NEW YORK — The problem is . . . everybody does it. Including the Red Sox. This is why Sox manager John Farrell was in no position to cry foul when the whole world saw the pine tar-stained hand of Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda in Thursday’s 4-1 victory over Boston.
Pineda was not “doctoring” the baseball. He was not using pine tar to make the ball do funny things. He was using pine tar to maintain his grip of a slippery baseball on a chilly night. Hitters actually don’t mind. There’s some comfort in knowing that a 6-foot-7-inch, 95-m.p.h.-throwing righthander has some control over where the ball is going.
But that doesn’t matter in a social media/ESPN world of carnival barking and “Gotcha.’’ Twitter blew up with photos of Pineda’s dirty palm in the early innings, and by midnight, it was the most egregious baseball crime since the Chicago White Sox threw the World Series in 1919.
The New York tabloids, God bless ’em, picked up the ball Friday morning with “STICKIN’ IT TO ’EM — Pineda’s filthy stuff baffles Bosox” (Post) and “PINE STAR — In Yankee win, Michael shows Sox he’s a man of substance’’ (Daily News).
The story also carried the day on the Worldwide Leader. It was bigger than the Masters, bigger than the Blade Runner’s murder trial, bigger than LeBron.
‘What was I supposed to do, call him for cheating better than me in front of the others?’
Pineda said he just had some dirt on his hand. David Ortiz said it was no big deal.
Still, Major League Baseball was forced to issue a statement, assuring everyone that the Yankees will be contacted and warned . . . presumably to be more discreet.
“There’s been a lot of different things over the years that players have used,’’ said Yankees manager Joe Girardi. “I don’t want that to be the focus. Did I talk to Michael about it? I didn’t. I was managing that game.
“I have not heard from Joe Torre” — the former Yankees manager is MLB’s “police chief” — “and I’m not worried about it.
“I have never went out and questioned anyone in my career. You could probably go back 50 years, and 80 years ago and question people, but it’s nothing I’ve ever done.
“The way we’re addressing rules now, I think we could address that. To get some clarity on it would be good.
“I don’t talk to my pitchers: ‘Do you use or do you not use?’ It’s not a recreational drug. I’m 99 percent sure I know of guys on other teams that use it. If I did talk to Michael, I wouldn’t tell you anyway.’’
There weren’t many complaints from the visitors clubhouse at Yankee Stadium. The Red Sox were on the other side of the issue last May when a Toronto broadcast crew (led by former Tigers/Twins ace Jack Morris) claimed Clay Buchholz was applying a substance to the baseball.
Boston’s vigorous defense was that Buchholz was merely using sunscreen (“Bullfrog”) to give him a better grip. Farrell was Buchholz’s F. Lee Bailey. And that is why you didn’t see the Sox manager appealing to umpiring crew chief Brian O’Nora.
The Sox didn’t bring it to the umpires’ attention, no doubt because Buchholz was Pineda’s opponent Thursday, and he regularly ran his fingers through the greasy hair that runs down to his neckline.
Farrell said he was unaware of the Pineda situation until after the fourth inning. That strikes me as something of a whopper. Like every team, the Sox have a video specialist ready to tell Farrell whether a play is review-worthy. It’s honorable of Farrell not to protest when his pitchers are doing the same thing, but his contention that he knew nothing might make a polygraph machine explode.
Farrell did say, “Typically, you’re not trying to be as blatant,’’ adding, “If a pitcher is going to use additives to get a grip, you’d like to think they’d be more discreet.’’
The Sox manager also said, “I wouldn’t say every pitcher uses something,’’ but acknowledged, “Guys are trying to get a grip, and it’s somewhat accepted to a certain level.’’
Farrell was a big league pitcher for eight years. Did he use anything to get a better grip?
“Never,’’ said the manager, smiling and drawing a big laugh from the media.
The tempest was mildly reminiscent of a mid-1980s game when the late, blustering George Steinbrenner called his manager, Lou Piniella, in the Yankee dugout to complain that Angels starter Don Sutton was scuffing the baseball. Piniella is said to have uttered something like, “George, we really don’t want to complain about this. The guy who taught Sutton, Tommy John, is pitching for us. And we’re winning.’’
“I never used anything,’’ three-time Cy Young winner Jim Palmer said Friday. “But Steve Stone [25-game winner, Cy Young of 1980] used pine tar, or whatever batters use for their grip, and had it on the stripe of his uniform pants.
“I remember working in the television booth in the playoffs one year with Billy Martin when Billy was still managing and we talked about it and I asked Billy why he never took it to the umpires and he said, ‘I will wait until we are in a meaningful game and drop the hammer.’ That made sense to me.’’
Jon Lester (6⅔ innings, two runs) was making his third start of the season for the Red Sox Friday night. When Lester beat the Cardinals in Game 1 of the World Series last October, a Twitter photo showed a green substance on Lester’s glove and the Sox lefty claimed it was resin. The Cardinals never complained and MLB took no action.
That’s why the Sox were silent Thursday. No sense calling out the other guys for cheating better than you.