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Monday, May 6, 2013

The Baseball Historian's Notes for May 6, 2013

Cheating has a long and interesting history in baseball. From sharpened cleats, corked bats, banned substances and doctored pitches, players and teams are seemingly always in search of an edge. As former Chicago Cubs’ first baseman Mark Grace once famously said, “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.”

That being said, there can be a fine line between what is cheating and what is simply gaining an edge. When something questionable is identified, there is typically a race to classify it as legitimate or cheating. Hardly a year passes without at least one instance of a player being caught or being accused of nefarious actions. This year is no exception.

***Following seven shutout innings of work by Clay Buchholz, Toronto Blue Jays radio announcer Dirk Hayhurst accused the Boston Red Sox pitcher of doctoring his pitches by using an unknown substance on his arm. The allegations were then taken up by Jack Morris, another Toronto announcer and winner of 254 major league games himself. Both Toronto guys cited unnatural pitch movement and the improvement in Buchholz’s results this year as the crux of their arguments.

Buchholz denied cheating. He said he does have substances on his arm and uniform, but they are rosin and water, which are both legal.

Baseball Prospectus’ Dan Rozenson effectively squashed the speculation by proving there has been nothing unnatural or out of the ordinary with Buchholz’s stuff this year. If anything, his early-season success (6-0, 1.01 ERA) can be attributed to better pitch location.

To say the Toronto announcers may be driven by ulterior motives would be an understatement. The Blue Jays have floundered to an 11-21 start after being early favorites for a playoff spot after a busy offseason. Deflecting attention isn’t out of the question.

Morris just completed his 14th consecutive unsuccessful year on the Hall of Fame ballot. He has one more chance in 2014 for enshrinement before his name comes off the ballot and his fate is left to the Veteran’s Committee down the road.

Hayhurst, who had a cup of coffee in the majors as a pitcher, is also an author. He has used the media scrutiny this week to shill his books and essentially turned the fiasco into a tour of self-promotion.

There is no proof that Buchholz has done anything wrong. No Toronto players or coaches complained or made insinuations during or after the game. In the absence of evidence, it’s a shame to besmirch a player who is enjoying such a wonderful start to the season. Hayhurst and Morris would be better off adhering to the old chestnut that media needs to stick to reporting the news instead of making it themselves.

***Speaking of cheating, it looks like one of baseball’s all-time greats just got caught. New York Yankees legendary outfielder Mickey Mantle, who has been deceased since 1995, was recently outed for having used corked bats.

One of the Hall of Famer’s game-used bats from 1964 was X-rayed prior to going to auction this month and was found to have been tampered with and filled with cork.

This will swirl around the media for a few days, but ultimately be filed away in the annals of baseball’s irascible cheaters; much like Gaylord Perry’s Vaseline ball and Hank Aaron’s admitted use of amphetamines.

*** Tampa Bar Rays’ ace David Price is struggling mightily this year. After a loss Saturday night, his record stands at 1-3 with a 6.25 ERA. The most concerning part of the southpaw’s disappointing start has been the nearly 3 mph he has lost on his average fastball velocity from last year, according to

If the 26-year-old continues his lethargic pitching, it could be costly to both him and his team. Although he won the American League Cy Young last year, he isn’t eligible for free agency until 2016. He won’t get one of the fat contracts being dealt to top-of-the-line starting pitchers without a solid track record of success and production leading up to his appearance on the open market.

A subpar Price also obviously impacts Tampa Bay. With one the weakest offenses in baseball, they depend on defense and pitching to win games. He is their best pitcher, and the team will only go as far as he takes them.

***Reports of the demise of pitcher Chris Carpenter’s career may have been greatly exaggerated. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Joe Strauss is reporting that the right shoulder injury that caused the St. Louis Cardinals to place the 37-year-old veteran on the 60-day disabled list and fueled speculation that his career was over may have been premature. Carpenter has begun a tentative throwing program, and if all goes well, could return to the team in relief sometime later this season.

Carpenter is in his 20th professional season and has always been a starter. However, shorter outings may reduce stress on his shoulder and could also give the Cardinals’ bullpen a boost in light of closer Jason Motte being lost for the year because of Tommy John surgery. All the best to Carpenter in this comeback attempt!

***Atlanta Braves starter Tim Hudson hit a major milestone last week when he picked up his 200th career win in a game against the Washington Nationals. Not wanting to leave the outcome in doubt, Hudson also hit a home run in the game, joining Hall of Famer Bob Lemon as the only other pitcher to have hit a home run in their 200th career victory.

The 36-year-old Hudson has been the model of consistency during his 15-year major league career. Entering this season, he had won at least 11 games in every one of his first 14 seasons except 2009, when he appeared in just seven games because of injury. He joins Andy Pettitte (248) and Roy Halladay (201) as the only active pitchers with at least 200 wins.

For good measure, Hudson added his 201st win on Sunday.

Now owning a career record of 201-105 with a 3.42 ERA, and showing few signs of slowing down, let the talk begin about Hudson’s potential worthiness as a Hall of Fame candidate.

***If you are seeking baseball-related Zen, look no further than former player turned minor league manager Wally Backman.

Backman, who currently helms the New York Mets’ Triple-A team in Las Vegas, has become a bit of an internet sensation. There are his epic meltdowns (caution for strong language), his motivational speeches (again caution for strong language), his thoughtful conversations with announcers (strong language…) and his love for ballpark sausage dogs (and more strong language…).

A baseball ambassador may be too strong a word to use to describe Backman, but the man sure is one of the more entertaining managers in the game.

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