Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Peralta’s Pine Tar Problem and the Gripe of Grip

I wasn’t going to comment on the current suspension of Rays pitcher Joel Peralta. My initial thought was that he did something wrong, got caught, and had to face the reaper. It happens. But then I started unraveling the sweater and peeling back the layers. The situation is far stickier than I thought (pun intended).

First of all, why now? Peralta has pitched for the Rays since 2011. No one before the Nationals brought up the fact that Peralta utilizes pine tar on the pitching mound. Why did it take Nationals manager Davey Johnson to play that card? Why didn’t one of Peralta’s former teammates, perhaps from an American League team the Rays play more often and in more meaningful contests, drop the hint to their respective managers? Or did those players say something and their manager not execute?

Looking at the 2010 Nationals pitching staff, there aren’t many candidates who now pitch in the AL, as many of the National staff have remained with the team or are out of baseball. But there are a few. There is former Nats closer Matt Capps, currently pitching for the Twins; current Tigers pitcher Collin Balester; and Brian Bruney, who pitched for the White Sox in 2011. Of the three, I would think former White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen would be the best candidate to try to get an upper hand on Joe Maddon. But in 2011, Guillen’s last in the AL before heading to Miami, Peralta pitched scot-free. Perhaps Bruney never saw Peralta’s proclivity for pine tar during his time with the Nationals.

But the problem isn’t “who dun it?”, but rather “why now?”. Was it, as JoeRaysFan pointed out, a continuation of the Davey Johnson – Whitey Herzog feud from 20 years ago? If so, that is not only awesome, but very pro wrestling-esque of Johnson. Has anyone contacted Herzog for a quote?

This whole mess has brought up a lot of huffing and hawing from both those who say Peralta is an old-school cheater and those who say it is not a big deal. According to Jason Turbow, Sports Illustrated writer and author of a book on baseball cheating, pine tar is part of “baseball’s competitive process” and Johnson should only have requested Peralta remove the sticky substance from his person and return to the pitcher’s mound. Johnson, as Turnbow points out, even used the tactic before, asking umpires to check Dodgers reliever Jay Howell during the 1988 playoffs. Like Peralta, Howell was ejected.

What Turnbow fails to mention, however, is perhaps Johnson’s move was psychological. Perhaps it was simply a way for one elder grandmaster to take a chess piece away from a younger master. In a sport where managerial decisions play a key role, removing an option, especially from someone as calculating as Maddon, could potentially swing a game.

Is Johnson opening up the can of worms Turnbow insists he is? Possibly. Is it malarkey that a pitcher can be ejected for using something that aids his grip on the ball? Again, possibly. But the bottom line is that although pine tar does not give the illegal aerodynamic advantage of sandpaper or vasoline, it is still illegal by the rule book.

Of course, the most effective way a pitcher can avoid the possibility of an opposing manager signaling the umpires to check him is to not use pine tar.

If only it was that simple.

In the LA Times, former Major League relief pitcher Brandon Donnelly came to the defense of Joel Peralta (h/t DRaysBay). According to Donnelly, pitchers frequently use pine tar to ensure the ball does not slip out of their hands and possibly lead to an injury. Turnbow also uses a Chris Carpenter quote to the St Louis Post-Dispatch that echoes Donnelly. It is a valid point, as no one wants to see anyone hurt, especially from a 90+ mile an hour fastball.

However, there is already a rule and action taken by umpires in a regulated setting to ensures slippage does not happen. Inacted in the 1920s after a Carl Mays pitch slipped and killed Ray Chapman, MLB Rule 3.01c states:

The umpire shall inspect the baseballs and ensure they are regulation baseballs and that they are properly rubbed so that the gloss is removed.”

Before every game, baseballs are rubbed in a special goop made from mud originating in a top secret locale the Delaware River. This special goop has been made by Lena Blackburne and his clan of special mud masters for years, and is approved and sanctioned by Major League Baseball.

Hence the illegality of pine tar.

But the monopoly of mud from a top secret location given to umpires and used in a secret room before a game leaves several questions that need to be asked.

Who watches the umpires rub the balls? Is there a proper way to rub the balls? Is there a ball-rubbing regulator? (Sorry, but these questions need to be asked!)

