Yankees' Leary sands off some coarse memories

June 22, 1992|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,Staff Writer

Manager Billy Hitchcock stood tall behind his desk in the Orioles' Memorial Stadium clubhouse, raised his voice and made the charge against Detroit Tigers pitcher Jim Bunning.

"I say that Bunning was cutting baseballs on his belt buckle," Hitchcock bellowed. "He was throwing illegal pitches."

The cuts, Hitchcock said, caused Bunning's pitches to dip and dart. The Orioles had an entire bag of the cut baseballs. They played the game under protest and sent the balls to American League president Joe Cronin the next day.

In keeping with baseball tradition, nothing came of the protest.

That long-ago incident, during Hitchcock's tenure as manager in 1962-63, came to mind last night during the Orioles' 8-2 loss to the New York Yankees before the 11th straight sellout crowd at Oriole Park.

The Orioles played the game under protest after manager Johnny Oates complained in the fifth inning following a 1-and-2 pitch to Brady Anderson that Yankees pitcher Tim Leary was scuffing baseballs with "coarse sandpaper."

One of the seven damaged balls the Orioles collected had hit catcher Chris Hoiles on the right wrist. X-rays disclosed a cracked bone, which will shelve Hoiles for four to six weeks.

"The ball ran in on me quite a bit," Hoiles said. "A lot of guys have running fastballs, but this one had more on it."

Hoiles and Oates both indicated that an unscuffed ball wouldn't "run" so much.

"I got a catcher who merits All-Star Game consideration hurt by an illegal pitch," Oates said. "A pitcher can't control a ball that's been scuffed. That's why the spitball is illegal, because of its unnatural movement."

When the umpires checked Leary, at Oates' request, they couldn't find sandpaper in the pitcher's glove or hand. It appeared on video replay, however, that Leary covered his face with his glove and put something, possibly the forbidden sandpaper, in his mouth.

"They [Orioles] said he might have put it in his mouth," said umpire crew chief Dave Phillips. "It's not my right to look in his mouth, and frankly I don't want to put my hand in somebody's mouth.

"Later, Jimmy [umpire Jim Joyce] said it looked or appeared like he had gone to his mouth, but looking or appearing is different from knowing. We can't eject him for suspicion. You have to have the goods."

The Orioles will send the video tape as well as the scuffed baseballs to the American League president, Dr. Bobby Brown. In Hitchcock's day, there was no videotape as additional evidence.

Oates first was alerted that Leary was up to something when three balls came in the dugout that appeared to have been scuffed. When Anderson, who had homered in the third inning, fouled off two balls that went to the backstop, and proved to be scuffed, Oates made his move.

"That told me Leary still had the sandpaper on his body," Oates said. "He didn't use it on every pitch. He kept it on the hand that's inside his glove."

Leary, who worked into the seventh inning and evened his record at 5-5, denied he scuffed the balls. What was he doing, then, when he put his glove in front of his face and appeared to be putting something in his mouth when he knew the umpires were searching for a foreign substance?

"I put my fingers in my mouth a lot when I'm off the mound," Leary said innocently. "It was dry out there. I wanted to get saliva.

"When the umpires came out, I didn't know why. They wanted to check my glove and hand, and did, but didn't find anything. I have nothing to hide."

After the game, there was a small abrasion on Leary's upper lip. Could it have been caused by sandpaper?

"I've had a blister there for a week," Leary said, straight-faced.

Yankees manager Buck Showalter was evasive on the subject, dancing around questions.

Was Leary cheating?

"No, not that I was aware of. I would've known about it."

Would he conceal it if he knew Leary was cheating?

"I always try to protect my players, but I also speak honestly."

Ben McDonald (7-5) was branded with the defeat after being rocked for four home runs. The last Oriole to allow four in one game was Ken Dixon, to the Milwaukee Brewers April 14, 1987.

McDonald had permitted only three hits and was behind, 3-2, entering the eighth inning. Mel Hall clubbed the second of his two homers in the eighth and Charlie Hayes hit a three-run homer in the ninth.

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