Googate and Beyond

Another take on the Kenny Rogers incident, with a look forward, a reminder of another strange situation on the Cardinals and closing with the hope that none of this ends up mattering, anyway.

I can only imagine how Cardinals manager Tony La Russa feels. I have been asked by multiple readers and even my own son why I haven't added my two cents about the Kenny Rogers dirt/pine tar incident.

So, even though this has been analyzed and debated ad nauseum all over the baseball world, here is a recap of the festivities with my take included.

First of all, let's not forget how weird of a game baseball is. In what other sport are officials who spot an infraction not obligated to act on it unless challenged?

Here I am referring to a baserunner tagging up and leaving the bag early, not searching pitchers for foreign substances, but you get the idea. Nothing is totally clear here, even the rules.

The fine line between competing and cheating has never been clearly staked out and probably never will be. In other words, in baseball, you're not considered by many to be cheating unless you get caught.

Apparently, Rogers didn't get caught. La Russa did not request an "inspection", which would have put the onus on the umpires. Instead, it was called an "observation" by umpiring supervisor Steve Palermo, who was in the stands Sunday night.

Still, the bottom line is that Rogers was allegedly asked to remove the "dirt" from his hand by home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez and readily complied.

Yet, even that was not straightforward. Rogers didn't quite see it the same way as Palermo. In his post-game comments, the pitcher twice asserted that no one asked him to remove what he first called "a big clump of dirt".

For reference, here are some of the appropriate rules, courtesy of my copy of "The Official Rules of Major League Baseball", shortened for ease of reading.

The rules
8.02 (a) The pitcher shall not –
(3) rub the ball on his glove, person or clothing;
(4) apply a foreign substance of any kind to the ball;
(5) deface the ball in any manner; or
(6) deliver a ball defaced in a manner prescribed by Rule 8.02(a)(2) through (5) or what is called the "shine" ball, "spit" ball, "mud" ball or "emery" ball. The pitcher is allowed to rub the ball between his bare hands.

PENALTY: For violation of any part of Rules 8.02(a)(2) through (6):
(a) The pitcher shall be ejected immediately from the game and shall be suspended automatically for 10 games.
(d) The umpire shall be sole judge on whether any portion of this rule has been violated.
Rules 8.02(a)(2) through 8.02(a)(6) Comment: If a pitcher violates either Rule 8.02(a)(2) or Rule 8.02(a)(3) and, in the judgment of the umpire, the pitcher did not intend, by his act, to alter the characteristics of a pitched ball, then the umpire may, in his discretion, warn the pitcher in lieu of applying the penalty set forth for violations of Rules 8.02(a)(2) through 8.02(a)(6). If the pitcher persists in violating either of those Rules, however, the umpire should then apply the penalty.

Rogers' claim
So, unless Rogers actually put the goo that was on his hand to use on the baseball, he apparently was not in violation of this rule. It was all in the hands of the umpires.

Rogers' defense of himself was rather vague, to say the least. After first calling the substance simply "a big clump of dirt", a few moments later, he modified his description. "It's dirt and resin and all that stuff put together," said the pitcher.

"Proactive" umpiring saved the day
Not surprisingly, as in most all past controversies involving umpires, Palermo quickly moved to sweep the matter under the rug. He defended his men as being "proactive", "so there wouldn't be any question…" That didn't work out so well, did it?

Following the game, Palermo also asserted several times the substance was only dirt, which "is not a foreign substance", stating his guys have the experience to tell the difference.

More than dirt
Yet, the next day, La Russa stated what was obvious to most observers other than the umpires, apparently. "I don't believe it was dirt. Didn't look like dirt," said Tony.

Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal reported that John Rodriguez may have been involved in collection of smudged Rogers baseballs, but the outfielder would not answer directly. Rodriguez stated that he had been directed by his boss, apparently La Russa, not to comment.

Those defending Rogers rightly point out that he pitched very, very well in Game Two after removing the substance from his hand. However, in doing so, they make what may be a faulty assumption that Rogers' hand was the only dirty location on his person.

For example, others have analyzed Rogers' motions between pitches and specifically his cap, both on the outside as well as the dark underside of the bill. The latter is not the standard light gray as the rest of the Tigers use, arousing more suspicion.

La Russa's motives?
La Russa made his move to bring this to a head in the second inning Sunday night, later admitting that he knew of the problem ahead of time based on viewing previous films of Rogers. So, his decision to not ask that Rogers be searched or present any evidence was certainly premeditated.

Along with his respect for the game, both the written and unwritten rules, there may have been other considerations for La Russa. Some point out the use of substances to assist players' performances might not be restricted to the aforementioned Mr. Rogers, for example.

The Cardinals manager bristled when asked if he acted in what seemed to some as a non-assertive manner due to his personal friendship with Detroit's skipper Jim Leyland. Of course, La Russa would never, ever admit that, even it was a factor.

For his part, Leyland didn't even grin when saying after the game, "To be honest, I wasn't paying that much attention." Funny. Before the game concluded, Fox cameras clearly showed Rogers calling Leyland out of the dugout and down into the tunnel, likely to get their stories straight.

Would La Russa have acted differently had he known what kind of game Rogers was going to pitch the rest of the way? He would say "absolutely not", as you would expect him to. Only he knows the real answer.

Does La Russa's team support his approach? The manager challenged any dissenters to step forward and of course, none did. Does that mean there aren't any? Not likely.

But, at this point, it is all an academic argument. Like many, I am ready to move ahead.

What's next?
So, let's put this aside - for now, at least. If the Cardinals take care of business and win the Series, the Rogers incident will be greatly diminished in importance.

And if a sixth game is required, let's see if Rogers tries to push the limit or if those "proactive" umpires prohibit him from using his non-standard cap.

As much as I would love to see the Redbirds win the Series in five games in front of the home crowd, wouldn't it be fitting if the Cardinals defeated Rogers in Game Six fair and square?

And even if not, who better to pitch the deciding Game Seven if needed than Chris Carpenter?

About Carpenter
Any question about Carp's big game pitching guts was put aside once and for all Tuesday night in Game Three by his masterful three-hit shutout through eight innings.

But, just to remind us all how that unclear that thin line really is, did you know that Carpenter has used fake fingernails to assist his pitching?

Yes, it is true.

Late in the 2005 season, the Post-Dispatch's Derrick Goold met with each of the members of the then-Cardinals rotation to gather research for one of his articles. While the subject of the day was the grip used by each hurler for one of their most notable pitches, Carpenter disclosed his use of false fingernails.

"The nails on the index and middle finger of his right hand were so punished by his pitching that he has to replace them with artificial nails. After the abuse of several starts and the pressure of hundreds of pitches, Carpenter gets the fake nails replaced every two weeks or so," reported Goold in August, 2005.

Whether that has continued into 2006 and through this post-season, I just don't know.

Still, let's hope the Tigers don't get wind of this! Though apparently quite legal, can you imagine the fuss that could ensue?

Seriously, as the great Bob Gibson told the Post-Dispatch's Rick Hummel the other day, "Let's just shut up and play baseball."

Amen to that!

Brian Walton can be reached via email at

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