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Business As Usual at the World Serious...By Nelson Lardner

I'm certain that even most of the true believers are up to speed by now.

But for those dwelling in caves the past 72 hours, a quick summation:

Kenny Rogers' postseason revival meeting hit new heights in Game Two, Sunday night. He was masterful, with the aid of what overwhelming visual evidence indicates was the presence of pine tar residue on the base of the thumb of his pitching hand.

Rogers was evidently prompted to wash said hand after TV cameras picked up irregularities in loving detail in the top of the first inning. Cardinals' manager Tony La Russa didn't confront the umps until the top of the second inning, after Rogers had completed his Lady Macbeth impersonation. The Lawyer didn't press the matter, and was reluctant to discuss it further, the remainder of the evening.

Welcome to reality TV.

There may be no crying in baseball, but cheating to gain a players conception of a "fair advantage" has been going on since first dawn's early light. And looking the other way has gone on nearly as long.

For instance, after the spitball was introduced to the world in the early twentieth century, spit (as well as slippery elm, and other effective substances) was no longer permitted to be applied to baseballs in play . . . UNLESS you were already a known user. Seventeen players were "grandfathered" in and allowed to throw spitters until the end of their careers. Most famous of these players was Burleigh Grimes, best known for winning 270 games, including the 1929 World Series opener as the surprise starter for the A's against the Cubs. Grimes gave it up the spitball as a Yankee, in 1934. And the spitball was never seen again.

Heh, heh, heh. The spitter is too effective a pitch to ever die. At its best, it acts like a heavy fastball that drops suddenly. Batters know it when they see it, and curse the day it was conceived, as they overswing and crumple into the dirt. Lew Burdette was a notorious practitioner, Gaylord Perry even more so. Both pitchers did time with the Braves, coincidentally enough. Perry won 314 games, gaining an automatic pass into the Hall of Fame. Burdette won 203 games, and came up with one of the game's best exit lines. When asked why he was quitting, he said: They were starting to hit the dry side of the ball.

The point?

This is the owners', players' and managers game - not yours. Professionals are going to compete as hard as they know how, using any means---legal or illegal. And they're going to have the backs of their teammates, when the big money and associated glory are on the line. You can watch baseball, enjoy it, and pay the bills (directly, and indirectly), but don't expect to influence the ways of professionals. And don't expect them to willingly allow you into the inner sanctum.

LaRussa certainly had a good idea of what Rogers was doing. Clear pine tar aids a pitcher in gaining a firmer grip on a slick baseball in cold weather. Tiger closer Todd Jones forthrightly acknowledged as much on Monday, noting he couldn't have endured the year (2003) he spent in Colorado doing hard time, without "the stuff".

But how far can LaRussa go? Not very. He's a longtime buddy of opposing manager Jim Leyland (the old-boy network, in spades), and largely embarrassed himself defending his primary pair of bulked-up power pets, Jose Conseco and Mark McGwire, against steroid charges during their salad days. Glass houses, stones . . . you know.

So what can a hard-bitten, cynical speculator draw from all this?

Note that it'll be cold (46 degrees) in St. Louis Tuesday night, as Chris Carpenter faces Nate Robertson. Like Justin Verlander, Robertson's a young'n (24, a year older than Verlander). Verlander did not take well to Saturday night's cold weather in Detroit, while The Gambler, (taking matters onto his pitching hand) did much better, the following evening. Can Robertson fully exploit the Cardinals? season-long difficulties when facing lefthanders? Possibly not. If I had to make a wager, I'd take a long, hard look at the over 7, tonight. Also note that Jeremy Bonderman, the likely Tiger starter Wednesday night, won't turn 24 until Saturday. Could it be that the pressure of original pronounced series favoritism is getting to the Tigers "bats" And can such young pitchers be counted upon to keep the Tigers in the seven-game hunt? Much to ponder . . . especially at the current odds. Expect the unexpected.

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