Monday, October 23, 2006

Rogers Fiasco Overblown for Ratings

The Tigers had to win game two of the World Series last night to avoid a 0-2 hole and they did just that. Thanks to Tim McCarver and 21st century technology, the focus of the baseball world isn’t on the deadlocked series; rather it is on whether or not Kenny Rogers cheated. I have to admit that the abundance of subplots to this World Series has caught me off guard. If you’re a columnist covering the 2006 Series, you have any number of angles to cover. In fact, you could just blindfold yourself, and pick one of the following out of a hat and you’d have a “juicy” story:

A) Kenny Rogers’ 23 inning postseason scoreless streak
B) The mystery substance on Rogers’ hand
C) The Jim Leyland-Tony La Russa relationship
D) The Todd Jones-Jeff Weaver war of words

Chances are after last night, most people will be writing about “B” at least until game three, if not longer. Like most controversies, I don’t stand firmly on one side or the other. It’s not a black and white issue in my mind. If Rogers did cheat, he won’t ever admit to it, nor will any of his teammates if they knew about it. For the rest of time, whether Rogers cheated or not will be total speculation. Did Rogers purposefully put a substance on his hand to gain an advantage? I have no idea. But, let’s delve into the issue a little deeper.

Although nobody will ever know the whole story, the situation didn’t have to end with such uncertainty. After McCarver took it upon himself to interfere with the game and accuse Rogers of having an illegal substance on his hand in front of millions of TV sets, the St. Louis Cardinals organization was well aware of the issue. Without an appeal by the opposition, the umpires have no reason to inspect the players. The Cardinals had every reason to appeal and they only did so half-heartedly. Had they approached the umpires mid-inning, their likely would have been a George Brett-style inquisition but the Cardinals did no such thing. You can argue the merits of that decision all you want, but even if Rogers was cheating, there was no way for him to be caught without an appeal by the Cardinals which never happened.

Just how Rogers came to remove the substance is the source of massive confusion at this point but it apparently occurred after the first inning. After Rogers removed the substance, he proceeded to pitching seven more innings of one-hit ball. He stifled the Cardinals more in the next seven innings combined than he did in the first inning. That’s not to say that Rogers didn’t cheat. Like I said above, we’ll never know. The only reason why this is an issue in the first place is because an announcer decided to fancy himself an umpire from the announcer’s booth. The number of times in MLB history that pitchers and batters have cheated without being caught probably approaches the thousands at a minimum. Those players weren’t caught because the other team didn’t know it was happening and thus didn’t appeal. When players do get caught, it is because the other team notices something isn’t right and brings it to the attention of the umpires. Nobody has ever gotten caught (at least to my knowledge) by an announcer calling out a player on national television. It was reported that some St. Louis Cardinals hitters said that the ball was moving kind of funny during the first inning and brought it to the attention of Tony La Russa. I guess that was supposed to be evidence that Rogers was doctoring the ball. Since the Cardinals best inning of the night was the first inning, I can only imagine that the ball was even funnier over the next seven innings sans-substance.

My guess is that there weren’t any Cardinals that actually said that to La Russa. To the best of my knowledge, every Cardinals player denied having any suspicions of Rogers during the game. La Russa likely made that claim to bolster his argument to the umpires. The real way the Cardinals found out about the substance was undoubtedly when organization officials, having seen McCarver call out Rogers on national television, passed along the message to the dugout. La Russa was obviously unsure as to how to proceed after receiving secondhand information. I’m sure that he feels much more comfortable broaching the situation with firsthand suspicion rather than hearing through the “grapevine” that some guy on TV made the claims. If La Russa acts on that information and turns out to be wrong, he would have looked like a fool. Some will argue that the potential reward of having Rogers kicked out of the game far outweighs the possibility of looking like a fool. I can understand that but La Russa is the manager. He is in tune with what is going on. He probably cringed at the thought of acting on speculation.

La Russa’s decision to approach the issue with little fanfare aside, the umpires also had a chance to interrogate Rogers. All they did was ask Rogers to remove the substance. They even said after the game that the substance was viewed as dirt. Whether Rogers knew the substance was there or not, members of the Detroit Tigers organization, after seeing McCarver playing forensics examiner on TV, likely informed Rogers to remove the substance to avoid any controversy.

Here are just a few of the reasons why this issue should be put to rest:

-Tim McCarver’s job is to announce the game. His job is not to inspect the players on the field. I am 99.9% sure that McCarver did not see the substance himself. He was likely informed by a video technician or another Fox employee privy to replays.

-In a situation like this, the lynch-mob is almost always led by the opposing team. The Cardinals admitted to not suspecting anything. Even after being informed of the situation, they still didn’t have a problem with it. I can only assume that was because Rogers dominated for seven innings after the substance was removed.

-Regardless of how you feel about the way La Russa handled the situation, he did inform the umpires of the situation. He passed along his suspicions to the umpires. He obviously tried to get Rogers checked out. As far as I know, La Russa was perfectly content with how the situation was handled.

-The umpires, knowing MLB’s procedures on handling suspicious substances, had every opportunity to dissect the situation.

