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Sunday, October 22, 2006
Updated: October 24, 10:12 AM ET
Rogers was masterful, but did he cheat?

By Gene Wojciechowski
ESPN.com

DETROIT -- Here at The North Face photo shoot, otherwise known as the 102nd World Series, you didn't know whether they were going to play Game 2 or a Grey Cup championship.

But they played Game 2, Detroit beat St. Louis 3-1 and, oh, by the way, Tigers starter Kenny Rogers may or may not have cheated for an inning.

With or without some sort of mysterious brown sludge on the palm of his pitching hand, Rogers was nearly unhittable. He certainly was un-scoreable. But did he get caught red- (or brown-) handed?

The Baseball Tonight crew examines what substance may have been on Kenny Rogers' left hand.

The Comerica Park scoreboard said it was 40 degrees, and I'm sure it was -- at noon. But at 8:23 Sunday night, when you saw mitts and mittens as Rogers delivered the first pitch, it wasn't any 40 degrees. It was Michigan versus Ohio State cold. Even the tiger statues lining the outside of the stadium were looking for fleece jackets.

But the 41-year-old Rogers warmed the crowd of 42,533 with another masterful performance. And because of Rogers, the Tigers will arrive in St. Louis with the Series tied, 1-1. The question is, did he cheat to do it?

Thanks to Fox's TV cameras, America -- and likely the Cardinals watching in the visiting clubhouse -- learned that Rogers had a brown substance just below the thumb of his left hand. The stuff was there in the first inning, when Cardinals hitters apparently noticed some of Rogers' pitches doing interesting things. Then it was gone in the second inning.

Hmmm. Was it pine tar? If so, Rogers cheated. And if he cheated, Rogers is working on quite a résumé: shoved a TV cameraman … got caught with illegal goop on his hand … ran his 2006 postseason scoreless streak to a previously un-Rogers-like 23 consecutive innings. Four more shutout innings and he ties the legendary Christy Mathewson for the all-time single postseason record.

Baseball Today
Alan Schwarz and Gene Wojciechowski continue to examine Kenny Rogers' sticky situation with special guest umpires' supervisor Steve Palermo and look ahead to Game 3 of the World Series.
• To listen, click here.
Rogers said it was dirt on his inner palm. Of course, Rogers said a lot of things, some of which made sense, some of which sounded like a guy with a very selective memory. All I know is that by the time Rogers, MLB umpire supervisor Steve Palermo, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa and Tigers manager Jim Leyland were done "explaining" what happened … still nobody knew what happened.

This is important for all sorts of reasons. On a cold, rainy night much like the one here in Detroit, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Jay Howell got tossed in the eighth inning of Game 3 of the 1988 NLCS for having pine tar on his glove. Howell was eventually suspended two games.

Rogers also departed Sunday night's game in the eighth inning. But he left with a shutout and to cheers. Can you blame the Tigers crowd, which included his mother and father, for the ovation? Rogers gave up only two little singles, struck out five and walked three in 99 pitches. It was amazing stuff.

But was it too amazing? On Sunday night, an ESPN video analysis of Rogers' left hand during his previous starts during the '06 playoffs appears to show a similar substance. If it was dirt, no problem. The MLB rule book has nothing against dirt.

The problem is, nobody actually inspected Rogers' hand. According to Palermo, the umpires "observed" the substance as dirt. Observing isn't the same thing as inspecting, but Palermo dismissed the difference. The umpiring crew, he said, could certainly tell the difference between dirt and, say, pine tar.

"This is not their first summer away from home," Palermo said of the umpires.

In other words, they know what they're doing out there.

Kenny Rogers
Kenny Rogers, left, and home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez had a discussion after the top of the first inning.
But this is where it all gets murky. And suspicious too.

Not long after the Fox cameras detected whatever was on Rogers' hand, La Russa was seen talking to home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez. Marquez, said Palermo, then told Rogers, among other things, that he needed to clean his hand.

"What they're trying to do is remove doubt in that situation," Palermo said.

So why then wouldn't La Russa discuss the situation with the media after the game? And even more curious, why did Rogers say that Marquez never talked to him about the substance, or asked him to wipe it off?

Question: "So the umpires didn't mention it at all to you?"
Rogers: "No."

Either this is an inadvertent cover-up, an actual cover-up, or a huge misunderstanding. Whatever it was, the parties involved came off sounding like nobody could get their stories straight.

According to Palermo, La Russa never requested that the umpires inspect Rogers' left hand. Maybe it's just me, but isn't that kind of thing in La Russa's wheelhouse? He knows the rules by heart and always preaches that the game be played the right way.

But no inspection was made. Was it because La Russa decided Rogers really did have an accidental -- and legal -- mixture of dirt and rosin on his hand? Or was it because he didn't want to press the issue with his friend and respected adversary Leyland in the other dugout?

"It's not important to talk about," La Russa said afterward.

La Russa didn't want to sound as if he were whining.

"A guy pitches like that, we as a team don't take things away from anybody," he said.

And if a guy beats you fair and square, La Russa is right. But so muddled were the postgame explanations that it's not entirely clear whether the victory was completely fair and square. So it was important, no matter how hard La Russa wishes otherwise.

"Obviously they were a little suspicious," Leyland said of the Cardinals.

I know, Rogers pitched a scoreless first inning with the gunk on his hand. And then he pitched seven more scoreless innings without anything on his hand. In fact, one of the two hits he gave up came during the first, as did a walk. So he actually pitched better after his hand was clean.

But even if Rogers didn't do a thing wrong, this whole episode has a mysterious, someone's-not-telling-the-whole-truth feel to it.

So now we root for the Series to reach a Game 6. Why?

Rogers and his left hand are scheduled to start in Detroit. Dirtgate lives.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com.