A DIFFERENT TACK : Honeycutt Can Talk About Cutting Baseballs; Experience Left Him Bloodied

Times Staff Writer

The subject was the scuffing of baseballs by pitchers, so naturally, Dodger left-hander Rick Honeycutt was consulted.

Seven years before Monday night’s Joe Niekro incident, Honeycutt was the first major league pitcher caught illegally doctoring the ball. Honeycutt, pitching for the Seattle Mariners at the time, was suspended for 10 days and fined $500 for taping a thumb tack to a finger on his glove hand.

“It’s in the books, so I can’t live it down,” Honeycutt said before Wednesday night’s game between the Dodgers and the Cincinnati Reds. “It’s always going to be brought up when there is controversy about baseballs being scuffed. My name always comes up.”


But it might be a mistake to call Honeycutt an authority. Had he known what he was doing back in 1980, Honeycutt maintains, he would not have gotten caught the first time he tried it. “I only did it for two pitches,” Honeycutt said. “If you looked at the ball, it looked like somebody tried to put the mark of Zorro on it. There were obvious marks on it.

“The thing was (the Kansas City Royals) got back-to-back singles on the only pitches I scuffed. They should have waited until I started getting people out.”

Honeycutt said it is not fair to compare his situation with Niekro’s. He said he has read about the incident but has not seen the videotape of the incident.

He has an opinion on the Niekro case, though.

“The emery board, they said, was five inches long, and they said they found it in his back pocket,” Honeycutt said. “Well, if it’s that long, it’s hard to hide that in your glove like I did (with the tack).

“I played with Charlie Hough (another knuckleballer, at Texas) and he used to file his nail in the dugout all the time. It’s a little farfetched to say he’s taking off his glove and filing the ball with the board. Now, if he had a small piece of sandpaper, that’s a different story.”

Honeycutt can laugh about his case now but he says he still is embarrassed by it and that it has left a scuff mark on his career.


“I guess nobody’s accusing me of doing it now, considering how (poorly) I’m pitching,” said Honeycutt, who has lost a Dodger-record 10 straight games and has a 4.57 earned-run average.

Desperation over a prolonged losing streak was Honeycutt’s motivation for scuffing the ball.

“Back then, I had heard a lot of people talking about it and I said, ‘Why not?’ I didn’t practice it or anything. It was pretty amateur. I did such a bad job that nobody on my own team knew I had done it. My manager (Maury Wills) and pitching coach (Wes Stock) were laughing at me in the dugout when they found out.

“Before that game, I came down from the bullpen and sat in the dugout and I forgot I had done the thing. So, I took off my glove and wiped the sweat off my forehead and cut my head with the tack.”

Honeycutt said he wasn’t laughing about the incident at the time, though. He said he was afraid that his pitching career was over.

“I was standing in the runway, not knowing what was going on,” Honeycutt said. “A lot of things ran through my mind. I wondered if they could kick me out of baseball for good. I asked my pitching coach that. He said, no, but that I would probably get suspended.


“Now, maybe if you were to do it twice and get caught (twice), then they would kick you out.”