Dave Nichols: Managers feuding over interpretations of baseball’s unwritten rules

In Tuesday night’s loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, Nationals manager Davey Johnson had a simple request of home plate umpire Tim Tschida: Enforce the written rules of baseball.

Johnson knew that Rays relief pitcher Joel Peralta “liked a little pine tar” - that is, Peralta hid the sticky stuff in and on his glove in order to help him grip the baseball better and, therefore, have better control over his breaking pitches. Pine tar is one of those classic foreign substances that is specifically illegal for pitchers to apply to a baseball before delivering a pitch.

The whole process of inspection and expulsion took just a few seconds and went down without incident. It might have been the calmest ejection in major league history. Peralta did not argue that his glove wasn’t covered with a “significant amount” of the stuff, as Tschida told a pool reporter after the game. Nor did Peralta dispute it was his glove. With a quick tip of his cap toward the Nats dugout, Peralta calmly walked off the field Tuesday night.

But since? Anything but calm.

Immediately after the game, Rays manager Joe Maddon took excruciating pains to defend his player, calling Johnson’s actions “cowardly,” among other colorful adjectives. Essentially, Maddon called Johnson’s integrity into question. It was Maddon’s point that many players across the majors participate in this type of rule-bending and further, that the fact Peralta used to play in D.C. made it worse that Johnson would ask for inspection of Peralta’s equipment.

Maddon likened the decision to check Peralta’s glove to “insider trading,” vehemently opposing to Johnson’s request to enforce the rules. Both managers added to the controversy in their comments before Wednesday’s game, a 3-2 Nats win behind Stephen Strasburg, with Johnson calling Maddon a “weird wuss” and “the guru over there.” Maddon responded by insisting free agents wouldn’t want to come to the Nats in the future knowing that they call out former players. It was fun for a while, but devolved into ridiculousness.

But the bottom line is that Johnson just wanted the rules enforced. “Anytime there’s a rule violation, as far as I’m concerned, it’s just a rule violation,” Johnson said. “My only comments to (Maddon) is, read the rulebook. It’s simple.”

It’s one thing to ask that the written rules be enforced, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to adhere to the unwritten rules as well. Especially when people like Maddon seem to apply them arbitrarily. Maddon had every right - no, a duty - to back his player in the media Tuesday night. After all, Peralta faces a possible 10-game suspension for his actions. But Maddon went way overboard calling Johnson’s integrity into question.

Look, pitchers using pine tar (or other substances) in their gloves is as common as players chewing tobacco. The rules against it have been in the books forever. As they say, if ya ain’t cheatin’, ya ain’t tryin’. But because one manager chose to have the rules enforced on a particular night isn’t going to alter the way players play. There will be a next time. But Maddon stepped over a line this week with his comments, where simply supporting his player would have sufficed.

Dave Nichols covers the Nationals for District Sports Page. Read Nichols’ Nationals observations as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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