National League Notebook : After Howell Suspension, Mets Don’t Rub It In

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<i> Times Staff Writer</i>

The New York Mets refused to gloat over the 3-day suspension that National League president Bart Giamatti handed Dodger relief ace Jay Howell Sunday after he was found with pine tar on his glove in the eighth inning of Game 3 of the league’s championship series Saturday.

In fact, the Mets demonstrated a degree of compassion.

“I have more feeling for Howell than I would have for Mike Scott if he had been suspended,” second baseman Wally Backman said, alluding to the Houston Astros pitcher who was the subject of scuffing allegations by the Mets during the 1986 playoff.

“I don’t feel that what Howell did is as bad as what others have done,” Backman said. “Pine tar doesn’t make you throw the ball harder. It doesn’t make his curve break more. It’s different than a guy using Vaseline or sandpaper.


“It’s not up to me to pass judgment on the suspension, but I think the rule has to be rewritten or clarified.

“As it is, any foreign substance is illegal, and he had a foreign substance on him.”

First baseman Keith Hernandez reiterated his contention that the use of pine tar isn’t cheating and his hope that Howell wouldn’t have been suspended.

“Do it at the start of next season if you have to. Make it 10 days if you want,” Hernandez said. “But I feel it’s wrong to suspend him now. The teams have come too far and worked too hard to have a key player suspended at this point of the playoffs.

“I think Giamatti is sending out a message. I think he’s saying ‘if you’ll do it in the playoffs, you’ll do it in the World Series, and I’m not going to permit it.’ ”

Center fielder Lenny Dykstra was asked if he thought the Dodgers might retaliate by having bats inspected and pitchers searched.

“Anything is liable to happen in a big series,” Dykstra said. “The Dodgers can do what they want.


“We got one of their key pitchers out of the next three (days). I didn’t think the penalty would be so severe, but when you do something illegal, you’ve got to pay the consequences.”

Of the suspension, Met Manager Davey Johnson said: “I have no comment. Bart Giamatti is a fine president who is going to make a fine commissioner. But whether there had been no suspension or a 3-day suspension, it would have been fine. Whatever he decided was going to be fine with me.”

Johnson disagreed with the prevalent feeling that the use of pine tar by pitchers is widespread.

“If any of my pitchers chose to use it, I’d try to dissuade them,” Johnson said. “I feel it creates blisters because of the traction between the tar and the ball. I just don’t know of many pitchers who use it.”

Johnson also continued to insist that he didn’t know for sure if Howell was using it and refused to comment on a New York Daily News story crediting a phone call from Tucker Ashford, who managed the Mets’ double-A farm team this season, for putting the Mets on Howell’s trail.

Ashford, who lives in Memphis, Tenn., was quoted as saying he became suspicious while watching Howell on television in Game 1.


A teammate of Howell’s with the New York Yankees in 1983, Ashford said he “vaguely remembered Jay as a guy who threw fastballs and sliders. I don’t recall him throwing a curve like he has now. I don’t believe he used pine tar then. It tells you something when a guy’s hat is all black. I played with Gaylord Perry in San Diego the year he won the Cy Young and he had a dirty hat, too.”

Ashford said he called Mets minor league director Steve Schryver with his suspicions, and Schryver relayed them to “the appropriate people.”

Johnson, however, said he was acting on the urging of coach Bill Robinson and “gut instinct” when he asked plate umpire Joe West to look at Howell’s glove after Kevin McReynolds had worked the count full in the eighth.

“I wish it had been true (that I knew for sure),” Johnson said. “I wouldn’t have been so tentative going out there. I’d have gone right out (rather than waiting until the count was full).”

What will be the impact on the Dodgers?

“They still have a number of good pitchers but any time you lose a pitcher of Howell’s stature, it’s tough,” Johnson said. “It’s just the price you have to pay.”

Said Backman: “It would be like us losing Randy Myers or Roger McDowell. It limits your options.”


Hernandez put it another way. He alluded to the anxiety Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda was feeling at the loss of Howell and asked, “Is Tommy having a baby over there?”

“Twins,” said a reporter.

“I would think so,” Hernandez said.

Lasorda shook his head when he reflected on the season’s series with the Mets and said:

“We played one home-and-home series in which we end up with one guy (Alfredo Griffin) on the disabled list, another (Pedro Guerrero) suspended four days, (Brian) Holton fined, (Steve) Sax almost decapitated and me and (Tim) Belcher ejected. And the Mets never even got a warning. Now this (the suspension of Howell). We’ve been coming out on the short end all year.”