Tyler Melling is a 25-year old Single-A pitcher in the St. Louis Cardinals organization. I’m not sure a major-league future awaits the left-hander – 25 is fairly old for a prospect to be stalled in A-ball – but if this baseball thing doesn’t work out, he might want to think about a career as a private detective.
A television audience that averaged 14.4 million viewers tuned into the World Series opener Wednesday night.
Melling saw what nobody else did. Noticing a greenish gob on the pitching glove of Boston Red Sox starter Jon Lester, Melling took a screen shot, and posted it on Twitter along with a question: “Jon Lester using a little Vaseline inside the glove tonight?”
The post was deleted, but not before Lester learned that his sterling performance in Boston’s 8-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals was not what baseball fans were buzzing about Thursday morning. Instead, fans were buzzing about that green gob of, uh, what?
Rosin? It’s permissible for pitchers to improve their grip on the ball with rosin. But rosin is not green.
If Lester was mixing rosin with another substance, he would’ve been in violation of MLB Rule 8.02, which is punishable by ejection and an automatic suspension.
“I understand, I saw the picture and it looks bad,” Lester told
Boston’s WBZ-TV on Thursday. “But I can honestly tell you that all I use is rosin.
“I looked at that picture a hundred times,” the Bellarmine Prep grad said, “and I’m still trying to figure out where that color came from.”
Joe Torre, MLB’s executive director of baseball operations, noted that because the umpires raised no suspicions and the Cardinals made no complaints, an investigation was unlikely.
“We will ask around,” assured Torre, “but without any complaint I don’t know what else you can say.”
Not only is Cardinals manager Mike Metheny loathe to complain, he wants the world to know his team had no role in instigating doubts about Lester.
“If we started going down that path,” Metheny said before Game 2, “we would just be trying to make excuses for a pitcher having a very good game against us and us not getting the job done. And that’s just not the kind of team we are.”
Metheny’s casual shoulder shrug is a bit different than the reaction the Cardinals had when Detroit starting pitcher Kenny Rogers appeared to apply pine tar to his fingers during Game 2 of the 2006 World Series.
“It was so blatant,” Hal McRae, then the St. Louis hitting coach, told USA Today after Rogers helped the Tigers even the Series after two games. “What was so strange about it was how obvious it was. It’s a shame a guy would cheat in a World Series game. It hurts the integrity of the game. He wasn’t just cheating by using pine tar. He was scuffing balls, too.”
McRae’s outrage suggested a big-time controversy was afoot, but by the time the sun set in St. Louis after the travel day before Game 3, manager Tony La Russa quelled a potential feud with Tigers manager Jim Leyland, his longtime friend. La Russa emphasized his respect for the “purity of the competition,” and said he detested “any kind of BS that gets in the way” of it.
A loose translation of La Russa’s impassioned reluctance to point an accusatory finger could have been: “We’re not gonna tell on them, if they don’t tell on us.”
Between the black smudge on Rogers’ hand in 2006, and the green gob on Lester’s glove in 2013, an intriguing philosophical question can be posed: Is it really cheating when everybody else is cheating, and authorities look the other way because foes are competing under the unwritten guidelines of a gentlemen’s agreement?
The knee-jerk answer is sure it’s cheating, of course it’s cheating. The rule book prohibits pitchers from applying foreign substances to the ball. There’s no “unless it’s cold and misty and the ball is too impossible to grip, thus putting the batter at risk of a terrible injury” caveat.
But if they’re OK with you using something other than rosin to grip the ball, and you’re OK with them using something other than rosin to grip the ball, what’s the harm? Where’s the foul?
Perhaps the MLB rule book needs some fine-tuning. The old-fashioned “spitball” – a ball doctored with, say, Vaseline – dances to the plate with an unpredictability that’s unfair to the hitter. It’s illegal for a reason.
A ball doctored with some version of “stick-um” that’s not 100 percent rosin is illegal for no reason. Pitchers need a grip. Batters stout enough to face 95 mph fastballs want pitchers with a grip.
As for Lester, he was reasonably peeved about the commotion he didn’t mean to cause.
“It’s obviously frustrating,” he said, “that after a night like we had last night, we should be having fun and running around with some energy today, and I gotta stand here and answer questions about it.”
The incident rekindled memories of when Lou Piniella managed in New York, where a phone call/diatribe from owner George Steinbrenner was as inevitable as a traffic jam during rush hour. Steinbrenner, watching a duel between the Angels’ Don Sutton and the Yankees’ Tommy John on TV, was convinced Sutton had been using something more sinister than a “stick-um” substance on the ball.
“Damn it, Lou, Sutton’s cheating and everyone in the ballpark knows it,” Steinbrenner bellowed. “Why aren’t you out there getting him thrown out from the game?”
Asked Piniella: “What’s the score of the game, George?”
“It’s 2-0 and we’re winning,” The Boss answered. “What’s the score got to do with anything?”
“What it means, George, is that our guy is cheating better than their guy.”
After they struck out eight times and failed to score against the Red Sox starter Wednesday night, the Cardinals had no problems with whatever was on Jon Lester’s glove.
Case closed.john.mcgrath@ thenewstribune.com