DETROIT – The point isn't whether Kenny Rogers was cheating in the first inning of Sunday's Game 2 of the World Series.
The point isn't whether it is believable that a pitcher wouldn't notice a huge clump of dirt (if it was that) on his pitching hand. The point isn't even about Kenny Rogers, whose left hand was brilliant both clean and dirty. He's a secondary story here.
The point is that faced with suspicion, controversy and potential scandal, Major League Baseball once again did what it always seems to do – covered its eyes, fell back on its history of silence and hoped it would all go away, unwilling to find out what, if anything, was going on.
It went right back to its WWE-in-cleats routine, a bizarro world where rules are meant not just to be broken but also ignored while being mocked. Granted, it's humorous – Who doesn't like a warning to stop hitting someone with a steel chair? – but it doesn't do much for credibility.
Just consider the following:
1. During the top of the first inning, St. Louis Cardinals hitters complained to manager Tony La Russa that there was funny movement on Rogers' pitches.
2. La Russa then took the complaint to the umpires, although he didn't formally request an inspection of the Detroit Tigers' starting pitcher.
3. Home-plate umpire Alfonso Marquez, according to supervisor Steve Palermo, then noticed that Rogers had "a noticeable dirt mark of some sort on his left hand," which, if it was determined he was using intentionally to mark the ball to cause funny movement, would be cause for ejection.
4. So Marquez had a conversation with Rogers and, according to Palermo, said, "Kenny, that dirt thing that you've got on your hand, if you'll do me a favor and just take it off."
5. Rogers, according to Palermo, then washed his hands.
And then he went on to pitch seven more scoreless innings – running his postseason streak to 23 – to lead the Tigers to a 3-1 victory that evened the series as it heads to St. Louis for three games starting Tuesday.
So, if a baseball player in the middle of an out-of-nowhere, almost-unbelievable run of dominance is accused of maybe fudging things and the ump notices something fishy, the proper response is: "do me a favor" and "wash your hands."
Seriously, really, that's it? Wash your hands? As a favor?
"Alfonso just asked Kenny to remove that dirt, so there wouldn't be any question as far as any controversy," Palermo said. "And I think if you see the following innings, Kenny pitched just fine without the dirt."
He sure did. But again, that isn't the point. Rogers might have done it all honestly, continuing his October of redemption. The thing is, no one will ever really know because baseball doesn't want to find out.
"[The] umpires were very proactive," Palermo said.
Yeah, sure. They helped wipe away the evidence.
Of course, the problem with what Palermo said is that it doesn't jibe with what Rogers said. The pitcher claimed no umpire ever mentioned dirt on his hand. He said no one ever told him to wash up. No one, Rogers said, even hinted at it.
"I saw it and I went and wiped it off and then it was gone," Rogers said.
So the conversation between Rogers and Marquez didn't include talk of the dirt on the hand?
"He just came and told me how much time I had between the innings," Rogers said. "I had to slow down a little bit because I didn't want to stand out there too long in the cold."
This stands in stark contrast to how Rogers' manager, Jim Leyland, said it went down.
"Tony [La Russa] went out and said a couple of his players said the ball was acting funny, and they made Kenny wash his hands," Leyland said. "And he washed his hands."
Or he didn't.
Now, the second half of this ridiculousness is that baseball subscribes to these strange codes – code of conduct, code of silence, code of who knows what?
It is why performance-enhancing drugs continue to fester in the sport. It is why La Russa could manage Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire and still be considered a "good baseball man." It is why it's sometimes OK to bean a guy but not other times. It is why the joke often is on the fans. It is why the old boys club – and La Russa and Leyland are old boys in every sense of the phrase – always protects itself.
How else can you explain La Russa, who has a long, rich history of gamesmanship and checking for gloves and foreign objects, just allowing the umpires to ask for a washing of the hand as a favor and then letting it end there?
"It's not important to talk about," La Russa said.
Can you imagine an NFL game where one player is suspected of using illegal equipment, the opposing coach complains, the ref sees something in line with said complaint and then just lets the guy take off the equipment and the coach is cool with it? Or do you see Bill Parcells strangling someone?
La Russa's failure to officially ask for an inspection baffled even his own staff and players.
"They're not arbitrarily going to go out there and check him," Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan said. "They have to be asked to check him."
Why didn't the Cardinals ask?
"You have to ask Tony that," Duncan said.
Do you believe it was just a clump of dirt on Rogers' hand and, moreover, that he didn't notice?
"Do I have to answer that?" Duncan replied.
Look, it's not like Rogers is above reproach here. The guy is 41, in recent years has been terrible during the end of the season and in the playoffs and now has put together the third longest stretch of scoreless postseason innings in baseball history. This is as unexpected a streak as some light-hitting shortstop suddenly clubbing homers all over the park.
And it's not like he hasn't been under suspicion before. In 2002, the Cleveland Indians claimed Rogers, then a Texas Ranger, scuffed the ball in a 3-2 victory.
"I know he was scuffing the ball," then-Indian Milton Bradley told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
For that, Bradley was sent a ball that had scuff marks, pine tar and the following note on it: "To Milton. All the best. Kenny Rogers."
Rogers said he didn't send it. He claimed then-teammate Rafael Palmeiro did.
Who knows? Just as no one even knows what was on Rogers' hand.
On Sunday, the umps quickly determined it was dirt, but they admittedly never gave a close inspection. Pictures show something that looked more like tobacco juice, or pine tar, or, well, something that wasn't necessarily dirt. But, then again, pictures can be deceiving.
"Could've been chocolate cake," Tigers closer Todd Jones said.
Did the pregame meal include chocolate cake?
"There was steak and gravy," Jones said. "The gravy could be there."
Then there is the question of how a pitcher wouldn't notice a big clump of "dirt" on his hand? Considering pitchers often get taken out of games for the smallest of blisters and are obsessed with the slightest of hangnails, wouldn't it at least be noticeable?
"I don't know," Cardinals designated hitter Scott Spiezio said. "But you have to be suspicious."
Not if you are an umpire.
"If we thought he was out there doing something, he should be searched," St. Louis left fielder Preston Wilson said. "This is the World Series."
Yeah, you'd think. You'd think the stakes would require something more than what went down. You'd think Kenny Rogers, if he indeed was innocent, deserved better and not the mountain of speculation that is to come.
But mostly you'd think MLB, by now, would have realized that when something potentially shady happens – instead of trying to protect its own naiveté and going with the see-no-evil bit – it should start doing the rest of us a favor and stop acting like the WWE.
- Kenny Rogers
- Tony La Russa