It’s not cheating if everyone is doing it, right? Tampa Bay Rays’ manager Joe Maddon seems to think so. At least that’s what the unorthodox manager implied when he defended reliever Joel Peralta, who was ejected from last night’s game because he had what home plate umpire Tim Tschida called a “significant amount” of pine tar on his glove.
I promise you one thing. You’re going to see brand new gloves throughout the major leagues starting tomorrow with pitchers on every major league ballclub. … It’s kind of a common practice that people have done for years. To point one guy out because he’d pitched here a couple years ago, there was probably some common knowledge based on that. And I thought it was a real cowardly move.” – Joe Maddon, quoted by the Washington Times, June 19, 2012
As much as steroid zealots would like to believe otherwise, baseball players have been trying to get an advantage by bending the rules since the game was invented. Whether it’s a corked bat, watered down infield, some extra saliva on the ball, or, in Peralta’s case, a big glob of sticky pine tar on his glove, there are many ways to tilt the playing field, so by no means was last night’s incident extraordinary. However, that doesn’t change the fact that Peralta was breaking the rules, which, by definition, is cheating.
Is Peralta the only pitcher who uses pine tar? Chances are that Maddon is right and more than a few hurlers will be busy scrubbing their gloves clean over the next few days. In that sense, he has a valid point as it pertains to the likely vilification of his reliever. Even if the use of pine tar does provide a small advantage, the violation is hardly egregious, so Maddon was within his right to defend the honor of his player. However, the Rays’ manager was not content to merely deflect criticism from his pitcher. Instead, he returned fire by labeling Davey Johnson’s actions as cowardly and, by doing so, wound up crossing the line even further than Peralta.
Not only was Johnson justified in challenging Peralta’s glove, but had he not done so, it would have been an abrogation of his responsibility. Since April 15, the Rays’ reliever has posted an ERA of 1.69, including 32 strikeouts in 26 2/3 innings, making him one of Maddon’s most important bullpen weapons. By forcing his ejection from the game, Johnson was trying to put his team in a better position to win, which is the primary job of a manager. That’s why the suggestion that Johnson’s actions represented poor sportsmanship, or, worse, a betrayal (because Peralta used to play for the Nationals) is absurd.
Maybe Maddon was just being over-protective of his pitcher? Perhaps the inflammatory tone of his comments was intended to divert attention in his direction? Of course, it’s also possible that Maddon really believes his rhetoric. After all, he apprenticed under Angels’ manager Mike Scioscia, who, on June 15, 2005, nearly came to blows with Frank Robinson after the then Nationals manager was successful in having reliever Brendan Donnelly ejected for the very same infraction. At the time, Scioscia offered an identical “everyone is doing it” defense for which Maddon has now become the champion. In fact, the Rays’ manager echoed the comments made by Donnelly, further cementing the link between the two events and suggesting that Maddon may really believe his team was the victim of an injustice.
It is my belief that a lot of pitchers are going to go out there with newer gloves in the near future.” – Brendan Donnelly, quoted by AP, June 15, 2005
Whether or not there is a run on Rawlings in the coming days, Peralta broke a rule and should be punished. If the Donnelly case is used as a precedent, a suspension of eight games (which was reduced from 10) could be forthcoming. Considering how effective Peralta has been, it’s easy to understand why Maddon would be upset. However, that doesn’t excuse his comments, nor absolve his own culpability for apparently allowing his pitchers to bend the rules. Maddon has earned a strong reputation for using innovation to gain an advantage, so it seems a shame that he would so vehemently defend the use of old-school dirty tricks. Even worse though was the ill-mannered way in which he treated a manager with over 30 years in the game. If Maddon feels compelled to defend a time-honored tradition, he can start with an apology and then remember to respect his elders.
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