(A variation on the song "What is That Thing on Aaron Neville's Face?")
Kenny Rogers can't leave good enough alone. Last season, he was having the season of his life and was in the thick of the Cy Young hunt. So what does he do? He shoves a cameraman or two and oddly enough, it's all on videotape. He ends up suspended for twenty games (but was later reinstated by an independent arbitrator) and is fined $50K, later is charged with misdemeanor assault, and then slinks off to Detroit as a free agent in the offseason.
After a solid year in Detroit, there were allegations that he grabbed a fan near the ballpark when the man's son, with an injured leg yet, asked for an autographshades of Mr. Scrooge and Tiny Tim?
Now, he is being transformed into a cult hero by helping to shut out his ex-teammates, the Yankees, in the pivotal game three of the Division Series. He then pitches 7.1 innings of shutout ball against the A's in game three of the ALCS en route to a four-game sweep. Next up, he pitches eight innings of a shutout of the Cardinals in game two of the World Series, a game that the Tigers, down one game to none at home, very much needed to win. Rogers is now sixth on the all-time consecutive scoreless postseason innings list:
Mariano Rivera, NYY
Whitey Ford, NYY
Babe Ruth, BOS
Christy Mathewson, NYG
Curt Schilling, PHI-BOS
Kenny Rogers, MIN-DET
Lew Burdette, MIL
George Earnshaw, PHI
Orel Hershiser, LA
Bob Gibson, STL
So Rogers should be on top of the world, right?
There's a little problemyou may have heard. The FOX cameras picked up some sort of substance that looked very much like pine tar on Rogers's pitching hand in the first inning. They even intimated that the Cardinals, who presumably would have someone watching in the clubhouse, should look into it. Next, Tony LaRussa came out and discussed an issue with the homeplate ump between innings. Then, when the second inning started, the substance, whatever it was, was gone. FOX ran a side by side comparison which made the difference clear, thereby justifying their existence with or without the otherwise execrable coverage (and multiple foistings of former American Idol losers on the American public whenever a song is needed in the game).
Rogers did go on to pitch seven more shutout innings, but the controversy today is whether he cheated in the first place. The situated was apparently complicated by the umpiring crew's reluctance to investigate the substance followed by their request that Rogers wash it off, which he did. So if the substance needed to be removed, wasn't it illegal? And if it wasn't illegal, why did he need to wash it off? The logic will is dizzying.
There are reports that Cardinal batters reported that the ball was moving in unexpected ways. Did the umpiring crew follow up on the complaint or did they just attempt to sweep it under the rug?
The story seemed to change from there not being any inspection whatsoever to the umps finding that it was dirt. But they never really inspected it. Then again, they looked enough to ask him to wash up.
Whether there was an out-an-out cover-up or the non-inspection was conducted due to the umps' incompetence is hard to say. But it's another black eye for a sport that doesn't need one in a game that is on a national stage, especially after two Midwest teams that choked down the stretch and backed into the playoffs (one as a wild card and another with just 83 wins) are meeting in the World Series. Reportedly, a similar substance was found on his hand upon review in all three of Rogers's playoff starts.
If this series reaches game five, Rogers' next turn in the rotation, the coverage of his left hand will surpass that of the Rally Monkey in 2002. If Rogers pulls a Jack Morris and pitches a complete-game shutout, wins the World Series, and simultaneously breaks Mariano Rivera's consecutive shutout record, it will be the highlight of his career but the talk will be about the "substance".
I blame the umps for losing control of the situation, but most will probably blame Rogers, and I can't say that I would feel sorry for the guy given his past. I guess it makes a rather bland Series a bit more controversial and potentially interesting for the average fan. I guess that's something, but if I were Bud Selig I would rather have the fans interested in the game itself. Then again, Bud probably wouldn't mind if it helps the ratings.
Anyway, I wondered if Rogers's was the most unexpected postseason for a pitcher given his regular-season performance, so I looked it up. I ran the numbers for the expected earned runs for a pitcher in a postseason based on his innings pitched and his regular-season ERA. Rogers came in fourth, but had the highest total for a pitcher who did not allow an earned run:
New York Yankees
New York Yankees
St. Louis Browns
New York Giants
Boston Red Sox
As for the pitchers who performed well below expectation, I'm proud to say former Phillie Tommy Greene leads the modern pitchers in postseason putrescence: