Last October, before Game 2 of the World Series in Boston, I appeared on a Red Sox pre-game show that filmed right across the street from Fenway Park. I knew my role on this show: Cardinals fan representative, stand-in for "opponent" on Yawkey Pravda. We were going over potential topics with a producer before we went on air -- "we gotta ask you about this Cardinals Way stuff" -- when he brought up Jon Lester from the night before. "Obviously, this is the central story."
In case you've already forgotten, the central "controversy" of Game 1 of the 2013 World Series involved Boston starter Lester and whether or not he was using some sort of "illegal substance" on his glove during a dominant 7 2/3-inning, eight-strikeout shutout performance against St. Louis. The reason this controversy started? A minor league pitcher in the Cardinals organization named Tyler Melling sent a tweet with a picture of Lester reaching into his glove, with "Jon Lester using a little Vaseline inside the glove tonight?"(Melling deleted the tweet, and, perhaps wisely, he hasn't tweeted since.)
Here's an incredibly unconvincing Vine of Lester reaching into his glove. That shows about as much evidence as a blank computer screen. Nonetheless, this started a whole foofaraw, with the Red Sox having to deny everything and the Cardinals having to point out that they never once protested and did not, in fact, think Lester was cheating. The thing that was strange was that I couldn't find a single person, Red Sox fan, Cardinals fan or otherwise, who thought that Lester was doing anything untoward, or even unusual. (Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said, "This was not instigated by us. It is a dead issue.") But we were all still talking about it, like it was a real thing.
I mentioned this to the producer.
"You don't really think Lester was cheating, do you?"
"Naw, of course not."
"So why are we doing a whole segment on it?"
He smiled and shrugged. "Gotta feed the beast, man."
* * *
Thursday night, Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda did… well, something, I guess.
During the fourth inning of the team's 4-1 loss to the Yankees, the Red Sox broadcasting team pointed out what they thought was a substance on Pineda's right hand. Boston manager John Farrell was made aware of it, and Pineda, surely made aware of the Sox broadcasters' comments, washed whatever it was off in the fifth.
This is going to dominate the conversation today because it's the beginning of the season, there wasn't a big replay mistake last night, it's the Yankees against the Red Sox and Tiger Woods isn't playing at The Masters. Boomer Esiason will get too weirdly fired up about it -- isn't it strange how the seemingly calm Esiason turns into such a lunatic sometimes on the radio? He used to be a normal person, right? -- and Mike Francesa will spend half his show telling us how he could not care less about this before falling asleep. It will drive all the coverage of the Red Sox-Yankees games this weekend, all of which, it happens to turn out, will be shown on national television. (MLB Network Friday, Fox Sports 1 Saturday, ESPN on Sunday.) I'm already sick of everyone talking about it, and they've barely started.
A common complaint players have about the media is that they attempt to invent controversy when it is not there, that they will sell out the truth in order to sell a storyline. A lot of times this is used by players as an excuse to avoid having to be called out on their own misdeeds and hypocrisy. When it's pointed out that, say, Lance Armstrong lied not just about his blood doping but also the motives of his accusers, it's not because of some sort of media conspiracy. (It's because he's an asshole.) It is the job of journalists to root out corruption and loudly broadcast inconsistencies -- to out those trying to get away with something.
That is not what is happening here. The thing about whatever it is that was on Pineda's hand is that absolutely no on the field one was upset about it.
When the Yankees and Red Sox play, particularly at Yankee Stadium, there is no shortage of media members in attendance, and seemingly every Yankee and Red Sox player was interviewed about the "substance." Here's what they all said:
- Red Sox manager John Farrell. "Based on where I was told it was located, it looked like the palm of his right hand was clean. That was the extent of it. Cool weather, looking to get a grip, I can't say it's uncommon."
- Yankees manager Joe Girardi: "There is really not much for me to speak on concerning that."
- Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz: "Everybody uses pine tar in the league. It's not a big deal."
- Red Sox pitcher Chris Capuano: "You've got to have a grip on the baseball and know where it's going; I just think you don't want to flaunt it. When you've got goops of pine tar on your hand or glove, and (it's) really obvious. I think that's maybe going over the line a little bit."
- Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia: "I thought he was great. I have pine tar on my bat. That's a non-issue. I thought he was better than us tonight."
- Red Sox catcher David Ross: "A lot of guys make sure they get a grip in cold weather. I don't think of it as cheating. Some guys might look at it that way. I don't."
- Red Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski: "I didn't really think about it."
Not a single player is upset about it, or thinks there is any sort of issue at all. The only one who seems even slightly irked by it is Capuano, and only because Pineda was so "obvious" about it (and thus requiring Capuano and everyone else to answer questions about it).
It's possible that Pineda was using some substance to help him get movement on the ball. If he was, this makes him like a Hall of Famer, and this would make him like, essentially, every single pitcher in baseball. This is something that baseball players understand, and keep telling media this, repeatedly, every single time this happens. And we still completely freak about it, because we all have HD televisions right now and thus are all armchair Columbos.
This is not a story. Nothing happened. But we'll talk about it all day. Gotta feed the beast.
* * *