regan doesn’t mind if some of the batters mistake his super slider, which breaks about 15 or 16 inches, for a spitter.
“In fact,” he explained with a grin, “I think it helps if they’re looking for it.”

Story on Perry marinating self for added advantage

Frank Jordan wrote:

I have an addendum for the Gaylord Perry section. I once went to a Mariner game and sat in row 1 behind the Mariners bullpen at the Kingdome. Gaylord Perry was pitching that day and was warming up before the game right in front of us. When he got done warming up he sat down in front of us to cool down for a moment before leaving to head into the clubhouse. Left in front of us were two players. I can’t remember their names ( I was 12) but I believe one of them was Terry “Bud” Bulling, and the other was a relief pitcher.

I turned to my friend after Perry left and said, “Man, Perry STINKS.” (His smell, not his performance.)

The catcher turned to me and said, “Oh, so you now know his secret.”

“His secret? How do you mean?”

““Gaylord coats his entire body with Ben-Gay before the game, and when he sweats during the game his entire uniform becomes a big greaseball. He can touch any part of his uniform to throw a greaseball. The umpires can check him all they want, but Ben-Gay isn’t illegal and there’s nothing they can do about it.”

This was in the days before the odorless Sportscreme. It would be even easier to pull off today. (Ben-Gaylord?)

I didn’t encounter anything like this while doing book research, and I did a ton of Gaylord Perry reading writing that part of the book. But I don’t find this particularly implausible – Perry freely admits that he was willing to try anything, no matter how outlandish, in his pursuit of excellence through ball-doctoring.

And even if the catcher was putting him on, it’s still funny.

Joe Nathan’s pine tar

When I wrote the K-Rod post (and follow-ups), many people wrote in to offer other pitchers I should look at, and Joe Nathan came up a lot. So skip ahead a few weeks, and right now I’m watching him pitch against the Mariners — and there’s pine tar on his cap. I saw it a lot heavier in some of the evidence readers sent in, but there’s a light-brown patch on his brim that’s almost the exact same size of the four fingers of his hand.

It’s not resin. Even if you want to argue that whatever was under K-Rod’s cap was a wacky localized migration from the rosin bag, here’s a pitcher with something that couldn’t possibly get there without his knowledge (unless you want to argue that someone else regularly puts pine tar on his hat and he doesn’t notice).

Interestingly, though, while I’ve seen the pine tar much heavier and I’ve seen him directly rub pine tar spots while getting ready, tonight I didn’t see him touch that pine-tar smear at all — but he went to the back of the cap with his hand repeatedly, including a couple rubs. Unfortunately, watching on TV you don’t get good close-ups of the back of his cap, but it didn’t look like there was something there.

All of which raises a different set of questions for me —
If Nathan didn’t go to the pine tar to get a better grip, why risk going out there like that, unless (as we saw with K-Rod) pitchers having illegal personal stashes of sticky substances on their uniform goes unenforced?

If he’s not using it to get a better grip on a cold, damp night – when he went out there, it was about 44 degrees, 82% humidity, raining very lightly – when would he use it? Or is it not about grip at all?

Angels claim Francisco Rodriguez investigation dropped

As predicted previously! The Angels claimed it was “built-up resin” and that MLB, has decided there’s nothing there. (original post)

From the AP story:

Angels GM Bill Stoneman said baseball disciplinarian Bob Watson called the team and said “there’s nothing to it, nothing to investigate.”

Nothing? That seems a little strong, given the strength of the high-quality ESPN footage they were running yesterday. If I was going to deny it, I’d have at least acknowledged there was something. But then, that’s Stoneman quoting Watson.

From the LA Times:

“It’s easy for a guy sitting at his desk, watching television, to put pictures on the Internet,” Rodriguez said, according to the Los Angeles Times. “But I hope he has something better to do than to mess with people. He has no clue what he’s writing about. I don’t even know who he is.”

Zumsteg, reached by e-mail, told the Times “I understand where from his side it seems like he’s been singled out and persecuted for what’s a fairly common practice, and if baseball’s going to crack down on him they should certainly look around the league at other pitchers with pine tar on their hats. I brought this up as something I found interesting in connection with my work on the book, and it’s not at all personal.”

Here’s the thing. First, assume that my initial post was totally right, and on Opening Day when he was really working it over he put a little something on the ball, that makes K-Rod one of easily a half-dozen top-tier perpetrators (and I’ll talk about those later, I promise). He’s cruising along and then someone tells him “Hey, some guy on the internet put up pictures of you from Opening Day and thinks you’re doctoring the ball”.

