Jay Howell’s 3-day suspension for having pine tar on his glove during Game 3 of the National League playoffs was shortened by a day after he had met with National League President Bart Giamatti Monday morning.
Thus, the Dodger relief pitcher will be eligible to pitch tonight, when the playoff between the Dodgers and the New York Mets moves to Dodger Stadium for Game 6.
In what amounted to plea bargaining, Giamatti reduced Howell’s sentence from 3 days to 2 “in view of (Howell’s) apology and in an attempt not to further penalize his teammates and fans during this crucial series.”
Had Giamatti stuck to his original ruling, Howell would not have been eligible to pitch until Wednesday, when Game 7 would be played if necessary. The reduction of the punishment was the first in the 2-season tenure of Giamatti, who has been chosen to succeed Peter Ueberroth as baseball commissioner next spring.
A formal appeal, which would have suspended Howell’s suspension until a document was filed and Giamatti made the ruling, was not filed. Instead, what was termed an informal meeting was held.
“Just because one imposes a penalty, I don’t necessarily believe it’s engraved in stone,” Giamatti said. “I listened to him and decided there could be some alleviating. . . . I felt there were grounds for amelioration without feeling I was totally conceding the violation.”
Howell, who was accompanied at the hearing by Gene Orza, counsel for the Major League Players Assn., said he was sorry that he had put the pine tar on his glove. But he also reiterated his quarrel not only with the rule but with the punishment.
“Although I’m not totally satisfied with the result of today’s decision, I do understand the basis for Mr. Giamatti’s decision,” Howell said. “Mr. Giamatti also understands that I am not a cheater and, with that conclusion, I am totally satisfied.”
Howell has maintained that he was using the pine tar solely to get a better grip on the ball during Saturday’s game, played in cold, rainy weather. He also has repeatedly said that the practice is common in such weather. Baseball Rule 8.02(b) says, however, that a player cannot put a foreign substance in his glove.
Howell said he had wanted to appeal, but decided on the informal hearing to expedite the process. Through Orza, Howell contacted Giamatti Sunday night and requested a meeting.
“If I filed, I doubt he would have reversed or changed the decision,” Howell said. “I might have been eligible (Sunday, by filing immediately), but I probably would have missed the last three games.”
Said Orza: “We requested that (Howell) be reinstated immediately. I think (Giamatti) should have wiped out the suspension, in that Jay has already missed 2 games. On the other hand, (Giamatti) showed courage in re-examining and reducing it by one-third.”
Dodger reaction ranged from relief that their depleted bullpen would be bolstered for tonight’s game to continued irritation that Howell was suspended at all for violating a rule some perceive as unfair.
“Gaining a day is good news,” Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda said. “That helps a great deal.”
Said Dodger catcher Mike Scioscia: “Obviously, I’m glad the suspension was lessened. But I still think it was inappropriate to suspend Jay. So, I think even 2 days is inappropriate.”
Fred Claire, the Dodgers’ executive vice president, said the club was not involved in any aspect of the hearing. He said he had not attended the meeting, which was held at Giamatti’s mid-town Manhattan office.
But Claire expressed relief, stressing that the owners need to discuss the use of pine tar by pitchers in cold weather.
“Our feelings about the (original) judgment--that it was severe--were known to Bart,” Claire said. “I’m pleased that Jay had the opportunity to express his views and have his case heard. I think it was good that it was looked at and the adjustment made.
“I applaud Bart for taking the information and making the consideration. I think this is a situation that baseball itself should address and reassess. Pine tar is prevalent in baseball. It is used (legally) by hitters and it’s around the game. A number of people have stepped forward and said that there is no advantage (for a pitcher) to use it.”
Claire said he believed the reduced sentence amounted to at least partial vindication of Howell.
“What’s important is that Jay is not branded as someone who doctors the ball,” Claire said. “Not to say that he didn’t violate a rule. He was in violation. My argument, and Jay’s argument, is with the spirit of the rule. Jay was not trying to gain an unfair advantage by using it.”
Said Howell: "(Being labeled a cheater) concerns me because it’s not true.”
Claire said that he believed Giamatti’s judgment Sunday was an emotional reaction.
“When you’re on national TV and see a player caught and have his glove taken away and hear the crowd chant ‘cheater,’ it’s an emotional moment,” he said.
Giamatti, however, was as businesslike in talking about the reduction of Howell’s suspension as he had been in announcing the original determination.
"(Howell) clearly wanted to tell me his view,” Giamatti said. “He expressed remorse. Having heard him, and trying to find the line between penalizing an individual without penalizing too much of the team and the fans, I reduced the suspension by a day.
“My point is that it’s a clear rule. I thought Howell did something wrong, but he didn’t intend to cheat. My original decision involved balancing the various elements. It was a severe infraction, but there were also unusual circumstances. A penalty imposed in a league championship series has a large impact because of the fewer number of games.”
Times sports writer Ross Newhan also contributed to this story.