American League president Bobby Brown yesterday denied the Orioles' protest of the June 21 game against the New York Yankees, ruling the umpiring crew found no evidence that pitcher Tim Leary scuffed baseballs.
Brown, in a three-page opinion, conceded that Leary's actions were "highly suspicious." On ESPN's video replays, Leary appeared to insert something into his mouth.
But Brown ruled that the umpires, who were not allowed to search Leary, found no evidence that the balls had been tampered with. He denied the protest, deciding the umpiring crew had done its job properly.
"They [the umpires] handled the situation as they had been instructed to," Brown said in a conference call. "They followed the routine as they had been instructed to do."
As a concession to the impression that Leary had gotten away with cheating, Brown said he would ask the pitcher to meet with him. He did not rule out that Leary would be punished in some fashion.
"The subject as far as he is concerned is still open," Brown said. "We will try to follow up so that he gets the word that he needs to be seen."
After yesterday's 9-2 loss to the Kansas City Royals, Orioles manager Johnny Oates expressed his dismay over the ruling and over Brown's interest in talking with Leary after the ruling was issued.
"I can't understand why it's done after the decision," said Oates. "I would think that would be something that would be done before the decision."
Orioles general manager Roland Hemond said he was "very disappointed," calling the incident a "flagrant violation of the rules."
The incident began in the second inning of the game, which the Orioles lost, 8-2. Two straight batters -- catcher Chris Hoiles and third baseman Tim Hulett -- were hit by Leary pitches. Hoiles suffered a fractured bone in his right wrist and is expected to miss four to six weeks.
In the bottom of the third, Oates told umpiring crew chief Dave Phillips and plate umpire Terry Craft that he thought Leary was scuffing, and showed them several balls as evidence.
In the bottom of the fifth, Oates asked Craft to check Leary for a substance that he allegedly was using to scuff the ball, presumably sandpaper.
All four umpires came to the mound, and third-base umpire Jim Joyce saw Leary put his glove and pitching hand to his mouth. He asked Leary what he had in his mouth and got no reply. A check of the ball, Leary's hands and his glove yielded nothing unusual, and no foreign substance was detected.
However, ESPN cameras followed Leary, who appeared to remove something from his mouth in the dugout at the end of the inning. Oates formally protested the game in the sixth inning.
Brown said the replays "raised the severe suspicion" that Leary was acting illegally, but added that they played no factor in the decision.
"It was no basis as far as what the umpires were supposed to do. They followed the correct protocol. All the video did was to heighten the suspicion of his actions," Brown said.
"If they saw him put it in his mouth, then they don't need television replays," said Oates.
"I thought we made a strong case," Oates said. "There was plenty of evidence. Jim Joyce said he saw him put it in his mouth. There's no doubt in my mind."
Brown also defended the rule that prohibits umpires from searching players suspected of doctoring baseballs, saying opposing batters and managers could turn a situation into a "circus" by needlessly requesting searches as a part of gamesmanship.
Brown said he would welcome a request by the Orioles to re-examine the regulation to cover situations such as Leary's.
But that wasn't the answer Oates was looking for. "Dr. Brown said in the report that they're going to make changes," Oates said. "Well, that's too late for us."