Monday, October 23, 2006

Rogers Caught Brown-Handed

The interesting thing about the smudge on Kenny Rogers' pitching hand in yesterday's World Series Game 2 is that the Cardinals aren't making a big deal out of it.

This comment by Tony LaRussa when asked about Rogers' smudge is especially enlightening: "If he didn't get rid of it, I would have challenged it. But I do think it's a little bit part of the game at times and don't go crazy."

That tells me a couple of things. One, LaRussa knows that Rogers is in a groove of historic proportions, and enhancement or not, the Cardinals got beat yesterday because of his own ability - witness the 7 innings of scoreless ball he threw even after he cleaned up. If the Cardinals lose this Series, their fans can't blame the smudge for it, because they were beat by a superior pitcher.

Also, is it possible that LaRussa isn't making a big fuss out of this because his own players have a few tricks up their sleeve? Entirely possible, and I would in fact say it's probable. This shouldn't be a shocking statement where the difference between cheating and opportunism is often blurred. A pitcher getting an unfair advantage with his sweaty palms on a hot summer day? Well, nothing to be done about the forces of nature, the pitcher says. Runner on second stealing signs from the catcher? That base runner is praised for having his head in the game and being "observant." Cheating is a part of baseball (and sports in general for that matter) that can never be wiped away. In its more benign forms, I would even say it's a little bit entertaining - some of baseball's most memorable moments have come in the aftermath of cheating episodes.

Probably the best known is the famous Pine Tar game when George Brett of the Royals stormed out of the dugout like a maniac after his home run was waved off after it was ruled there was too much pine tar covering his bat:

One of my favorites is from just a year ago in a game between the Nationals and Angels when Angels reliever Brendan Donnelly was thrown out of the game (and subsequently suspended for 10 games) for having a foreign substance in his glove. The result of that was the respective managers, Frank Robinson and Mike Scioscia nearly coming to blows as a result.

Anyway, for the Cardinals, "Smudgegate" as it's being called is not all that big a deal, and the Series likely has not had its turning point as of yet. One thing is for sure, if we get to a Game 6 and Kenny Rogers is pitching, you can bet we'll see squeaky clean palms when he goes up to the mound.

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