Pine tar, dirt, spit, Vaseline, frankincense? Anything to make the ball avoid a bat better.
In fact, most pitchers think like former Phillie Larry Andersen, who told the Inquirer’s Jim Salisbury that he is sympathetic to Tigers’ pitcher Kenny Rogers and the brewing controversy over what the unhittable lefty had on his hand during Game 2 of the World Series. Some speculate that it was pine tar. Others believe it was something more sinister. Rogers says it was just dirt mixed with rosin and sweat.
“Honestly, pine tar is really common with pitchers,” Andersen told Salisbury. “Technically, you could say he was cheating because you're not supposed to use a foreign substance. But I don't look at it that way. He wasn't changing the flight of the ball.”
Former Phillie Todd Jones, now the closer for the Tigers, was equally dismissive when he talked to Salisbury.
“It's one of those unwritten rules,” Jones said in the paper. “You don't check if it's not creating an advantage. Everyone is making a big deal of it. This is something that has been going on for years. Other teams have pitchers that are doing it, too.”
In baseball there is no “spirit of the rules” like there is in track & field and distance running. But even in those sports, the spirit of the rules idea is more about drug doping than actual competition.
If baseball were track or running, the controversy with Rogers would fall under the spirit of the rules category. He might not have broken the rules, technically, but he was definitely bending them.
So what did Rogers have on his hand during Game 2 of the World Series? Why it was Gum Benjamin, of course. You didn’t know?
No, we aren’t certain that it was Gum Benjamin Rogers had on his hand – he isn’t saying. But according to a few experts, the substance on Rogers’ hand looked exactly like Gum Benjamin.
Actually, Gum Benjamin is benzoin, which is resin obtained from certain tropical Asian trees and used in making perfume and medicine. Sometimes Gum Benjamin is used on cuts or abrasions when a band-aid isn’t big enough, but mostly it’s used by musicians – specifically guitar players or harpists – as a tacky, grippy protection. It’s also used in treating skin irritation, looks like iodine and it stays sticky even after it’s washed off.
Though Rogers says his hands were just dirty, something is amiss.
“I don’t believe it was dirt,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said.
But La Russa also didn’t rat out Rogers. Perhaps it goes back to the “no-big-deal” code baseball players’ hold.
“There's a line that I think that defines the competition. And you can sneak over the line, because we're all fighting for the edge. I always think, does it go to the point of abuse? And that's where you start snapping,” La Russa said. “I also know that pitchers -- I was going to say routinely, that may be too strong, because I don't know enough -- pitchers use some sticky stuff to get a better grip from the first throw in Spring Training to the last side they're going to throw in the World Series. Just because there's a little something that they're using to get a better grip, that doesn't cross the line, you know. To me what got my attention was guys that came down and said, man, this thing is real obvious on his hand. I didn't see it. But I did watch video of the other postseason games, so I had an idea of what it looked like, and I said, let's get rid of it and keep playing.
“That's the attitude I took. 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.”
Yes, I see the irony in what La Russa said. I wonder what he thought in 1998 and 1999 when Mark McGwire was hitting all of those home runs?
Andersen had a better thought in Salisbury’s story.
“You'd think he'd be a little more discreet," Andersen said. "That was such a big spot. Come on.”