MILWAUKEE, AUG. 4 -- Minnesota Twins knuckleball pitcher Joe Niekro said today in Anaheim, Calif., he was not guilty of doing anything to warrant his ejection from Monday night's game against the California Angels, which happened after umpires saw an emery board pop out of his back pocket.
"What can you hide when you're pitching in front of 35,000 people?" Niekro said to NBC-TV News. "I file my nails before games and sometimes between innings."
But the umpires in Anaheim saved six scuffed baseballs thrown by Niekro during the Twins' 11-3 victory and said they would be turned over to American League President Bobby Brown.
The umpires converged on Niekro with one out in the fourth inning after several pitches had dipped violently. Plate umpire Tim Tschida went to the mound and asked to see Niekro's glove.
"He said, 'I want to check your glove,' " Niekro said. "I said, 'Why?' and he said, 'I want to check your glove.' I had nothing to hide, so I let him see it. He then asked to check my cap and to empty my pockets."
Niekro said despite the presence of the emery board, "I never did go to my back pocket during the game. I've been keeping an emery board and sandpaper in my pocket for 15 years. I guess I can't keep it in my pocket anymore."
Niekro, 42, has a 5-8 record with a 4.54 earned run average. This is his 21st season in the major leagues, and his seventh team. He has a 218-198 record. His brother, Phil, 48, pitches for the Cleveland Indians.
"Carrying tools in the back pocket is not illegal," Steve Palermo, the second base umpire Monday night, said. "They can carry a chain saw as long as they don't use it on the ball. The Twins were saying that he used the emery board on his finger. But we felt otherwise."
An American League spokesperson said Brown will get the scuffed balls Wednesday morning and possibly have an announcement later in the day. If found guilty of scuffing the balls, Niekro could receive a 10-day suspension, according to major league rule 302.
However, in a similar situation earlier this season, Brown took no action against Rick Rhoden of the New York Yankees. That incident stemmed from a game in Baltimore on June 23 when umpires kept "more than three and fewer than 10" balls with thin two-inch scuff marks. Although imposing no discipline, Brown had "personal correspondence" with Rhoden and Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, the league office said today.
Several close observers said the use of doctored baseballs and illegal bats appeared to be more commonplace in the major leagues this year.
"I don't know if more guys are doing it, but they're getting bolder about it," Baltimore Orioles Manager Cal Ripken Sr. said. "It used to be that a guy would wait until he had two strikes on a hitter to scuff a ball. Now, the count doesn't make any difference."
Ripken said he hoped umpires and league officials would "crack down" on scuffers, adding, "It looks like they are."
But Texas' Charlie Hough, who, like Niekro, specializes in the knuckleball, said he, too, carries an emery board and doesn't use it on the ball.
"If your skin gets a little tough, you need it to smooth spots out," Hough said. "There's nothing illegal about that."
Another incident occurred last week when a bat used by Howard Johnson of the New York Mets was sent to National League President A. Bartlett Giamatti. St. Louis Cardinals Manager Whitey Herzog, who asked that it be checked after Johnson hit a home run, said, "The bat was corked or something. The ball carried like he was Babe Ruth."
Scuffing became a popular topic of conversation last season when several players and managers accused Houston's Mike Scott, who turned from a mediocre pitcher most of his career to a 1986 Cy Young Award winner after he perfected a forkball in the spring of 1985.
But there has never been any concrete evidence against Scott and he never has been punished.
Similarly, California's Don Sutton and Houston's Nolan Ryan have been accused of scuffing the ball in recent years, without action being taken against either.
As for Monday night, a bat boy in Anaheim Stadium, Jeff Parker, 17, said last night that Al Newman, Twins reserve infielder, tried to get the bag of scuffed balls from him after the game but "another Twin said to 'leave him alone.' "
Said Newman: "I may have asked for the balls but why would I attack a little kid?"
The last pitchers to be suspended for doctoring balls were Rick Honeycutt, then of the Mariners, found with a thumbtack taped to his hand near the end of the 1980 season, and Gaylord Perry, also with Seattle, in 1982 for throwing spitballs.