Leary's oral coverup is tough for the Orioles to swallow

John Steadman

June 22, 1992|By John Steadman

It was an acute case of indigestion, suffered right there on the pitching mound. That's when Tim Leary tried to relieve the nausea. He had apparently swallowed a piece of slippery elm. Maybe it was emery board. Or possibly sandpaper.

Certainly a saliva test was needed. But this was a baseball game, not the backstretch at Pimlico. It should have been determined then and there if Leary had any of the above foreign substances secreted in his mouth.

From all appearances, it seemed when the umpires went for an inquisition in the fifth inning of last night's game that the New York Yankees pitcher slipped something into his mouth while obscuring whatever it was he was doing with his glove. An antacid for a sour stomach? Or could it have been an innocuous cough drop for a sore throat?

Anyhow, Leary, when he reached the dugout tunnel, went to his mouth and discharged whatever it was that was bothering the Orioles. Any possible evidence was disposed of and in another two innings he was to be officially relieved by manager Buck Showalter, whose team powdered four home runs in an 8-2 jolting of losing pitcher Ben McDonald.

Leary was accused of "doctoring" the ball, scraping it in such a way that he could create an abrasion that would influence the pattern of the pitch. Why, if they were paying attention, did it take the Orioles five full innings to blow the whistle on Leary? Manager Johnny Oates had a pyramid of baseballs stacked in the dugout to support his official protest.

They were balls that had been retrieved for later inspection by Dr. Bobby Brown, the American League president. Brown knows the game as a former player and remembers when teams used to put baseballs on ice, as happened in Baltimore in the International League, to restrict their resiliency. Such doings are a form of gamesmanship, an effort to get an edge.

With Leary, batters usually get sick at their stomachs watching some of the slop he deals plateward. This time, though, the tall righthander, who is attempting to grow a mustache, was slick enough to store whatever he had in his mouth and then regurgitate it upon reaching the sanctuary of the dugout.

Would Leary do anything illegal? "I'd almost swear on a stack of Bibles because he is so kind and gentle, an upstanding citizen," said Arthur Richman, a senior vice president of the Yankees, who took exception to suggestions Tim might have been fudging. "He's a fine broth of an Irish lad. And, so far as I know, he has never cheated in golf, at cards or on his income tax. I've known him since he was a kid with the New York Mets. Back then he was always helping little old ladies across the street and buying boxes of Girl Scout cookies."

Before the incriminating incident, the Orioles had gathered only three hits off Leary, who was following up two impressive performances in previous outings, a 2-1 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays when he went the distance and eight innings against the Boston Red Sox in a game that found him trailing 2-1 when he left the premises. Are those efforts now suspect?

Leary, in making his own defense, without use of counsel, said, "I've never been checked before. I had nothing to hide." Pitchers in the past have scuffed baseballs with everything from belt buckles to razor blades and gripped them in such a way as to get the air currents to play havoc with the path they took toward home plate. Phonograph needles also have been secreted in the stitches to create an imbalance and thereby make a pitch behave erratically.

The Orioles made their charges against Leary when he had a 1-2 count on Brady Anderson. Play was interrupted for so long that he was given ample time to warm up before resuming. Now with the X-ray eyes of the umpires and 41,864 witnesses focused on him, Leary had nothing to hide as he sent Anderson down swinging.

In the next inning, while still under grave suspicion, he gave up line-drive shots to Cal Ripken Jr. and Joe Orsulak, which scored the Orioles' second run. Leary appeared to be losing concentration and, more importantly, the action on the ball was minimal.

Balls that have been "roughed" behave the same as spitballs, which were outlawed in 1920 but not eliminated since pitchers continue to try anything to gain an advantage. Oates claims an illegal pitch delivered by Leary was responsible for breaking the right wrist of Chris Hoiles when he was clipped in the second inning.

If Leary wants to clear himself of any wrongdoing in this land of fun and games he should volunteer for a polygraph. Then again, it might destroy his defense if he broke the machine.

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