- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 24, 2006

ST. LOUIS.

In 1920, baseball’s Joint Rules Committee banned all foreign substances or other alterations to the ball by pitchers, including saliva, resin, talcum powder, paraffin and the shine and emery ball. The committee determined that a pitcher caught cheating would be suspended for 10 days.

The American League let each club name just two pitchers who would be allowed to use the pitch for one more season. The National League allowed each club to name all its spitball pitchers.

No pitchers other than those designated were permitted to use it and none at all after 1934.

Except Kenny Rogers.

It was so appropriate that Rogers used a foreign substance on his pitching hand in the city of Detroit, where one of the greatest practitioners of the use of foreign objects, The Sheik, wrestled for so many years at Cobo Hall, with fire shooting out of his hands.

It wasn’t fire that was in Rogers’ pitching hand in the first inning of Sunday night’s 3-1 Detroit win over St. Louis that knotted the World Series at one game apiece, but it certainly lit up what had been a pretty boring series so far, with the controversy dominating talk during yesterday’s off-day in St. Louis.

Rogers claimed after his win that it was nothing more than dirt on his hand from rubbing up baseballs. Does this officially make him one of Joe Bugel’s Dirtbags?

But the visual evidence provided by Fox appears to show that whatever was on Rogers’ hand had a texture far guiltier than dirt. It had that pine tar look, and that is no surprise. Before Sunday night’s game, in the cold and wet Detroit weather, the speculation was that Rogers would have a difficult time gripping the ball and throwing his breaking stuff.

Pine tar takes care of that problem.

Of course, someone could say he had flubber on his hand for all that it matters; no one who actually might have owned up to it got a good look. The umpires abdicated their responsibility. They never examined what was on Rogers’ hand, and supposedly all they did was make Rogers wash it off.

“They made Kenny wash his hands,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.

And that’s what Steve Palermo, supervisor of umpires, said as well: “Alfonso Marquez, the home plate umpire, just asked Kenny to remove that dirt so there wouldn’t be any question as far as any controversy.”

Tony La Russa, who learned about it from someone in the clubhouse watching the game, officially could have asked to have Rogers inspected by the umpires, but he chose not to and said it was not important. That raised speculation that La Russa, who never saw a ball or strike call he wouldn’t complain about, didn’t press the issue because he didn’t want to small-time his close friend Leyland.

Then again, maybe Leyland, who coached and scouted for La Russa for six seasons in St. Louis before taking the job in Detroit, knows where all the Vaseline is buried in the Cardinals organization, and perhaps La Russa didn’t want to start that battle. After all, if the umpires had determined Rogers had a foreign substance, he was gone from the game and from the rest of the series as well.

Yesterday at Busch Stadium, La Russa said he had no regrets.

“I believe in the beauty of the competition,” he said. “I detest any kind of [stuff] that gets in the way of competition. I don’t have any regrets for the way I handled last night.”

Rogers insisted no umpire talked to him about it. He claimed they spoke to him about the amount of time he had between innings. When asked whether the umpires mentioned anything to him about his hand and the substance, Rogers said no. He said he saw it himself “and just took it off, and it was good.”

Yesterday, Rogers said Marquez did talk to him, but he already had cleaned his hands by then.

“I didn’t do anything inappropriate,” he said. “I threw inappropriate pitches to a couple of guys, but I got away with it.”

As Rogers said, it was good for Rogers, who, with slightly cleaner hands, held the Tigers to just two hits and no runs over eight innings pitched. And it has been good for Rogers throughout the playoffs with 23 scoreless innings in his three starts. That’s a big difference for Rogers because it has been pretty bad for him in the 23 postseason innings before this with a 0-3 record and 20 runs given up.

That has been the No. 1 question for Rogers throughout the playoffs — “Kenny, what’s different about you this time?”

His answer: “I’m trying not to think too much and just go out and compete.”

But it’s more than that. Somehow, the 41-year-old pitcher is throwing better than anytime in his career and doing it consistently. His final two regular season appearances were disastrous; he lasted just 52/3 innings and gave up nine runs, then was accused of fighting with a fan after a game over an autograph.

Did you see Rogers stalking the dugout in the ninth inning Sunday night when Todd Jones was in the process of nearly blowing the game? He looked like T.O. on the sideline, screaming at whomever would listen.

Here’s what Leyland, his manager, said about Rogers’ state of mind after the win: “I think that he’s one of those guys that have that extra adrenaline. It’s worked for him.”

It has never worked for him before.

“It makes me nervous to see someone that pumped up,” Leyland said.

It should make a lot of people nervous.


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