In baseball’s unwritten code, nothing is as simple as it seems. Rays reliever Joel Peralta, in the judgment of home plate umpire Tim Tschida, cheated. Manager Davey Johnson caught him. Peralta will receive his punishment. That is straightforward morality at work, but in baseball it is not so easy.
Johnson found himself the target of Rays Manager Joe Maddon’s white-hot ire. Maddon suggested it was “cowardly” of Johnson to use what he knew about Peralta from Peralta’s days as a National – that Peralta, like many rule-breaking pitchers, smeared pine tar on his glove so he could grip the ball better. Maddon insinuated that Nationals players would be upset with Johnson for ordering the inspection of Peralta’s glove. Even Johnson himself said he was “hesitant” to check the glove.
What happened here? A player broke a rule, got caught and served his punishment. What is so complicated? What else is at play?
This afternoon, I spoke with a longtime baseball man, who has experience as both a manager and an executive. He laid out the reasoning behind Maddon’s anger and the pitfalls Johnson faced. He requested anonymity so as not to be embroiled in the controversy.
“That’s an interesting dilemma,” the baseball man said. “There are so many little wild cards to be thrown into this. Peralta pitched for the Nationals. I’m sure if he had pine tar on his glove last night, he had pine tar on his glove when he pitched for the Nationals. There’s probably some thought [from the Rays] that, ‘This guy left it all out on the line for the Nationals, busted his [rear end], and now when he’s out there, they call him out on it.’
“The dilemma is this: As a manager, I’m not going to know [about Peralta using pine tar]. How would I know? Somebody has to put that in your ear. Somebody has got to alert you to that. Now, you’re in a tough position. You can say, ‘I’m not going to open that can of worms.’ There’s going to be a facet of your ball club that says, ‘Come on, we’re fighting here, we’re trying to win. You have to say something.’
“There’s going to be another facet of guys who say, who say, ‘Come on, he pitched here. He busted his [rear end] for us.’ There may be guys on the Nationals who are doing the same thing, and they don’t want to get called out. He may have shared his secrets with them.
“It’s like Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It’s almost like you wish you didn’t know, because you’re going to have to address it. Or not address it and live with the consequences.”
As for Maddon’s claim that Nationals players would be upset with their own manager, the baseball lifer said he could see it. Last night, Nationals relievers who played with Peralta in 2010 stayed tight-lipped, but went out of their way to call Peralta a model teammate. He was, and remains, a well-liked figure in the Nationals’ clubhouse.
“It’s probably sticking in their craw a little bit,” our baseball man said. “They love the guy. He pitched on short rest for the Nationals. They grew to respect him. Then the plug gets pulled on him.”
The baseball man offered a unique solution. He said Johnson could have gone to either Maddon or Peralta before the game and warned them not to use pine tar during the series. “You say, ‘We’re not going to call you out on his, but make sure you don’t have pine tar on your glove. We can’t let you do it, knowing you’re doing this.’ ”
In the end, our baseball man said he wouldn’t have inspected Peralta’s glove.
“I would not address it,” he said. “If Peralta pitched effectively one night, I might address it the next day. I might go up to Joe and said, ‘Hey Joe, I don’t want to be [a jerk]. But I look like I’m not giving it my all for the ballclub if I don’t address this.’ That’s not an easy conversation to have, either. But it may be easier than what you’re dealing with now.
“It’s a tough call, man. It really is.”
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