La Russa on Rogers: 'I don't believe it was dirt'


Tuesday, October 24th 2006, 5:20 am
By: News On 6


ST. LOUIS (AP) _ A day later, baseball was still trying to get a grip on what Kenny Rogers had on his hand.

The Detroit pitcher answered wave after wave of questions Monday, making this percolating World Series flap seem like an innocent mistake. Mud, resin, spit, dirt _ he insisted that's what everyone saw at the base of his left thumb in Game 2.

An hour or so later, the Tigers found out what St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa thought about Rogers' explanation.

``I don't believe it was dirt,'' La Russa said. ``Didn't look like dirt.''

The Tigers got to hear it for themselves, too, because La Russa's words from the interview room boomed all around Busch Stadium, courtesy of the PA system. He never mentioned pine tar, but many believed that's what Rogers really used.

Beyond the ballpark, it was the No. 1 topic in sports.

``We know it's all over the place right now,'' umpires' supervisor Steve Palermo said.

Partly because some photographs from Rogers' start in the AL championship series against Oakland showed what appeared to be the same kind of yellowish-brown smudge on his pitching hand that caught everyone's attention Sunday night.

Prompted by La Russa, the umpires asked Rogers to clean off his left hand before the second inning. He wound up pitching eight shutout innings in a 3-1 victory that evened the World Series at one game each.

Game 3 is Tuesday night, with reigning NL Cy Young winner Chris Carpenter starting against Nate Robertson. The forecast is for cool conditions.

It's commonly known within baseball that pitchers sometimes put some sort of substance on their hands in chilly weather to help them grip the ball. A little bit, that's OK; too much, that borders on cheating.

``There's a line that I think that defines the competition. And you can sneak over the line, because we're all fighting for the edge,'' La Russa said. ``I always think, 'Does it go to the point of abuse?' And that's where you start snapping.''

Rogers, who's gone from playoff farce to postseason force this October, stood in the clubhouse and tried to explain away what happened.

``I rub up the balls between the innings and before the game all of the time,'' he said. ``I rub up the bullpen balls I pitch with with mud, resin, spit. I do it all the time. They rub the ball up, too, with mud before the games.

``The game balls, they're dirty. Usually, when I get done, there's not much on my hand, but I guess a little bit more than normal. I wiped it off and proceeded to pitch seven pretty good innings,'' he said. ``Mud, resin, sweat. It's always there. I try not to go crazy with it, but it's not making my pitches do anything crazy.''

Rogers has pitched 23 scoreless innings this postseason _ after going 0-3 with an 8.85 ERA in previous postseasons.

La Russa said he brought the smudge to the umpires' attention, but did not demand they search Rogers because he didn't want to make a big deal about it.

And yes, La Russa said the Cardinals were aware Rogers had a similar spot earlier in the postseason.

``I said, 'I don't like this stuff, let's get it fixed.' If it gets fixed let's play the game. It got fixed, in my opinion,'' La Russa said.

``If he didn't get rid of it, I would have challenged it. But I do think it's a little bit part of the game at times, and don't go crazy,'' he said.

La Russa also said he talked to the Cardinals before they worked out Monday.

``I briefly explained where I was coming from and I said, 'Anybody felt like I should do different, then I disappointed you.' ... And they didn't raise their hand and say, 'Hey, I disagree,' they just didn't say anything,'' he said. ``But it's very possible there were guys that disagreed. It's not the way we want to win.''

La Russa was adamant that his longtime friendship with Tigers manager Jim Leyland did not affect how he handled the situation.

``It had nothing to do with Leyland,'' he said.

Palermo said he talked with plate umpire Alfonso Marquez about how to best settle the flap, advising that a quick word with Rogers would work. That satisfied La Russa.

``Tony did things in a good and professional manner to resolve the issue,'' Palermo said.

Umpires can inspect a pitcher on their own if they believe something is wrong. A manager can ask an umpire to check, too.

In 2002, the Cleveland Indians suspected Rogers was scuffing balls and asked the plate umpire to search for anything illegal. Nothing was found.

Tigers reliever Todd Jones once wrote a newspaper column admitting he'd used pine tar _ that's illegal _ when he pitched at Colorado.

``I'm saying in my particular case, in situations like that, I have in the past done that,'' he said Monday. ``Guys are not scuffing and guys are not using Vaseline. That's a vast difference than a guy who can't feel anything and is using something to get a grip.''

This episode has become perhaps the most-discussed Series smudge since Game 5 in 1969, when Mets manager Gil Hodges brought umpire Lou DiMuro a ball with shoe polish to persuade him that Cleon Jones had been hit by a pitch from Baltimore's Dave McNally.

Asked about the flap, Leyland brushed it aside.

``I'm not going to chew yesterday's breakfast and I'm not going to comment on it,'' he said.

Rogers is scheduled to pitch in Game 6, if the Series returns to Comerica Park.

``Obviously, it's going to be a thing that everyone talks about,'' Palermo said. ``And we'll be well aware of it if there is a next time.''