When New York Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda was caught with pine tar on his neck at Fenway Park on April 23, it launched a national discussion among baseball pundits about whether the substance should be legal for Major League Baseball pitchers. Many believe everyone is doing it, tossing the issue into the same light as the drinking age or legalizing marijuana.
But when does the use of pine tar begin in baseball culture? Across Massachusetts, there appears to be a consensus that pitchers do not use pine tar in high school.
“We joke about it, but at this level we never do it,” Lincoln-Sudbury senior righthander Alex Wieland said. “As a Yankees’ fan, I got a lot of crap for [Pineda], be we don’t do that at all. It’s a dirty way to play the sport.”
Wieland’s catcher, junior Matt Broadbent, echoed that sentiment.
“We try not to worry about that in high school,” Broadbent said. “We have it on our bats, but I’ve never heard about anyone using it to pitch. We try not to get caught up in all that controversy.”
Warriors coach Kirk Fredericks said his team simply doesn’t worry about it.
“We don’t worry about the other team. If they want to use pine tar, if they want to use whatever, they can use it,” he said. “We just worry about ourselves. A kid on the other team could be in college, we don’t care. We don’t use pine tar other than on the bats.”
But other coaches have said pine tar isn’t just used on the bat. Many kids rub a little on their gloves on a wet or cold day to help catch a popup in the outfield or a scorching grounder down the line.
“Infielders might grab some pine tar on a wet or cold day for their fingertips,” Bridgewater-Raynham coach John Kearney said. “I see a lot of teams do it, there’s nothing illegal about it.”
Kearney said he hasn’t seen a high school pitcher use the stuff.
“But I don’t know if I’m naive and I don’t want to speak for everyone,” he said. “Habits do tend to trickle down [from the pros to high school], but I don’t know about this one. It’s a little bit over the top for high school. Again, maybe I’m being naive. It’s a possibility at the college level possibly. But when you’re dealing with ruining a uniform, stuff like that is paid for by the school and the uniforms are expensive. It’s not all that practical here.”
The rule books disallow pine tar on the mound for one reason: trying to eliminate any possible advantage for a pitcher to add extra movement versus a given batter. That’s why, when it comes to using the goop just to get a grip, many have called for pine tar to be legalized.
“The key word is ‘grip,” Division 1A tournament director Don Fredericks said. “Infielders put it on their fingers, batters use it with bats — that’s all to get a better grip. What everybody is looking at is: Is it making the ball move and putting the batters at a disadvantage? That’s the problem.
“High school kids are having enough problems just throwing the ball over the plate, they’re not using pine tar to get any sort of advantage.”
The prominent view of those involved with MIAA baseball believe players simply play for the love of the game, with few, if any, grasping for a competitive edge. Kearney said that his players often try to emulate pro players’ fashion statements — like Manny Ramirez’s baggy pants — more than tricks and gambits like pine tar.
In the words of Pope John Paul II coach Mark Santos: “I’d like to think at our level, the game is still at its purest form.”
Super 8 Update
The new baseball Super 8 selection committee will meet Wednesday to discuss and finalize its list of candidates for this spring’s inaugural tournament. From there, the committee members will spread out and extensively observe the teams under consideration over the next three weeks.
“We’ll have to separate the great teams from the good teams,” Don Fredericks said.
The committee’s toughest task will be determining strength of schedule across the four regions and four divisions of the state.
Players of the Week
Kyle O’Connor, Lynn English — In the Bulldogs’ four wins this week, the junior captain outfielder was 11 for 16 with 4 doubles, a triple, 4 RBIs, 6 runs, and 4 stolen bases.
Miguel Lorenzo, Boston English — The senior had two home runs, 4 hits, and 6 RBIs in the Eagles’ 16-8 win over Dorchester on Friday.
Colin Rios, Braintree — In Braintree’s 17-1 drubbing of Quincy on Friday, the junior was 4 for 4 with a home run and three RBIs for the Wamps.
Will Ginsberg, Sharon — Ginsberg tossed a one-hitter and struck out 10 to lead the Eagles over Milford, 4-0, on Friday.
Games of the Week
Peabody at Gloucester, Monday, 4 p.m. — A clash between the top teams in the Northeastern Conference large and small divisions.
Chelmsford at St. John’s Prep, Saturday, 3 p.m. — Last Saturday’s game was postponed a week and it’s the Eagles’ Pat Yanchus/Pete Frates Alumni Game.
Hingham at Bridgewater-Raynham, Saturday, 1:30 p.m. — Another postponed game, the defending Division 2 champions will visit the defending Division 1 champions.