Tony LaRussa Just Took a Dump on Baseball

I’m really sick of hearing about Kenny Rogers and the pine tar controversy, and it’s only two days old. For those who don’t know, Tigers pitcher Kenny Rogers was spotted with an oily brown substance on his inner thumb in the first inning while pitching in Game 2 of the World Series the other night. The goop, which was later explained as “dirt,” was removed by the second inning, and Rogers went on to pitch another 6 innings of masterful ball. But the story gets a little weird from there. Read on for more.

Let’s get down to basics here, shall we? Kenny Rogers didn’t have “dirt” on his hand, he had pine tar. Pine tar is defined by ol’-reliable Wikipedia as “a sticky material produced by the high temperature carbonization of pine wood in anoxic conditions (dry distillation or destructive distillation). The wood is rapidly decomposed by applying heat and pressure in a closed container; the primary resulting products are charcoal and pine tar.” It’s illegal to use in baseball except on the bat and even then only a certain amount, pitchers cannot use it to doctor their grip on the ball.

But Rogers did, I think everyone agrees. And the commentators discussed it for some time.

Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa, a seasoned vet who should’ve known better, didn’t argue the call. He didn’t make an issue. He should’ve. This is the World Series, for crying out loud. He could’ve gotten into Kenny Rogers’ head. This is a guy known to lose his temper – once on field last year, and then later *in a police station*! So messing with him may have had a big effect.

Instead, LaRussa let it slide. It’s a well established fact that he’s a close friend of Tiger’s manager Jim Leyland. So that may have had something to do with it. But I don’t think so. Here’s my theory.

LaRussa was manager of the Oakland A’s in the early 90s. In the early 90s, the Oakland A’s were host to two young stars you may have heard of: Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire.

Canseco, we now know, is one of the biggest juicers in all of baseball history. And McGwire, whose 1 homerun per 11 at-bats in his HR record-breaking year was as unbelievable then as Bonds’ streak is now was – not too long ago – telling Congress “I’m not here to talk about the past. I’m here to talk about the present” which is about as close to an admission as we could’ve expected.

By the way, smart move laying low for awhile, Big Mac. Your HOF bid is much stronger without you fucking it up by showing your face before this nonsense is settled.

Point is – LaRussa managed two major stars, likely in their steroid prime. Two cheaters. Under his nose.

Then there’s pitchers and pine tar. We all know it happens, every baseball fan knows it. Applying a little pine tar to your hand/the ball means a pitcher can create a little bit of stickiness on the surface of the leather. In cold weather especially, much like the other night, when a pitcher’s hands are getting chilly and the fingers are numbing up around a cold leather baseball, a droplet of pine tar can mean the difference between a wild pitch and a perfectly controlled strike. But usually, it’s the difference between a pitch in the batter’s reach and precise control. Enough to make a big difference.

LaRussa not making an issue means one of three things: either 1) his guys were doing it too, and he couldn’t risk anyone looking into it; 2) everyone’s doing it, and opening this can of worms makes it the 2006-2007 version of the steroid scandal, or 3) he’s simply an idiot, whose negligence probably cost his team a win in the Series.

At best, a manager of a world series caliber team is a schmuck who is ok with cheating. At worst, baseballers as a whole are ok with cheating. And as a baseball fan, I fear it’s the latter. I think people involved in baseball have come to accept cheating as part of the game. When Gaylord Perry did this crap back in the day, he was punished. When it’s done today, it’s overlooked even by skilled and experienced managers.

This is really a shame. I really don’t care much about Kenny Rogers or this incident, but I care about the integrity of American’s pastime. Frankly, I think it’s in the shitter. No one believes that the players are honest; rather, they view them as money-hungry cheaters. Nearly every record in the record books from the last 15 years is suspect to me now. The Pete Rose fiasco is more excusable than most of the infractions we regularly forgive/overlook today.

When Tony LaRussa failed to go apeshit over the obvious pine tar in Rogers’ palm, and worse – reaffirmed his decision in post-game press conferences – he killed a lot of my enthusiasm for baseball in one fell swoop.