Joe Maddon vs. Davey Johnson: Who's right? Who's wrong?
The controversy rages on. Rays relief pitcher Joel Peralta was busted Tuesday night for having an illegal substance (pine tar) in his glove. But, according to Rays manager Joe Maddon, the Nationals violated baseball's code by snitching on Peralta. Who's right? Who's wrong? It's a fascinating ethical dilemma. Here are some of the things that popped into my head regarding Tuesday night's drama.
Someone needs to write down these unwritten rules of baseball
Here's the problem with baseball's so-called unwritten rules: Everyone has a different interpretation. Take this matter. Nationals manager Davey Johnson believes a pitcher shouldn't be able to rub pine tar or any foreign substance on the baseball. Rays manager Joe Maddon thinks Johnson went against baseball etiquette by using insider information and ratting out another player for doing something so many others have done for more than a hundred years.
So who's right?
Maddon served 31 years in the Angels organization and has been the Rays manager since 2006. He's a baseball lifer. He should know the proper way to do things. Then again, Johnson played 13 seasons in the bigs and has managed five teams. He, too, is a baseball lifer. Wouldn't he know what's right and what's over the line?
Maybe both men are right. Maybe both men are wrong. Unwritten rules give us no clear answer.
What, exactly, is Joe Maddon saying?
After Tuesday's game, Maddon said, "It's been a common practice for many, many years for anybody to try to get an edge in many, many ways.'' This raises two interesting points.
One, does Maddon know for a fact of other pitchers on other teams are doctoring baseballs? Does he turn a blind eye to it? Does he keep his mouth shut because it goes against his personal moral code? And, to take it a step farther, would he sit on information like that in the future instead of using it to gain an advantage?
The belief here is Maddon would not do what Johnson did Tuesday night even if he knew for sure that a pitcher was using pine tar. If that's so, are you okay with that knowing that a season could come down to one game, as it did last year?
Two, is Maddon suggesting that cheating in baseball is that rampant? He is using the all-the-other-kids-are-doing-it defense. Are you okay that, just maybe, all the other kids really are doing it?
Who's right and who's wrong?
During the 1993 Stanley Cup final, the Kings led the Canadiens one game to none and had a one-goal lead late in Game 2 when Canadiens coach Jacques Demers asked the referee to check the stick of Los Angeles' Marty McSorley. Turns out, McSorley's stick had an illegal curve. McSorley was penalized, the Canadiens tied the game on the power play and won in overtime. They then went on to win the series in five games with the illegal stick being the turning point.
However, Demers was criticized by many hockey insiders who called his tactic bush-league and sleazy, as if Demers himself did something wrong. Many hockey folks even suggested they wouldn't want to win that way. Demers stands firm behind the belief that it was his duty as a coach to do whatever he could to help his team win.
Johnson could make the same case today. He has a first-place team, a team that figures to be in the race all season, a team which needs every victory in a tough division. While it didn't pan out Tuesday, getting Peralta out of a one-run game in the eighth inning figured to help the Nationals' cause. And, according the letter of the law, Johnson was right.
Maddon's point is Johnson and the Nationals used information gathered when Peralta played in the Nats' system. (And isn't it funny how the Nationals didn't have an issue with Peralta cheating when he played for them?) For Maddon, rubbing pine tar, or even a little Vasoline or spit on a baseball is a part of the game. You grab a bat and get in the box. You don't tattle-tale to teacher.
Who comes out looking worse, Maddon or Johnson?
For the second time this season, Maddon essentially called another manager a coward. Do you think other managers, perhaps jealous of Maddon's success as well as his odd-ball ways, are growing tired of his holier-than-thou attitude?
If I'm Johnson, my quote today might be, "Who died and left Joe Maddon in charge of baseball ethics?'' In fact, Johnson has a more impressive baseball resume than Maddon and could argue that he has more of a right to know how this baseball business works.
The problem Maddon faces is his argument is difficult to articulate. But many baseball people know exactly what he is saying and agree with him.
Johnson, meantime, showed that he will use any information to gain an advantage. If I'm a Nationals player, maybe I'm glad that my manager will do whatever it takes to win. But I also might wonder what intelligence Johnson is gathering on me that he can use someday when we're on opposing teams.
Peralta cheated. Not Johnson. Not the Nationals. Peralta cheated and he got caught. Maddon might be squawking so much to take the heat away from Peralta, but for Maddon to suggest that Johnson was being wrong for calling out Peralta is hypocritical. Here's what is wrong: a pitcher using a foreign substance. It's just too hard to get past that. And it's hard to blame the Nationals for simply wanting the game to be played fairly.