Where's the line on pitch-tipping?

May, 11, 2009
5/11/09
12:05
PM ET
Ah, reporting. You have to love it (done in this case by Alan Schwarz) ...
    The notion that Alex Rodriguez has tipped pitches to opposing players in return for their tipping pitches to him -- one of the more bizarre allegations in the new biography of him -- has generally shocked players and executives throughout baseball.

    It shocked Jim Price, too. But Price, a Detroit Tigers television broadcaster, at least spoke from experience.

    Price was the Tigers' catcher on Sept. 19, 1968, when he and pitcher Denny McLain conspired to give Mickey Mantle a going-away gift.

    A few weeks from retirement and tied with Jimmie Foxx with 534 career home runs, Mantle came to the plate in the eighth inning with the Tigers comfortably ahead, 6-1. Detroit had already clinched the American League pennant - this was before leagues were split into two divisions, let alone three -- and McLain had already won his 30th game.

    --snip--

    Price, who has broadcast Tigers games for more than three times as many years (18) as he caught them (5), said he has never heard of such a scene happening with any other player, past or present. He said he never regretted giving Mantle one last hurrah -- even though it technically tampered with the integrity of baseball's sacred career home run list.

    The allegations about the Yankees' Rodriguez in Selena Roberts's book -- attributed to anonymous sources -- took Price by surprise. To this point, no player has corroborated the allegations or said he has even heard of such a scheme involving Rodriguez.

    "That blows my mind," Price said. "I've watched hundreds of games. I don't see how that could happen, I'm sorry. That sounds pretty far-fetched to me. I'm floored."

    Ultimately, Price thinks what he did was fairly benign.

    "What we did was a gesture to a great player at end of his career,” Price said. "It was offered by the pitcher -- it was his suggestion and Mickey went along with it. We'd already clinched the pennant. I don't feel that I did anything wrong at all.”

With all due respect, we all tend to think that what we do is benign; that's how we justify doing things in the first place. But while one might draw a line between a pitcher telegraphing his intentions and a fielder telegraphing the pitcher's intentions, that's a pretty squishy line, don't you think? And yes, it was 6-1 and in the eighth inning -- I checked -- and this was 1968 when runs were as scarce as ice cream in the Sahara.

But baseball's a funny game, you know? What if Mantle's home run presaged a big rally for the Yankees and they'd wound up winning that game? Sure, the Tigers had already clinched the American League flag, but still ... As I said, that's a fairly squishy line. And before we start talking about fining or suspending or banning a player who may have tipped a pitch (or pitches), we'd probably better figure out exactly where that line is.

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