Who ensures the process is followed? Has anyone researched the mud? Is there an independent body that regulates the mud? According to the mud people, the composition of the mud is a secret. So could it be less thick in some years? Who represents the pitchers in the preparation of the mud?

Besides former Tigers hurler Kenny Rogers, we don’t often see starting pitchers using pine tar. Maybe the baseballs used in the early innings have a better grip than those used later in a game. Umpires have so much to do before a game, it seems difficult to believe that one of them spends time to rub down enough baseballs for an entire game’s use. Maybe they run out by the later innings. How many baseballs are prepared per game? What about the next game? Are they re-rubbed before the next game if they are not used? I would be curious to see if there is any grip resistance difference between new baseballs put in play in the first inning and baseballs put in play by the later innings.

What about rosin? Pitchers have the rosin bag to dry their hands in case of sweat. The powder from the rosin bag is supposed to help grip. Is Peralta a frequent rosin user? I don’t think I have ever seen the rosin bag replaced in a game. Could it be empty by the time set-up men come into the game?

We know MLB regulators have their flaws, as evident in the Ryan Braun steroid debacle, so why not make the pre-game baseball-rubbing process open and transparent, especially if the actions of the players on the field are dependent on it?  We could have a situation, perhaps even this year if the Nationals advance to the playoffs, where a manager uses the pine tar tactic to have an ace reliever tossed from a key postseason match-up. Imagine if it swung the outcome of a World Series.

If Peralta and Donnelly are to be believed, what we have here is not pitchers trying to get an unfair advantage in regards to ball movement. They are not trying to alter the normal flight of the ball. If we take them at their most honest, they are just trying to get a grip. And perhaps getting a grip is a legitimate gripe.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Sugar Land Skeeters Sign a Big Name Pitcher ... For Real This Time ... Wait, Maybe Not

(This post originally appeared on Bus Leagues

(Update: Skeeters, never stop being you. Seriously.

The same day everyone wrote about how Scott Kazmir was joining the Sugar Land Skeeters, the Skeeters website had a headline that stated "Two-time AL All-Star, former Major Leaguer join Skeeters". Of course, "AL All-Star" doesn't always mean American League. In this case, it means Atlantic League. And that convenient comma between "All-Star" and "former", that can mean two separate players. In this case, it does as the Skeeters signed Steve Moss (Atlantic League two-time All-Star) and Luis Figueroa (formerly of the Blue Jays. Giants, and Pirates). Gotta love the Skeeters.)

A few months ago, Brian wrote about the Sugar Land Skeeters "announcing their presence with authority" by signing a former Major League pitcher named "Liriano". While most would associate that surname with Francisco Liriano, the Liriano in question was actually former Brewers and Phillies hurler Pedro Liriano.

Issuing press releases like that are par for the course in the bus leagues.

Sometimes, however, there is no ruse to the reports.

On Wednesday, Ken Rosenthal of reported that the Skeeters really signed a former Major League All-Star. One without a common surname. One with the last name "Kazmir", as in former Tampa Bay Rays moundman Scott Kazmir.

The move makes sense for both parties. The fledgling Atlantic League ballclub will get a nice boost in publicity and probably attendance.

For Kazmir, the Skeeters are not far from his home in Houston and should give him a place to attempt to rebuild his career, which disintegrated faster than an Acme Disintegrating Pistol. The Skeeters also have some other ex-Major Leaguers which Kazmir can work with, such as Gary Majewski and of course, the aforementioned "other" Liriano. The Skeeters also have a pair of veteran ex-Major Leaguers on their coaching staff, manager Gary Gaetti and pitching coach Britt Burns.

That Kazmir will be working with Burns is interesting. From 1980 to 1985, Britt Burns was one of the top lefties in the American League, an all-star who twice finished in the running for AL Cy Young. He ended his 8-year career after the 1985 season when a degenerative hip sidelined him. He played his last full season at 26 years old. He attempted comebacks with the Yankees in 1990 and the Red Sox in 1991 before walking away from the game for good. He ended his career with a 70-60 win-loss record and an average season of 13 wins and 12 losses.

