On June 19 at Nationals Park, Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Joel Peralta -- who played for the Washington Nationals in 2010 -- was ejected by home plate umpire Tim Tschida before throwing a pitch after pine tar was discovered on his glove. Tschida only checked the glove after being asked to do so by Nats skipper Davey Johnson, who apparently had heard about Peralta's little secret from someone on his own roster.
Peralta got an eight-game suspension, and Johnson took a lot of flak about it. Some inside the game commented that likely half of all big league pitchers use something to improve their grip on the baseball and that it would be surprising if no Washington pitcher did the same thing. In all honesty, eight games was at least three too many for the transgression.
During the Nationals' recent road trip to San Francisco, Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera -- who has a .346 batting average and .906 OPS -- was hit with a 50-game suspension for having "elevated levels of testosterone" in his system. He admitted "taking something [he] shouldn't" have. Unless the Giants make the postseason, he is done for 2012, falling a single plate appearance shy of qualifying for the batting title (though he still can win it if his average is the best after adding an out to his totals).
Victor Conte, the godfather of doping in baseball, told USA Today that Cabrera's suspension was all about timing. The founder of BALCO, who served time for the illegal distribution of steroids and money laundering, believes Cabrera -- whom he labeled "dumb" -- was using a fast-acting testosterone gel or cream that clears the system within eight hours. Somehow Cabrera's time of ingestion was off-schedule, and there was some overlap into his drug test. Conte, by the way, said "half" of all MLB players are using something similar.
Okay, if half of the pitchers are cheating and half of the hitters are, too, does one cancel out the other?
Of course not. But it does indicate that not everything is quite as rosy as the game's administrators would like us to believe.
It seems ridiculously simple to prevent players like Peralta from having a "foreign substance" on their glove. Just like a boxing referee does a cursory check of a fighter's gloves before Round 1, why couldn't a home plate umpire do the same when a new pitcher enters a game? It would take seconds. While not foolproof, it wouldn't cost anything.
The Cabrera case is different, though in retrospect maybe he made himself a target. When a .267 career hitter jumps 40 points one year and another 40 points the year after that -- with heretofore unseen power stats -- someone is going to wonder why. Major League Baseball has instituted what it claims is a stringent drug testing program. Maybe a pair of sharp eyes on the box scores is the first step.
Examiner columnist Phil Wood co-hosts the "Mid-Atlantic Sports Report" and is a regular contributor to "Nats Xtra" on MASN. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.