Jun 21

This week’s Glovegate Wasn’t Nats’ first, or Worst

For many longtime Nats fans, Tuesday night’s feud between Nationals manager Davey Johnson and Tampa Bay skipper Joe Maddon over reliever Joel Peralta‘s pine tar-laden glove sparked memories of the team’s first season in Washington.

In fact, it was nearly seven years to the day, on June 14, 2005, and many of the key folks involved in Tuesday night’s dispute were there, too. The surprising first-place Nats were heading West for a nine-game road trip after a homestand where they had won 10 in a row and 13 of 14 overall.

Their first stop was in Anahiem. Maddon happened to be a bench coach for AL West-leading Angels at the time, and he had a ringside seat for a circus that would make Tuesday’s feud look tame.

After falling 11-1 in the first game, the Nats trailed 3-1 in the seventh inning, and manager Frank Robinson was looking for a way to regain some momentum. He found it when Angels skipper Mike Scioscia brought in right-hander Brendan Donnelly with one out and a man on first. Before Donnelly had thrown a pitch, Robinson asked home plate umpire Tim Tschida, the same man who would be behind the plate in Tuesday’s game against the Rays, to check Donnelly’s glove. Sure enough, Tschida found pine tar, confiscated the glove, and kicked Donnelly out of the game.

Robinson also accused Donnelly of using sandpaper, although none was found. TV replays showed a furtive exchange between Donnelly and second baseman Adam Kennedy (who would later become a Nat), and then Donnelly sticking his hand in his back pocket. The allegations of sandpaper were never substantiated, but Donnelly was suspended for 10 days.

That wasn’t end of it. The situation escalated, and unlike Tuesday’s game, it was more than a war of words. Scioscia started jawing with Robinson, getting in the Hall-of-Famer’s face. Robinson later said that Scioscia told him he would have his pitchers undressed on the mound.

Sure enough, in the bottom of the inning, Scioscia had Tschida check Nats reliever Gary Majewski‘s glove. No foreign substances were fund, but the Nats’ training staff had to bring out a pair of scissors to cut a dangling lace off the mitt.

As Scioscia and Robinson argued, the benches and bullpens emptied. No punches were thrown, but Scioscia began a heated discussion with Nats outfielder Jose Guillen, who had  hit 27 homers and driven in 104 runs for the Angels the previous season. Guillen later said that Scocisa had accused him of tipping off Robinson to Donnelly’s tactics, though Robinson denied it, saying he had noticed the foreign substance “while watching video” of Donnelly.

Guillen had to be restrained and dragged back to the Nats’ dugout. But was he ever fired up! The Nats would proceed to pound the man who replaced Donnelly, Steve Shields, and Guillen hit a game-tying two-run homer in the eighth as the Nats went on to a 6-3 win.

The Nats would go on to win the series and complete a .500 road trip, remaining in first place for almost another month before starting a tailspin that would send them to the bottom of the division. But it was a glove, some pine tar and perhaps a “hot tip” that would give Robinson the psychological tool he needed to motivate his team — and foreshadow a similar interleague dustup about seven years later.

The Los Angeles Times spoke with Donnelly about this week’s incident — and surprise, surprise — Donnelly insisted he had done nothing wrong seven years ago and Peralta had done nothing wrong Tuesday. He told the paper he needs pine tar to get a grip on the ball in humid conditions and to maintain control over his pitches. And while maintaining that it should be legal, he failed to acknowledge that it was illegal then, just as it is now, a violation that earned Peralta an eight-game suspension. Instead, he blamed the Nationals for enforcing a the rule, just as Maddon and Peralta have done this week.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.