By comparison, from 2005 to 2009, Kazmir was one of the top lefties in the American League, a two-time all-star who led the league in strikeouts in 2007. He ended his 8-year career (if it is indeed over) in 2011 when various injuries and a diminshing fastball sidelined him. Although he pitched 1.2 innings for the Angels in 2011, he played his last full season at 26 years old. He ended his career with a 66-61 record and an average season of 13 wins and 12 losses.

The Skeeters finally have an ex-All Star.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Q&A: Kevin Gengler of

(This post originally appeared on Bus Leagues

Every so often, we like to talk to other writers who spend long hours chronicling the exploits of those in the Minor Leagues. Kevin Gengler of is one such writer. Kevin has been covering the Rays system for several years and has become one of the premier go-to subject matter experts on things minor league Rays-related.

Kevin has been an e-migo of the site for a while, having Mike as part of the RaysProspects 2011 Predictions and working with Scott on the RaysProspects Future Considerations podcast. So it was only natural that we have him here.

Bus Leagues Baseball: How long have you been blogging about the Rays minor league system and what got you interested in the Rays minor league teams and players?

Kevin Gengler:I had started and stopped a Rays prospect blog in 2006-2007, mainly because it wasn't just something I could commit to every day. And with the strong work being done by DRaysBay and RaysIndex even back in the losing seasons, there wasn't much of a niche to carve out.

BLB: Why blog about it? Did you feel there was a gap to be filled in the blogosphere?

KG: RaysProspects in its current form came to be in mid-2008, and I do think the team winning and the increased interest created a gap. Doug Milhoan created a blog to write about the team's pitching prospects, so I e-mailed him asking if he'd be interested in having me on and we could cover the whole system.

BLB: Were you a minor league baseball fan before you started blogging about the Rays minor league system?

KG:The minor leagues and prospects were always interesting to me, as far back as seeing Nomar Garciaparra with the Trenton Thunder as a kid. Some years down the road I stumbled on a link to a Baseball America Top 100 prospects list, and to read these scouting reports and projections was pretty fascinating.

BLB: Did you look at any other organization-based blogs before starting RaysProspects and if so, what influences did you take from them?

KG: I don't think we were influenced much early on by other sites. Over the years we've tried to adapt some things from other sites (like SoxProspects and Phuture Phillies) and tweak them, but overall there really hasn't been much that we've seen and said "we should do that here."

BLB: How do you follow each team? Do you watch all of their games, get your information from their websites, or get your news via twitter, etc?

KG: is obviously the biggest source of information with the boxscores every night. Being on Twitter is nice too, in addition to the teams I follow three beat writers who do a great job (Adam Sobsey for Durham, Stacy Long for Montgomery, and Micheal Compton for Bowling Green). If the Rays are off or played an afternoon game, I'll listen to a radio broadcast online or check out the Bulls on

BLB: In recent years, there has been a large growth of Rays blogs, both at the major and minor league level. Do you think this is a good thing, and has it affected your blogging at all? I noticed for example, you have incorporated several other writers on to your site.

KG:I think it's a good thing, and for us, bringing Jim Donten into the fold was great. He's provided pictures and info from Charlotte in addition to notes on the system as a whole as he's done a lot of the recapping work. He and Nick Hanson, who was also in Charlotte, are great to get the boots-on-the-ground perspective. BurGi, a fan from Germany, has done a terrific job on the stats side.

BLB: What Rays prospect do you think your audience follows or has followed the closest since you started?

KG: Tim Beckham, because he was the #1 overall pick, is always going to be a hot topic of conversation, especially when it gets into a pedigree vs. production debate. Henry Wrigley's just about the opposite of that, an unheralded guy who's been a run-producer, but he's a lot more popular with our audience than I would've expected.

BLB: Some of the Rays prospects through the years have been as close to “can’t miss” as you can get. But are there any “under the radar” prospects that have really piqued your interest? Did they end up making the big league club?

KG: My track record on sleeper prospects isn't terribly great (Jason McEachern and Ty Morrison were two of my favorites, but neither has made "the leap"), but Alex Cobb is a player I was higher on than most after his season at low-A in 2008. He has taken steps forward each year and it looks like he could settle in as a back-end starter. As a site, we were also "in" on Jeremy Hellickson pretty early.