He’s thinking Comic Book Guy caught him. I’d be pissed about that. And he’s certainly not going to go “whoops! Some dude with an MLB.tv account got me!” So okay.

And take anything in the rest of the possibility spectrum, from it’s a personal stash of resin (which Orel argued every pitcher does) to it being totally innocent resin buildup that he didn’t even know about. Then out of all the pitchers doing this, he’ll feel like he’s been singled out because there happened to be a really good set of camera angles on him on Opening Day. He’s going to be twice as pissed, because now Comic Book Guy’s caused all these reporters to hassle him, and he’s on ESPN and they’re showing video with the underside of his hat brim highlighted…

Here’s the thing, though, and this is an important distinction: I didn’t say K-Rod’s a bad guy, or he kills puppies, or whatever. The original post says “Hey, I think Rodriguez doctored some pitches, here’s some awful stills of him going to his hat, here are timestamps so you can go look at it yourself, I think he got some extra movement on those pitches, and here’s the shot of the white stuff.”

I try to make a clear distinction in my baseball writing between what I know – the performance, the actions, and so on – and what I don’t – the personal lives of the players.

Anyway, I digress. I think it’s clear in the book that I have a lot of love for the cheaters (except the game-fixers and drug users), and I bear them no ill will. It’s not personal, certainly not in the way we usually think about that (“Player X is a bad person”).

I also think there are outstanding questions about this, quickly buried by MLB’s InstaInvestigation, which I’ve brought up in previous posts. And we’ll see if Rodriguez, and others like him, have a little cleaner uniforms from here on out as baseball continues to weigh how to enforce those rules.

Why Rodriguez was cheating, why nothing will happen

I gave this some thought on my way into Seattle today, and here’s what I think happens from here:

1) MLB looks into it, talks to various players (or waits a day)
2) MLB announces that after a thorough investigation, there’s insufficient evidence to take action

Now, unannounced, we may have MLB call the Angels up and say “Come onnnnn” and the Angels say “What?” and MLB says “Come onnnnnnnn” and the Angels say “Fine” and K-Rod stops showing up with strange stuff under his hat brim.

The least likely is that MLB watches the footage from the opening game, sees how blatantly he worked the thumb in there, sees the movement, and takes any kind of action.

And here’s why: even though Rule 8.02 (a)(4) says you can’t put any substance on a ball, no matter and get wacky movement is not a criteria. But 8.02 (e) states

The umpire shall be sole judge on whether any portion of this rule has been violated.

Plus, as I discuss in the book (and Orel just echoed on ESPN) generally speaking, using something to get a better grip on the ball is winked at. However, Orel’s argument – that it’s okay to use something in order to get the same kind of grip as you would in normal conditions – doesn’t seem to apply here, since Opening Day it was in the mid-60s in Anaheim when the game started. This wasn’t a night game in Detroit in late fall.

But I digress. There’s a huge barrier to taking action on the doctoring-the-ball part of this, for those reasons.

Which brings us to those who argue that it’s rosin and therefore no foul. There’s actually a rule on this:

(b)Have on his person, or in his possession, any foreign substance. For infraction of this section (b) the penalty shall be immediate ejection from the game. In addition, the pitcher shall be suspended automatically. In National Association Leagues, the automatic suspension shall be for 10 games.

Rosin is a foreign substance, same as pine tar. Now, players have pine tar on their helmets and uniforms, and that goes unenforced. But this is where they might take action: it’s clear that there was something on his cap, whether they find evidence that it was applied to the ball at any point. But it seems like it’s a lot more likely that the most dramatic action they’d take is a warning.

Part of this is political: if the league takes action on something that’s perceived as coming from the internet, MLB might see it as opening the floodgates for every fan to start making rules complaints, and there’s no way they want that.

MLB to look at K-Rod

From the Dallas Morning News:

Major League Baseball confirmed Thursday morning that it is investigating if Los Angeles Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez doctored the baseball during two appearances against the Rangers this week.


A Web site, The Cheater’s Guide to Baseball Blog, accused Rodriguez of having a substance under the bill of his cap and using it as he closed games Monday night and Wednesday afternoon.

I’d have divided this as “Francisco Rodriguez had a substance under the bill of his cap and is accused of using it on the ball…” since it’s entirely clear there’s something there. I know, the screencaps were from a 400k mlb.tv stream, but the press has access to better video and video equipment than I do. It’s totally there.

And I don’t mean to be a stickler, but I’m a person, not a website. But okay.

Interestingly, there’s also this:

Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said he was alerted to the site on Wednesday, but he said the team didn’t contact MLB about Rodriguez.

When I heard about this, I heard that the Rangers complained to the league about it, and I should check it out. I’ll update if I find anything out.