1987: The Joe Niekro Cover Up

Still one of my all-time favorite Twins’ story. From Hot Stove 1987 a couple of years ago…

Monday August 3, 1987

Twins 11, Angels 3

Gary Gaetti was the hero of the game. He went 3-for-5 with a home run and five RBI to lead the Twins to an 11-3 victory over the Angels. Unfortunatley for Gaetti and the rest of the team, that is not what this game will be remembered for.

Niekro was given the heave-ho after umpire Tim Tschida, a St. Paul resident, requested a look at the ball with a 2-and-1 count on Brian Downing. Niekro was found to have the emery board in his possession, which was not the only incriminating evidence against him. The umpiring staff reported having saved six baseballs found to be scuffed during Niekro’s 65-pitch tenure on the mound.

Niekro, who originally had been scheduled to start Sunday’s game in Oakland, didn’t exit the arena without a good show. After tossing the ball to Tschida, Niekro flipped his glove toward the ump, made a display of emptying the contents of his pockets and finally thrust his hands toward the heavens in a gesture of innocence. The emery board apparently dropped out of his right hand while he was making the gesture.

Both manager Tom Kelly and Niekro voiced strong objections during the delay, which lasted about 15 minutes.

Niekro faces a possible automatic 10-day suspension if the league office concludes he was defacing the ball. However, contrary to television and radio reports, the Angels did not protest the game and the victory is not in jeopardy of being taken away.

The Twins, not a team to ignore the details, attempted to eliminate the evidence. Dennis Brackin tells the story in the Star Tribune.

Jeff Parker, 17, said he was accosted by Newman in the runway underneath Anaheim Stadium during the fourth inning of Monday’s game, and that Newman “forcibly tried to take the balls away from me.”

Niekro was ejected after umpires found him to be carrying an emery board and sandpaper in his pocket. Six balls allegedly scuffed by Niekro were placed in a bag for shipment to AL president Dr. Bobby Brown.

“I’m surprised the bag didn’t rip,” Parker said. “He had a hold of two of the balls through the bag. He leaned over me, trying to get the balls, and forced me to my knees. I buried the balls in my chest and bent over so he wouldn’t get them.

Tom Kelly defended Al Newman, using the old “he just wanted to see the balls” excuse.

“(Newman) just wanted to look at them, just like anybody else,” Kelly said. “Wouldn’t you want to see those balls? I don’t see why everyone’s making a big deal out of it. . . . A grown man, a professional baseball player, would do that? Isn’t that a little ridiculous?”

For Niekro, the excuse was that he needed the emery board to file his nails, and the sand paper was there in case the emery board got wet.

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