Thursday, April 24, 2014

Cheaters never win, unless they don't get caught.

                                      Last night, Yankee pitcher Michael Pineda was ejected from a game with the Red Sox for having pine tar on his neck. The substance, which is legal when used on part of a bat, is considered illegal when used by a pitcher.  This comes two weeks after Pineda apparently had a similar looking substance on his hand against the same Red Sox team, but Boston manager John Farrell chose not to investigate then (Probably because his own picthers, Lester and Buccholz have been accused in the past as well).  New York won that game 4-1.  This time, however, Farrell asked umpires to check it out, and they found it in an even more obvious place on his body.  Yankee T.V. broadcaster Michael Kay said it was like "robbing a liquor store, getting away with it, and then going back to rob the same liquor store two weeks later."

                          Of course, this isn't the first time a pitcher was caught trying to "cheat."  For decades, the spitball was a legal pitch, and- especially during the dead ball era- pitchers would do whatever they could to scuff up the ball to get the advantage over the hitter.  The most famous pitcher to use a modern day version of the spitter (or just outright use various substances to doctor the ball), was Hall of famer, Gaylord Perry, who spent a lot of his career under scrutiny, but always seemed to avoid getting caught.  I remember a time late in his career, where he threw a suspicious pitch to Reggie Jackson, who swung and he headed to the dugout, an incensed Reggie went over to a bucket of Gatorade, and dipped his hands in it, trying to show the umpired that Perry was putting something on the ball.

                Then there was Mike Scott.  Early in his career, he was a mediocre pitcher for the Mets, but  seemingly reinvented himself in 1986, winning the Cy Young Award while pitching for the Astros.  During the NLCS, Scott beat his former team twice, and would have probably beat them again, if the series had gone to a seventh game.  Players on the Mets accused Scott of using illegal substances during the series, but nothing was ever found.  For his part, Scott has either denied cheating, or has avoided the question.

           The funniest example of a pitcher getting caught was Joe Neikro in 1987.  Joe, the younger brother of Hall of famer Phil Neikro, was a knuckleballer in his final year in the Majors.  He spent his career with seven teams, and now was with the Twins.  He would help Minnesota win it's first ever World Series that year, but his most famous moment happened early in the '87 campaign.  While pitching against the California Angels, umpires asked to see what he had in his pockets.  When Neikro reached in, he grabbed two items and proceeded to throw his hands up, and, sure enough, both an emery board and a piece of sandpaper came flying out.  Umpire Tim Tschida found it and ejected Neikro.  He served a ten game suspension for his actions.

                 Don't know how long Pineda will be suspended, but no matter what, he'll be watched carefully from here on in, as will pitchers all over the league. Great. Like games aren't long enough...

Friday, April 4, 2014

Pick off triple play.

                             This year marks sixty years of Baltimore Orioles baseball. The franchise started in 1901 as the Milwaukee Brewers (not to be confused with the current Brewers team which started as the Seattle Pilots in 1969), then became the St. Louis Browns the next year.  The Browns won only one pennant (1944) in their 53 year history, and often finished in the second division. When Baltimore took over the franchise in 1954, they weren't immediately successful, but a dozen years later, they won their first championship, in 1966. A few years later- under manage Earl Weaver- they won three straight pennants from '69-'71, as well as having one of the best records in baseball during the 1970s, ending that decade with yet another pennant.

                 Earl's last year as manager- not including a brief comeback in 1985- was 1982, when he came within one game of taking yet another division title, losing it to Milwaukee on the final day of the season.  The next year, the Orioles won their third World championship, this time under manager Joe Altobelli.  And while there's not that much difference between the Weaver teams of the early '80s and that '83 team, there was something that happened that year that had never happened before, and will probably never happen again.

            On August 24th, 1983, Baltimore was playing the Toronto Blue Jays, when the game went into extra innings.  Having run out of catchers, Altobelli was forced to put utility infielder Lenn Sakata  at catcher, a position he had never played before in the majors.  On the mound was lefty  Tippy Martinez, a reliever enjoying his best season in the big leagues, having been voted to his only All Star appearance the month before.  The Blue Jays Barry Bonnell reached first on a single, and couldn't wait to steal second, and take advantage of the inexperienced Sakata behind the plate.

             However, Tippy suspected as much, and threw a pick off move to first, as Bonnell took off for second, eventually getting caught in a rundown. One out.  Then speedster Dave Collins-who had stolen 79 bases with the Reds a few years earlier, and 31 that year- walked. He then took a big lead, and was also picked off by Martinez... two outs.  Finally, Willie Upshaw, a power hitter with not much of a stolen base resume, reached first on a single. You'd figure he'd just stand on first with what he had just happened to his team mates, but apparently, the temptation was just too much. He also was picked off...three men on, three men picked off...Andy Petitte, eat your heart out.

                     After watching the tape of the feat, I'm not sure if those were balks or not (or even what the hell a balk is, seems the rule keeps changing), but it still seems funny that after the first guy tried, that anyone else would.  The Orioles were a blessed team that year; when stuff like that starts happening, you KNOW you're on the way to winning it all. I'm sure the '68 Cardinals tried to hit everything to Tigers "shortstop" Mickey Stanley, an outfielder placed there in the World series to add more offense to the team, which reminds me: Sakata wasn't the only one out of position in the 10th for Baltimore; outfielders John Lowenstein and Gary Roenicke were playing 2nd base and 3rd base, respectively (if not respectably). Luckily, nothing was hit to either of them...