By Jim Caple
Page 2

DETROIT -- You know what I can't figure out about this Kenny Rogers dirty hand thing? Tony La Russa's reaction.

La Russa can spot a conspiracy in maid service -- "I always lock my door when I leave, but then when I get back the bed has been made and my underwear has been picked up" -- and he's always complaining about how someone is out to get him and the Cardinals. Either opposing pitchers are refusing to pitch to his slugger (the 1998 home run chase) or it's bad hotel accommodations (the 2004 World Series) or the umpires are squeezing his pitchers (the 2005 NLCS) or opponents are stealing signs (earlier this season) or reporters are blowing quotes out of proportion (this year's NLCS) or his pitchers are tipping their pitches (ibid).

But when he was asked about the mysterious substance on Rogers' pitching hand, he suddenly clammed up. "It's not important," he said at the postgame press conference. "I'm not going to discuss it."

That response, of course, can mean one of only three things: One, La Russa didn't think it was a big deal and didn't want to discuss it. Two, he didn't want to make an ugly scene involving his good friend, Tigers manager Jim Leyland. Or three -- and this is far more likely -- aliens abducted La Russa and replaced him with a body double.

The alien abduction theory not only would account for his response but also would clear up the mystery of why La Russa wears sunglasses during night games. Duh! To prevent us from seeing that he has soulless alien eyes!

This will present several problems for the remainder of the series. Leyland won't be able to accurately guess what his old friend will do in a given situation. The Cardinals won't know when to make unnecessary pitching changes in the middle of an inning that slow the game down. And Buzz Bissinger will have to write a sequel to "Three Nights in August."

But alien abduction only goes so far. It may explain La Russa's behavior, but it does not account for that brownish substance on Rogers' hand. Just what the hell was it, anyway? Rogers said it was dirt mixed with rosin. The umpires went along with that. Which sounds believable until you remember that in his previous postseasons, Rogers was 0-3, allowed 20 runs in 20 1/3 innings and walked in the series-deciding run in the 1999 NLCS. But this postseason, at nearly age 42, he is 3-0 and has allowed no runs in 24 innings. Furthermore, videotapes show that he apparently had this mysterious brown substance on his hand in his earlier starts.

Obviously, he's discovered a substance of some sort that repels wood, just like Ray Milland's character in "It Happens Every Spring." In that movie, Milland's character accidentally creates this wood-repellent in the college laboratory, decides to start putting it on baseballs and subsequently reaches the World Series as an unhittable pitcher.

And what team does he pitch for? The St. Louis Cardinals, the very team that La Russa manages.

Coincidence? I think not.

The one problem with these theories is that neither explains Eric Byrnes' presence as an expert analyst.

Is a substance that repels wood far-fetched? Think it's more likely it was simply dirt or pine tar on his hand and that Rogers pitched seven more scoreless innings after washing it off and that it therefore had no effect on the game (as St. Louis second baseman Aaron Miles said, "I didn't notice his stuff was any different late in the game than it was earlier in the game")? Think that this is just a non-issue where people are trying to stir something up amid what has been a relatively uninteresting postseason (where, oh, where is AJ Pierzynski when we need him?). Unfortunately, that's exactly what the aliens want you to think.

To better enjoy the remaining series, I suggest you wrap Reynolds Wrap around your head because everyone knows that alien brain waves cannot penetrate aluminum foil. More importantly, if you also stuff the aluminum foil in your ears neither can Tim McCarver's voice.

And now, you'll have to excuse me. I need to go look into how Ohio fans rigged the All-Star vote.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. You can reach Jim at jimcaple.com, where the latest series of "24 College Avenue" is currently running. Sound off to Page 2 here.




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