In the first inning of Game 2 of the 2006 World Series, FOX Sports’ cameras picked up what appeared to be a foreign substance, suspected to be illegal pine tar, on the hand of Detroit Tigers left-handed pitcher Kenny Rogers.
After news filtered to the St. Louis Cardinals bench, manager Tony La Russa walked onto the field between innings and asked the umpiring crew to make Rogers wash his hand. No inspection of Rogers was undertaken, but the request was made and the pitcher apparently complied.
The then-41-year-old went on to finish a strong performance of eight scoreless innings on two hits. Afterward, the incident was downplayed by all parties. As that Game 2 victory was Detroit’s only win in the five-game Series, the Tigers could not remain alive long enough for Rogers to pitch again.
The current situation with Boston’s 2013 World Series Game 1 starter, Jon Lester, is different in that the issue did not come to light until the next day. Despite whatever photographic evidence might exist, there was no physical inspection. The blowout game is on the books and over with.
Lester explained that the green-colored goo on his glove was simply rosin, which not coincidentally, is apparently the only universally allowable substance to be on a pitcher. Others suggest it was a concoction that included suntan crème, which apparently has joined rosin on the unwritten allowable substances list of at least a few umpires.
Even if so, one has to question the purpose of a pocket of suntan lotion-based mix in a baseball glove during an October night game and as such, why it would be tolerated. The Cardinals are simply calling the entire matter a “non-issue”.
What this has done, however, is put all eyes on Lester, who unlike Rogers in 2006, will face St. Louis a second time – in Game 5 on Monday night. Perhaps the left-hander will throw another gem with a clean glove, anyway. But maybe not.
On paper, this does not appear to be a gray area. Major League Baseball’s rules are very clear that foreign substances are not allowed on pitchers. It seems this is being selectively enforced, however, which is where the rub lies. Exactly what is foreign and what is not?
I need to note that the Cardinals are apparently no less innocent or guilty than others. In a memorable 2004 performance, Julian Tavarez threw his cap into the stands in an unsuccessful attempt to avoid being caught using pine tar. The reliever was convicted of bad acting and suspended eight games.
An even more famous incident occurred during the 1988 post-season. Dodgers’ reliever Jay Howell was ejected in the eighth inning of Game 3 of the NLCS for having pine tar on his glove. Howell was also suspended for two games.
Were players like Howell and Taveras ejected because of umpire selectivity or is a direct complaint required for action? Has MLB’s moral compass shifted direction in recent years in favor of greater permissiveness?
If everyone is doing “it”, as some suggest, perhaps it is time to make “it” legal. If not, then the rules should be enforced evenly and fairly.
At a minimum, Major League Baseball would aid its own credibility by clarifying its stance on this and other areas where “unwritten rules” seem to be guiding activity – especially when the stakes are so high.