See spot generate questions

Rogers, Jones, La Russa agree that palm smudge uncovered in Game 2 was no dirty trick

World Series

October 24, 2006|By Dan Connolly | Dan Connolly,SUN REPORTER

ST. LOUIS -- One day after Smudge-gate rocked Detroit, the focus here at Busch Stadium - in a city breathlessly awaiting tonight's Game 3 of the World Series - remained the left palm of Detroit Tigers pitcher Kenny Rogers.

What exactly was that light brown smudge? And who noticed it first? And what of the discovery that a similar mark had been detected during his previous starts? And, if it were pine tar and not dirt, is that so unusual, so wrong? And why did St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa decide not to push for a full inspection? And, if it gave Rogers an advantage in the first inning of the Tigers' 3-1 Game 2 win in Detroit, and he washed it off before the second inning, how come the Cardinals could manage just one hit in their next seven innings against the left-hander? The questions abounded during yesterday's workout and media day. The answers, well, not so much.

When Rogers arrived in the visiting clubhouse, a throng of reporters was waiting for him. He patiently answered question after question, and stuck to many of his previous answers: He doesn't use pine tar to better his grip. He washed the smudge off and still dominated the Cardinals on two hits in eight innings. It's a media- created controversy, but that's OK.

Rogers contends that the smudge discovered by Fox TV cameras - and apparently also by the Cardinals - was created while he was in the bullpen and rubbed down new baseballs to minimize their shine and firmness.

He said he didn't notice his left hand was dirty until he came to the dugout after the first inning, saw the shot on a TV screen in the dugout tunnel and washed his hands. It was a slight deviation from Sunday, when he said he noticed the dirt on his own.

Sure, Rogers said, a similar smudge may have been caught by cameras in previous postseason starts - La Russa acknowledged that the Cardinals had seen it while reviewing a playoff tape of Rogers - because Rogers does the same thing every outing. End of story, he said.

"I rub my own baseballs before I go out to pitch in the bullpens, and it's not something that is new to me," Rogers said. "My routine has never changed. Nobody likes to throw a brand-new baseball. I like the dirt on it; I like the mud on it, spit, rosin, whatever's on top of it. I use all that stuff to get the ball to where you can feel it."

Once a game begins, the balls have been deglossed by an umpire's assistant. So he doesn't have to do it during a game.

"I'm sure most people around baseball who have knowledge [know] it is not a big issue," Rogers said. "I am not really worried about it."

Such a minor issue, says one of his teammates, that it shouldn't be a concern if the smudge was pine tar - La Russa said it "didn't look like dirt" - even if an automatic ejection and suspension occurs if a pitcher is caught using the substance.

"This is not brand-new, guys," said the Tigers' outspoken closer, Todd Jones. "Seriously, hitters use it. Catchers use it on their shinguards. Infielders have it on their gloves. It's an accepted thing."

Jones said he used pine tar while pitching in the high altitude with the Colorado Rockies to get a better grip on the ball. His 8.24 ERA with the Rockies in 2003 proves that pine tar doesn't help performance, Jones said. It just allowed him to have better control of where the ball was going.

"There's a difference between pine tar and Vaseline. Pine tar is helping you grip a ball," Jones said. "If you can't feel a ball and it's slick, you throw a breaking ball or a fastball and you may smoke somebody."

Because it is a tacitly accepted practice, La Russa may have exhibited caution before demanding the umpires officially check out the smudge, some suggested.

"Whether it's right or wrong is up for debate," Jones said. "But if the other team doesn't have a problem with it, because other teams are doing it, too, then I don't know why everybody else is worried about it."

La Russa, who is known as a manager who provides every edge possible for his club, said he wasn't going to engage in gamesmanship so long as the umpires could take care of it without a production. He said he understands some people - maybe even a few of his players - felt he should have been more aggressive. He said he addressed it with his players yesterday and no one raised a concern. He also said his decision not to ask for a review had nothing to do with his friendship with Tigers manager Jim Leyland.

"If somebody attempts to abuse you, then you take the steps [that might lead to ejection]," La Russa said. "I don't have any regrets and I don't think after the initial whatever happened, the hand-washing or whatever happened, I don't think we got abused. I think we just got beat."

The bottom line, Rogers said, is that he did nothing wrong. And that should be evident, he said, because he kept rolling once his hands were clean.

"I think once I wiped the mud off, I think the last seven innings were pretty good," Rogers said. "But I'm sure that will be lost in translation."

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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