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Pointing out rule breakers puts baseball players in a quandary

Tampa Bay's Joel Peralta was ejected from a game Tuesday when his former team, the Washington Nationals, had his glove inspected for pine tar. Players wonder if Nationals' move was the proper thing to do.

June 20, 2012|By Lance Pugmire
  • Tampa Bay Manager Joe Maddon, left, leads reliever Joel Peralta off the field after Peralta was ejected for having pine tar on his glove during Tuesday's game against the Washington Nationals.
Tampa Bay Manager Joe Maddon, left, leads reliever Joel Peralta off the… (Alex Brandon / Associated…)

Seven years before hostilities continued erupting Wednesday in Washington over a pitcher's use of pine tar on his glove, a similar, more heated fracas occurred in Anaheim.

In 2005, then-Washington Nationals manager Frank Robinson challenged the use of pine tar on Angels reliever Brendan Donnelly's glove, forcing the pitcher's ejection and multi-game suspension.

Tuesday night, Joel Peralta, a 2005 Angels teammate of Donnelly's, and — more important — an ex-National, was questioned for pine tar on his glove by Nationals Manager Davey Johnson while pitching for the Tampa Bay Rays.

The substance was found, Peralta was ejected, and he tipped his cap in a mocking tribute to whatever ex-teammate(s) may have ratted him out.

Rays Manager Joe Maddon on Wednesday called Johnson's use of an informant "underhanded," and said Johnson's glove inspection was "cowardly," "bush" and "bogus."

Johnson replied, "Read the rulebook," and went downhill from there, referring to Maddon as a "weird wuss," and a "guru."

To the matter of a pitcher being able to use pine tar, the rules forbid it, but Donnelly says there are rules, and then there is common sense.

"The way I look at it is Peralta didn't do anything wrong, and I didn't do anything wrong," Donnelly said in a telephone interview. "It's not cheating, not about having the ball do funky things. It's about getting a grip.

"Especially for relievers, you get balls that aren't rubbed up that well," in mud. "I have small hands, Peralta … has small hands. I sweated a lot, Peralta's a sweater too."

Donnelly said he never shared pine tar tips with Peralta but noted it's most needed in excessively dry, cold or humid weather.

"I've asked dozens of hitters about this: 'Do you want me to throw 90-plus knowing what the ball is going to do, or do you want me to risk letting it slip?' They all want the pitcher to have control. So pine tar should be legal."

Angels Manager Mike Scioscia nearly got into a physical confrontation with Robinson during their 2005 dispute, and he hasn't budged from his prior position, reminding that hitters legally use pine tar to improve their hold on the bat.

"It's like going 66 in a 65-miles-per-hour zone," Scioscia said.

Angels reliever LaTroy Hawkins, 39, said he doesn't use pine tar but has been around long enough to know there are more sinister manipulations.

One player who did not want to be identified mentioned a pitcher keeping KY Jelly in the lip for an advanced spitball.

Another saw a pitcher with alcohol in his pants to mix with rosin and have a tackier grip of the ball.

Someone else knew of a pitcher affixing a sandpaper strip on his fingernails with Super Glue so he could scuff the ball for increased movement.

Angels outfielder Vernon Wells claims he "knows several people who've used pine tar."

"There's so much that goes on in this game … ," Wells said. "We talk about things from the dugout, but to confront it, it better be someone who's fully aware about the guy who's doing stuff. Because the last thing you want to do is go all the way out there and be wrong."

Out of competitive drive and the unappetizing idea of being declared a rat, Angels pitcher Ervin Santana said he wouldn't push his manager to confront a known cheater on the opposing team, "even if I was facing that guy and he was throwing a perfect game."

San Francisco Giants reliever Jeremy Affeldt noted of unionized players, "We're a brotherhood, man. Think of the trust factors in regard to playing on that team with that guy."

In Oakland, several Dodgers gathered around a television to watch a replay of the Peralta incident.

"You didn't have a problem with him doing it then, but now all of a sudden you've got a problem with it now?" outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr. asked.

Dodgers infielder Jerry Hairston Jr. said Peralta should have considered he was playing his ex-mates. "They know him," he said. "So you've got to be prepared for whatever you bring out there."

Maddon told the Associated Press he thinks it's best for players to police themselves, but when reminded of how well that went during the steroid era, Maddon said, "We're talking about two different things."

The idea of not confronting rule-breaking manipulation is flawed, said Tim Flannery, the Giants' third base coach and a former major league player.

"If you're going to let a team use tactics to let them beat you, you're crazy," Flannery said. "You're talking about my job, my livelihood, supporting my family."

Flannery said baseball is a constant "cat and mouse game," that required the Giants to switch all their signs before this week's series in Anaheim because Angels bench coach Rob Picciolo was on Giants Manager Bruce Bochy's staff in San Diego — seven years ago.

"Granted, it takes artistry for a pitcher to know how to get the most movement out a ball with a slice or scratch on it, but if a catcher short-hops a ball in the dirt to second base before it goes to the pitcher, we always ask for a new ball," Flannery said. "You want to make sure he can't get away with that scratch."

Times staff writer Jim Peltz contributed to this report.

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