BLB: Have you seen any/all of the Rays minor league teams live?

KG: Living in New Jersey makes this pretty tough, as the teams are mainly located in the south. I've been able to see the Hudson Valley Renegades, who play in NY, but the Durham Bulls are the only other team that plays in a league with teams relatively close.

BLB: You have a podcast with Scott Grauer, who also writes for us. Can you tell us a little about that, how that is going, and what has the reception been?

KG:For me, it was something that I had just wanted to try my hand at for a while, and to bring a different dimension of coverage to the site. It's been going well, I feel, and the experience really makes you appreciate the podcasts that do a really great job. It's nothing huge, but we've had Jim Callis (of BaseballAmerica) and Kevin Goldstein (of Baseball Prospectus) on for episodes and people definitely liked hearing two guys who write about prospects for a living talk about the system.

BLB: Do you feel a sense of pride when some of the prospects you have been writing about for years make it to the big league club? Do you ever feel as if you are handing over one of your own to the MLB-level bloggers?

KG: I'm not sure about pride, but I do like when a player is called up and he's not a complete mystery because I've followed him for the past few years. A nice of example of this is when some chatter was out there earlier this season that Matt Moore might have been tipping pitches. It made sense immediately to me because I had noticed that same thing watching him on last season, so I was able to jump into the video from his major-league start and, along with Scott, make a post on DRaysBay showing it.

I'm not necessarily handing them over, but I hope our coverage is able to give fans a better idea what to expect when a player does get the call.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Cowbell Kid’s Twitter Dilemma

A few weeks ago, Cork wrote about the return of a former Tropicana Field “legend”, the Happy Heckler. Cork goes back with the Rays longer than I do, and he gave the history of the Happy Heckler and discussed what his return means to the fan environment of Tropicana Field.

With the Rays short on famous fans these days, it’s good to see the Heckler back.

In the last few years, another famous Rays fan has been all but missing in action as well. Born shortly after Rays owner Stu Sternberg made popular the cowbells as symbols of the Rays, the Cowbell Kid quickly became legendary in the Tampa Bay area for his antics and actions at Rays games. He was loud, colorful, and charismatic. ESPN showed him, newspapers wrote about him, and Bay News 9 did a feature on him. And with the Rays growing in popularity, he was the face of the fandom, a phenomenon that was set to blow up and finally put Rays fanatics on the map.

Then, like Keyser Soze, he vanished. There was no more Cowbell Kid to coordinate our cacophony club. No more Pied Piper for our percussion posse.

Here is where I have to admit, I know the Cowbell Kid in real life. He is a good dude who ended up getting a night job that limited his ability to go to games. He also started taking college classes in a pursuit of a career change. So I definitely can’t fault him for putting the Cowbell gimmick on temporary hiatus.

The problem is he really hasn’t.

Although he hasn’t been to a game, hasn’t banged his bell, and hasn’t donned his big blue ‘fro in a while, yet he still tweets under the twitter handle “@CowbellKid”. Yet very few of his tweets are about the Rays. He tweets about his job, his classes, and other extracurricular activities, as many of us would.

But we are not tweeting under the handle of one of the biggest Rays fans ever. We are the face of fandom for the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Cowbell Kid was, or perhaps still is. ESPN still showed clips of him leading the charge as late as last season.

(What this says about the fact that the Rays have had a dearth of charismatic fans in the last few years is a whole other article entirely.)

The bottom line is that Cowbell Kid needs his own personal twitter account. It’s time to make @CowbellKid its own entity in the his universe, one independent from the regular everyday activities of the man beneath the wig. @Cowbell Kid needs to be more or less “a character twitter account”, tweeting from the perspective of the blue-haired cheerleader and head bell banger. @CowbellKid should be about the Rays and talking about the Rays from a fan’s perspective.

“Going to the game. Boston sucks. #GoRays!”

“Banging my cowbell. A Yankee fan just told me where I can stick it. Banging louder!”

Cowbell's personal identity should keep to another twitter account. One where he can talk about going out for beers, staying out all night at the Hard Rock Casino, or meeting members of the opposite sex. Those aren’t what people should be reading about when they read about the Cowbell Kid, unofficial mascot loved by young and old. They are the actions of a normal guy living life in Tampa.

