Five Cuts: Selig made right call
MLB commissioner Bud Selig made his second good weather-decision of the Series
MLB needs to make sure everyone is aware of the rules for suspended games
The controversy surrounding Joe Blaton's hat and what should have been done
1. Give credit to commissioner Bud Selig and the umpires working World Series Game 5. They did their best to get the game played, given the weather forecast information available to them, made the right call to suspend the game when conditions grew unplayable -- the pelting rain continued for hours -- and sent people home quickly without wasting time trying to divine when the next "window" might be available to resume play. Too often we jump on baseball when things don't go according to script. But Selig has stepped up twice in this World Series with the right response to rain issues. He insisted Game 3 be played, even with a 10:06 p.m. start time after a 91-minute delay, in part because he knew of the terrible conditions forecast for Tuesday, the next available off day. The game was played in fine weather and field conditions.
I do have one issue with Major League Baseball protocol related to the suspended game scenario. Before Game 5, I asked two MLB executives what was the established procedure if rain halted play with one team ahead after five innings. Would that team be declared the winner of a rain-shortened World Series game? Could the Phillies win the world championship while playing cards in the clubhouse? Neither executive knew the answer. How is possible that MLB does not have published, well circulated rules to handle that very issue?
Selig, presumably acting in "the best interests of the game," publicly established the "rule" on the fly in his news conference after the suspension was announced: no World Series game can be shortened by weather and considered official. It's the right call. You can't declare a winner if the trailing team does not get its full nine turns at-bat. The games are too important. That seems obvious, but how could that not have been established as an official rule a long time ago?
2. Please, don't tell me the Phillies got robbed by Selig. He is to blame for Jimmy Rollins not fielding a two-out grounder cleanly? Rollins looked uncomfortable in the cold all night, even before the rain grew bad, and the grounder banged off the heel of his glove. And was rain somehow to blame for B.J. Upton stealing second base? And was rain to blame for Carlos Pena putting a mean at-bat on Cole Hamels, slashing a hard opposite-field single to tie the game? Come on.
And if you want to believe rain caused the Rays to tie the game, how come it didn't aid the Phillies a few minutes earlier when they had runners at first and second with no outs against Grant Balfour? If the conditions helped the Rays score, why didn't the conditions help the Phillies?
Shane Victorino couldn't get a bunt down, then foolishly didn't try to bunt at all and flied out. Pedro Feliz and Carlos Ruiz each popped out. Phillies fans should stop their anonymous blame-shifting at Selig and realize the guy did the best he could given a situation caused by Mother Nature.
3. How is it possible that major leaguers playing a World Series elimination game don't hustle? Carl Crawford cost himself a hit in the first inning when he stopped running when it looked as if Rollins would easily catch his line drive. Rollins, though, dropped it, and only because of Crawford shutting it down for a moment was he able to barely throw out the belated runner at first base. Four innings later, Rocco Baldelli didn't bother running hard on a high pop fly into the wind and the rain, which Rollins dropped, causing it to skitter along the infield dirt. Baldelli wasn't running hard enough to get to second base. With the force play still in order, Baldelli was tagged out on the front end of a subsequent double play. Guys, it's the World Series. You lose one more game and you go home. The Barca-lounger will wait for you, right?
4. The Rays privately were still not satisfied with the issue of the dark smudge on the cap of Phillies Game 4 pitcher Joe Blanton, and why umpires did nothing about it. Before most every pitch, Blanton would wipe the fingers of his pitching hand across his sweaty brow to obtain moisture, then pull on the dark smudge with his index and middle fingers. Blanton claimed it was an innocent tic; the smudge, he said, was simply residue from the mud used to rub up new baseballs.
What every team knows, in general, is that pitchers have been known to gain improved grip on their pitches, and thus a greater spin rate, and especially on cold nights when the ball gets slick, by combining moisture with resin and a binding agent such as pine tar, grease or Vaseline. If Blanton were totally innocent, his actions were strangely coincidental to textbook procedure for improving a pitcher's grip. Further, the Rays saw other coincidences. One of them said the smudge had a dull "shine," which would not be consistent with dirt but would be consistent with the oil base of a pine tar-like substance. Further still, the Rays noticed that Blanton's slider had extreme spin that night, and that he threw several inside fastballs to left-handers that he "yanked," that is, pulled toward the batter in a manner consistent with an enhanced grip.
Rays manager Joe Maddon left the dugout and essentially alerted umpire Tom Hallion that something may be up with Blanton's hat, without directly accusing Blanton of anything or asking the umpire to examine the substance. Hallion told Maddon the umpires would monitor the situation, but he made no effort to inspect the hat.
And so nothing was done. Strange, too, was that the Fox television crew, which went all Woodward and Bernstein on the Kenny Rogers cheating innuendo in the 2006 World Series, fell too silent on an issue that brought the manager out of the dugout in protest and was obvious to any mildly informed baseball fan watching the game. Strange, too, that MLB.com posted a story about the issue with the game in progress, then quickly took it down.
5. The point here is not to accuse Blanton of anything untoward. The point is even if you take him at his word baseball has a huge procedural gap here that needs to be addressed. We all saw a manager question the umpire in a World Series game about the possibility of a foreign substance being applied to the ball. We all saw the pitcher loading up his fingers on a very visible dark smudge. And yet the umpires never bothered to take 30 seconds to say, "Yo, Joe, can I see your hat?" (Hallion told Maddon he would keep an eye on the baseballs; imagine that.) Blanton's hat was, in the very least, by Maddon's own observation, suspicious, and yet it never was examined.
Umpire supervisor Mike Port rhetorically asked why anyone would put a foreign substance in such a conspicuous place. The answer is that nobody wants to examine these guys so the pitcher who breaks the rules doesn't have to worry about being policed. The fact that Rogers had half a pine forest on his pitching hand on national television and was not properly examined ought to have emboldened any prospective cheater. So where does the responsibility fall?
Maddon should have flat-out requested that Hallion examine Blanton's hat. He was being too nice of a guy, not wanting to make a scene and thinking a mild alert to the umpire would prompt the umpire to take action on his own accord. Maddon should read up on former Mets manager Davey Johnson, who alerted umpires to the pine tar used by Dodgers reliever Jay Howell in the 1988 NLCS and requested an examination. Johnson wasn't bashful. He was right. Howell was ejected and suspended for two games.
Hallion should have understood Maddon's concern and taken the half minute to look at Blanton's hat. Is it just dirt? Fine. Issue closed. Play on. It should be the umpires' responsibility to make sure rules are enforced. Then again, baseball can be such a weird game that an umpire can see a guy miss a base and not call him out unless the other team appeals to him. Umpires don't want to stick their hands into a hornet's nest unless they absolutely have to.
Baseball really needs to have a distinctive policy about pitchers applying substances to their fingers to improve their grip. It happens a lot, and people only get bothered when it's way too obvious. One of two things has to happen: either baseball makes it known that it enforces the rule -- which in this case would have meant Hallion checking Blanton's hat -- or it legalizes pine tar as a grip aid for pitchers. You could put a pine tar rag next to the resin bag on the mound. This current wink-wink business of doing nothing about it is the worst choice of all. Port said he expects baseball officials and umpires to discuss the issue at their meetings this winter.