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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

Why do foreign substances have to be a gray area?

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.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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24 Responses to “Why do foreign substances have to be a gray area?”

  1. blingboy says:

    The thing to be remembered is that if the Cards cause opposing pitchers to be scrutinized for ‘gray area’ stuff, then our own pitchers will also be scrutinized. I am sure that all concerned, including Lester, are reminded of the need to be discreet.

    Back in the 60s and 70s, I recall quite a few times hearing baseball guys discuss the subject of hair tonic, or cream, and the ease of getting a bit of it from one’s hair to one’s fingers during the course of a game. The advertising slogan for Brylcream was “A little dab will do ya'”, and that was often repeated around the game. Years later I had the privilege of having dinner in Kansas City with a group that included Earl Weaver, and he related a story about a well known Orioles pitcher, who had retired the year before, who smeared a bit of it on the back of his ear, the reason being that his ear didn’t sweat, so it would be there when he wanted it. And since he had the same stuff on his hair, he could hardly be accused of cheating just because some ended up on his ear. Earl thought that was genius.

    Fans don’t bring in signs and banners so much these days, but it will be interesting to see if there are any directed at Lester tonight.

    • Brian Walton says:

      I tried to make it clear that I do not consider the Cards being above suspicion. In fact, some might wonder if they might be incriminating themselves by being so quick to brush off what Lester did. Even TLR, against his good friend Leyland, did address the issue, albeit discreetly. Maybe Matheny was not aware of Lester until the next day, but if he knew during the game and let it continue without protest, what might that suggest?

  2. WestCoastbirdWatcher says:

    There is an issue being missed in the conversation. For the saftey of all players, rules concerning going to the mouth for moisture are relaxed at this time of the year. Even a bit of pine tar for its “tackiness” is tolerated. And this is the rub. Lester was managing a substance. He wiped it off for certain pitches, he augmented it for certain pitches. That is illegal and against the spirit of tolerance for the sake of saftey.
    In all fairness, I watched the activity through the whole game. He was hiding it, and managing it quite intentionally. The MLB select camera’s are really quite revealing for studying the pitcher. But, it also appeared that he used it almost exclusively for the cutter…… enhance his grip, as opposed to using it to sink something or to create off-speed motion. They will check it today before the game, and I’m sure……ask him to wipe it off. It is not a tacky substance. But hey………what do I know?

    I am curious though…….to whether he will go through the first without…adding it latter…..and whether they would risk a suspension? Selig and Fox with both be weighing in on the topic….or already have. It will change the game…and future games if they don’t. Lets remember, no matter what you do, it has to be controlled to compete successfully. Lester did a nice job……….he was also cheating…… Peds anyone?

    Hello to you BB……….

    • blingboy says:

      Hi Westy. Don’t be a stranger. I’m not against players plying their trade, including the time honored tricks of the trade. One such is a foolproof way to avoid having the picher get caught with any incriminating evidence. It involves having the substance applied by the catcher before throwing it back to the pitcher. Matheny would be well aware. So would Joe Torre, a former catcher. But anyway, they will likely satisfy us all by making sure Lester is clean tonight, and Wainy for that matter.

  3. JumboShrimp says:

    Not to worry, we have the Red Sox right where we want them. Cards in 7.

  4. Bw52 says:

    Cards hitters treated the baseball was a foreign substance and they didn`t want to get any on their bats.12 freaking runs in 5 games.Terrible pathetic hitting.Kozma0-10,Robby 2-8,Wong 1-1,Molina 6-19,Holliday 6-21,Freese 3-15,DD 0-6,MCarp 5-22,Beltran 4-13,Adams 3-18,Craig 4-12,Jay 2-14.Those are some pitiful examples of hitting.

    • Brian Walton says:

      It may be time to give Boston pitching some credit.

      • Bw52 says:

        Constant inability to even hit a simple ball to the outfield has cost the Cards several times.Standing with the damn bat on their shoulder cost them many times.Plain poor hitting.Boston pitchers are good but they aren`t Koufax,Gibson,Marichal,Whitey Ford and Tom Seaver that the Cards faced.This is a bad as watching the Cards trying to use Dan Driessen in the 87 WS.EExcept Cards can`t hit even that good right now.

      • blingboy says:

        Give me a break Brian. Buchholz shut us down, its not the pitching.

        As you well know, our offense has had a way of totally shutting down vs very mediocre pitching. And in the WS we have fared no better vs the mediocre than the superb.

        We are getting enough cliches from Mike.

  5. Bw52 says:

    So damn tired of seeing and reading about the greatest hitter of all time David Ortiz.Why doesn`t the media just kiss his ass o9n National TV.The drool and slobber over him is bordering on being groupies or his own personal PR department.Sickening.The whole GD media whorefest for RedSox.

    • Brian Walton says:

      I haven’t been seeing those sources you mention, but the Cards keep adding to Ortiz’ exploits by continuing to pitch to him. He has one-third of Boston’s hits for the entire series and is batting .733 against the Cardinals. That is impressive.

      • kray66 says:

        He’s a very talented hitter, no doubt. The Cards haven’t just been pitching to him, they’ve been throwing him hittable balls. I haven’t seen him reach for one out of the zone to get a hit, he’s just had to wait for a good pitch to hit.

        I’m not nearly as tired of seeing the attention that Ortiz gets as I am seeing the Red Sox keep grabbing each others beards. One more slow-mo of that and I may throw up.

  6. Bw52 says:

    Brian having more Tech issues with site again today and later last nite.Getting same message SITE NOT RESPONDING.Its taking many attempts to get on here.

  7. Bw52 says:

    On another topic,MLB trade rumors says Angels will to trade Trumbo and/or Bougros for affordable pitching. Angels also need a 3B.You know where I am taking this………….Lance Lynn ,David Freese and adron Chambers for Peter Bourjos CF,Andrew Romine INF,Jeff Bandy C (AA ) and Randal GrichaK OF (angels #4 prospect AA RH bat with power).
    Angels get a A-S pitcher,and a 3B a year removed from AS game and a speedy OF backup…….Cards get a speedy RH hitting CF and a Switch-hitting speedy reserve 2b/SS and a young Catcher who threw out 32% of basestealers (Bandy) and Grichak OF (AA slugger).

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