Now I am not advocating that he turn @CowbellKid into a shill rah-rah pro-Rays account. The freedom the Cowbell Kid has over official mascots such as the Raymond, the Phillie Phanatic, or Mr. Met is that if he doesn’t like something, he could and should express his opinion. But if I was wearing the viking helmet, the sunglasses, the Rays jersey, and elements of the Cowbell Kid costume, I would keep the tweets Rays-related. The Cowbell Kid should eat, breathe, sleep, and live Rays baseball. That’s the character we are used to seeing at the Trop and that’s the one that should exist in social media.

And you never know, maybe he could one day tweet about his grand return to Tropicana Field.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Home Runs and Headlocks: Minor League Baseball and Pro Wrestling

(This post originally appeared on Bus Leagues

Like baseball, pro wrestling is as American as apple pie, Mom tattoos, and the 4th of July. Pro wrestling is part athletic spectacle, part entertainment, and in most cases, inexpensive fun for the whole family. Characteristics shared with Minor League Baseball.

Way back in 1999, I attended a Brevard County Manatees game that featured special guest Mick Foley, aka WWE legend Mankind/Dude Love/Cactus Jack. Foley was in town promoting his new book and signing autographs. I took my brother, who was a huge wrestling fan, and he got Foley's John Hancock in his book. Foley threw out the first pitch, grappled with the mascot, and his son filled the role of ball boy for the Manatees.

Foley has made a lot of appearances at Minor League games throughout his long wrestling career. So too have many other wrestlers. Inspired by George "The Animal" Steele's recent highlight-producing appearance this past weekend in Rochester, I decided to look up some other upcoming Minor League Baseball wrestling-themed promotions which include appearances by some of the biggest names in the history of the squared circle.

June 12 - Bret "The Hitman" Hart - Richmond Flying Squirrels - Richmond, VA

June 13 - Bret "The Hitman" Hart - Bowie Baysox - Bowie, MD

June 14 - Bret "The Hitman" Hart - Wilmington Blue Rocks - Wilmington, DE

June 15 - Bret "The Hitman" Hart - Reading Phillies - Reading, PA

June 16 - Bret "The Hitman" Hart - Lakewood Blue Claws - Lakewood, NJ

June 23 - Jerry "The King" Lawler - Hickory Crawdads - Hickory, NC

June 27 - David Otunga, Zach Ryder, Lilian Garcia, Natalya - WWE Anti-Bullying Night - Brooklyn Cyclones - Brooklyn, NY

June 28 - MWE Wrestling Night - Harrisburg Curve - Harrisburg, PA

June 29 - SGT Slaughter - Daytona Cubs - Daytona Beach, FL

July 5 - SGT Slaughter - Lakeshore Chinooks - Grafton, WI

July 24 - SGT Slaughter - Portland Sea Dogs - Portland, ME

July 27 - Hacksaw Jim Duggan - Frederick Keys - Frederick, MD

July 28 - SGT Slaughter - Columbus Clippers - Columbus, OH

July 29 - Matt Hardy, Carlito, Tommy Dreamer, and Rhino - Baseball Brawl III - Mahoning Valley Scrappers - Niles, OH

Aug 3 - Hacksaw Jim Duggan - Myrtle Beach Pelicans - Myrtle Beach, SC

Aug 6 - Hacksaw Jim Duggan - Akron Aeros - Akron, OH

Aug 24 - SGT Slaughter - Military Appreciation Night - Lynchburg Hillcats -Lynchburg, TN

Sept 1 - Midget Wrestling - Richmond Flying Squirrels - Richmond, VA

As for my brother, the wrestling fan who wanted Mick Foley's autograph thirteen years ago, he is currently a pro wrestler himself. He is the Heavyweight Champion of WWE Hall of Famer Afa The Wild Samoan's Central Florida-based World X-Treme Wrestling. Coincidentally, they are having an event on August 3rd in Pat Thomas Stadium in Leesburg, Florida, current home of the collegiate summer league Leesburg Lightning and former home to the many Florida State League teams that called Leesburg home from 1937 to 1968.