Pitch-tipping becomes hot topic

Pitch-tipping becomes hot topic

In "Bull Durham," Crash Davis is in the crouch, catching the punk rookie pitcher Nuke LaLoosh. He goes to the mound and offers his sage advice to the youngster. The kid blows him off. Crash goes back behind the plate and lets the batter know what pitch is coming. Home run.

Everyone laughs.

It is a comedy, after all, and it's based in the Minor Leagues -- the home of crazy mascots, 50-50 raffles and kitschy promotions. Just another slice of harmless Americana.

That's why the notion that similar shenanigans could happen in reality in Major League Baseball is something players, big league executives and fans have viewed as too far-fetched to even be portrayed on a screen with Kevin Costner and Tim Robbins in the starring roles.

Now it's time to put down the popcorn and take a closer look.

As far as big leaguers are concerned, steroid use is hardly the highest-voltage shockwave from Selena Roberts' much-publicized new book, "A-Rod: The Many Lives of Alex Rodriguez," which alleges, through unnamed sources, that Rodriguez and friends on opposing teams engaged in quid-pro-quo pitch-tipping maneuvers during blowout games to pad statistics.

On Wednesday, in clubhouses all over the Major Leagues, players were asked for their thoughts on pitch tipping and what it would mean for baseball if the accusations are true. The results were a mixture of disbelief, sadness and, in some cases, anger.

Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, who considers himself a friend of Rodriguez, said the allegations "sound crazy" and that he didn't want to believe the Yankees third baseman would even think of doing something so egregious.

He also didn't pull any hypothetical punches when asked how he would deal with a teammate who engaged in such cheating.

"I would beat the crap out of him," Ortiz said. "I mean, seriously. You're my teammate. I mean, I don't care if that's your brother pitching out there. We're trying to win the game. That's not the right thing to do."

St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa agreed and used a slightly more violent sport, football, to get his point across.

"I would be punting him through the end zone," La Russa said. "I wouldn't be trying to kill it on the two-yard-line."

Added Chris Snyder of the Arizona Diamondbacks, "I'd be [extremely upset] because you've got 24 other guys busting their [tails] and somebody else is giving up your stuff. You'd like to say it doesn't seem possible, because the last thing you want to do is betray your teammates."

The difficulty of succeeding at such a complicated ruse throughout a 162-game schedule left a number of players in serious doubt that this could be true.

"How can you hit it -- you're focusing on somebody giving you a sign, and then you're focusing on the pitcher at the same time?" Ortiz wondered. "Sometimes there's guys tipping their pitches out there, and I still won't hit it because I can't focus on that.

"If you have a position player giving you a sign of something that's coming, it's a distraction. There's not much time between the catcher giving signs, the pitcher coming to the plate, and the guy giving you signs. I might be too stupid to understand it, but that's what I think."

When asked for his reaction, Atlanta Braves outfielder Garret Anderson, in his 16th big league season, was so taken aback by the suggestion of such wrongdoings that he misunderstood what he was asked.

"I don't know anything about that," Anderson said. "I've never heard of it, so I can't comment on that at all. ... That's ridiculous. I had never heard about anything like that."

Florida Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez also could not believe the suggestion. "For me, it's impossible to fathom," said Gonzalez. "You have brothers playing against brothers, fathers playing against sons and you've never heard of that."

And Marlins veteran Wes Helms flat-out denied that such shadiness has ever tainted the game.

"No, it's not happening," Helms said. "I don't know why somebody would say something like that. I've never heard of that in my life. As long as baseball has been going on, never has that been talked about. I can't see that."

Plenty of others can, however.

"I've seen it happen in the Minor Leagues," La Russa said. "I've seen it where, in the Minor Leagues, if the game was out of hand or something, [it'd] usually [be] done by somebody in the middle infield."

Diamondbacks outfielder Eric Byrnes also said he'd heard of it happening in the past but that in this day and age, "it's tough to believe."

"My best friend could be playing on the other team, and as much as I like that person, as far as I'm concerned I hope he strikes out four times against us," Byrnes said. "And then I wish him well when we leave town. It's competition."

It's also livelihood.

Several players pointed out that when a player tells the opponent what pitches are coming, all of a sudden he's affecting his teammate's job performance and, in a statistics-driven sport with incentive-laden contracts, the financial stability of his family.

"For a pitcher, it would be very frustrating because he's messing with your ERA and your job by tipping pitches," Atlanta starter Jair Jurrjens said. "I hope it's not true because [Rodriguez is] one of the superstars in this game and a lot of people look up to him, and I just hope that those things they say about him are not true."

"It's hard to say anything because it's all speculative until someone proves it," added Twins starter R.A. Dickey, who played with Rodriguez in Texas in 2001 and 2003. "But if it were true, it would be much more disappointing to me than steroids because you're impacting a teammate at that point for the negative."

"That's a line. Obviously, [with] the steroid issue, you are breaking the rules, but from a physical standpoint, you are only really impacting yourself. If you were to do something like [tipping pitches], that would be crossing a line. I think if it were true, there would be some reciprocity if it got out that he was doing that. I'd think that he would be a hated player."

Another former teammate of Rodriguez, Texas third baseman Michael Young, intimated that this might already be the case.

"Nowadays when it comes to Alex, everybody seems to have an opinion, baseless or otherwise," Young said. "So the fact that there are accusations is not surprising. But this one kind of shocked me.

"I don't know how something like that would even get started. I have no idea how something like that would happen. That kind of thing never entered my mind. I have no idea how that would work. There's no way I could think of another guy who would want to do that. It doesn't make any sense to me."

So far, none of Roberts' sources have revealed themselves, Rodriguez has refused comment on the matter, and his Yankees teammates are sticking by him.

New York catcher Jorge Posada has been one of the only Yankees players to answer questions related to the matter. "Everything he's done in the past, and the way he's handled himself, we don't have anything negative to say about Alex," said Posada.

But according to Ken Burns, the historian and director of the famed documentary "Baseball," these mysterious allegations, if proven true, should lead to Rodriguez being banned from the game.

"I'm anxious to read it and see if any of [Roberts'] stuff can be corroborated because, if it does, I think he's going to get the hook," Burns said. "That's the only way that I think that [Commissioner] Bud [Selig], if there is corroborating evidence, I think you've just got to show that we mean business.

"We once had the worst drug-testing program and now we have the best in sports, and we're not going to stand for this. He might be the premier player, but, you know, 'See ya.'

"What part of 'Don't do this' don't you understand?"

Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. MLB.com reporters Ian Browne, Matthew Leach, Steve Gilbert, Alden Gonzalez, Joe Frisaro, Kelly Thesier, T.R. Sullivan and Bryan Hoch contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.