- Apparently, ESPN dug up footage from the first and second rounds of the 2006 playoffs which showed a similar substance on Rogers’ hand. That is supposed to “prove” that Rogers had cheated before. The problem being that the neither Yankees nor the A’s made appeals.

-As big of a story as this would be if Rogers had actually been kicked out of the game, that never even came close to happening. The media has a “juicy” story and they’re going to give it every chance to fly. “Juice” equals ratings. They are putting on the “full-court press” with hopes this becomes a huge storyline. Unfortunately for the media, nobody else is making an issue of it.

So, what we have is an opponent that doesn’t care, a crew of umpires that were informed of the situation and spoke to Rogers, a dominant pitching performance that became even more dominant after the substance was removed, and no conceivable way of proving the identity of the substance. How did we get to the point where the media cares more about the situation than any of the participants involved? I guess since it was a member of the media that made the story, it only makes sense for the media to be pushing a dead-end story.


Anonymous said...

can you imagine watching that game and seeing the smudge on roger's hand and the announcers NOT saying anything? it is their job to announce the game and point out things the fan might not see or know.

secondly, people who think that rogers washed his hands and that was it don't know that pitchers use lots of substances to affect the ball and thei rgrip. suntan lotion, vasaline, shaving cream, etc. i think he switched substances after the inning. so, let's get off our high horse with the talk that after the substance was removed, rogers pitched a great game. he may have been helped, like LOTS of MLB pitchers.

Jake said...

I wish I knew as much as you did about the situation. In fact, I bet the umpires and Tony La Russa wish they knew as much as you did too.

The announcers are there to comment on the events of the game. They are not their to be the umpires. They created an event.

What are the odds that within the first inning of the game, two pro-St. Louis announcers just happened to see the smudge and already had all of their ducks in a row in terms of slow-mo replays AND on-field quotes from the few St. Louis players that had just faced Rogers.

McCarver stated that the Cardinals hitters had reported to La Russa after facing Rogers in the first inning that the ball seemed to move funny. That is a claim that La Russa refutes happening. So where did McCarver get that information from? If Rogers is going to be criticized for saying that the umpire never told him to remove the substance, shouldn't McCarver get criticized for making up something that didn't happen?

You think McCarver saw that himself? McCarver doesn't even know Rogers' first name.

So yes, I can imagine watching a game where the announcers don't involve themselves on the field.

As far as your contention that I need to get off my high horse (a horse in which I had no idea I was sitting on in the first place) because Rogers likely kept cheating anyways, that is just not a sound argument. Let's say you are correct and "LOTS of MLB pitchers" help themselves during games. Well, then isn't the playing field just level then? If everyone cheats, then nobody cheats, right? You can't have it both ways. If you're going to call out Rogers for doing something that "LOTS of MLB pitchers" do, without any evidence, then why not call out every pitcher? Even the Cardinals think Rogers pitched brilliant, cheat-free baseball after the first inning.

And, if what you say is true and Rogers did continue cheating, why ON EARTH would his backup cheating substance be the clear undetectable version and his first cheating substance be a giant brown mark recognizable from hundreds of feet away on a video camera?

If you think the smudge was an illegal substance meant to help Rogers, then that's fine. There is nothing wrong with that viewpoint. There is no proof of that, and there certainly isn't proof that he used ANOTHER substance to continue cheating. That claim makes me want to tell you to get off your high horse.

Differing viewpoints aside, I appreciate the comments. Enjoy the Series.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the first poster isn't an idiot.

Todd Nikkel said...

The fact that the umpires became aware of the substance but didn't do more is the most disappointing aspect of the situation. Unfortunately there will always be cheaters, but the umpire should be aggressive when he realizes there is potentially a cheater in the midst.

Jake said...

Todd, I agree. Once La Russa and the umpires dropped the ball, the issue ceases to be a Kenny Rogers issue. Either lambast those guys and every other manager or ump that didn't undress a pitcher, or let it be. It seems to me like it's an accepted practice unless it's blatant. I can't imagine a more blatant situation than this but La Russa didn't act on it.

Anon #2, thanks for the link. I got a chance to read that yesterday. It sounds like that is where Anon #1 got his info since it speaks of the same substances he/she mentioned. I didn't think Anon #1 ever was an idiot. The unidentified "bullpen" coach that gave up all that inside information pretty much indicts every pitcher in baseball. I have no problems believing that pitchers use whatever they can get away with. The problem I have is saying that Rogers wasn't brilliant after the first inning because he went to alternate cheating methods. If every pitcher does it, then when is a pitcher ever brilliant?

I guarantee that ratings will be up for game #3. Buck and McCarver should probably count on a hefty Christmas bonus. I am almost certain that McCarver did not come up with that whole thing on his own. Read his wikipedia profile under "criticism" and you'll see why that's probably not a guy that's going to come up with something like that in the first inning. Remember, two other telecasts aired with Rogers having the same substance and nobody ever mentioned it on air. La Russa said he had seen the substance on Rogers' hand before which might be how Buck and McCarver were hip to the whole thing. It's important to remember that McCarver said that Cardinals players had reported that the ball was doing funny things. La Russa said that wasn't true. Why would McCarver make that claim up? To help his cause? I definitely think so.

Enjoy the Series!


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