I received a couple of e-mails Thursday that made me look at the pine tar situation in a different light.
Two fathers of young boys who play baseball asked me, “How do we explain this to our children?”
Their point was, how do you listen to players and managers and coaches say it’s OK for pitchers to use pine tar as long as they conceal it, but it’s not OK if it’s used openly, as Yankees righthander Michael Pineda did Wednesday night for the specific purpose of improving his grip on the ball?
Pineda may have been bold, brazen, ridiculed, and suspended 10 games by Major League Baseball for his actions, but he basically said, “I’m using it for my grip and here it is.”
It’s up to parents to make sure their kid is doing the right thing, and that’s about the only answer I could give those two fathers. Just because major leaguers may have a “look the other way” approach doesn’t mean children playing baseball have to follow suit.
There’s a hypocrisy that we just can’t seem to reconcile as long as the current rule applies.
After three decades of covering baseball, I’m certainly aware of the “unwritten rules” of baseball, and pine tar is certainly one of them.
Hitters and hurlers both feel there’s a need for pine tar use by pitchers — so the pitcher can get a better grip, and so batters don’t get hit by stray pitches in cold weather.
So if that’s the case, why is it so bad that Pineda used pine tar while being open about it?
Pine tar use by pitchers has been around forever.
A swab on the beak of the cap.
A glob on the belt buckle.
A little inside the glove.
Pitchers don’t even have to have it on their body. An infielder can keep some in his glove and then come on over and provide it if needed. A catcher can run out to the mound and do the same.
In the wink-wink world of baseball, it’s OK for pitchers to use pine tar when it’s a bit cold or windy, most likely in April or September/October, when pitchers usually feel like the ball is slipping out of their hand.
So instead of, “It’s OK to use it if it’s discreet but not if it’s blatantly visible,” why isn’t the rule amended once and for all?
Hitters like pine tar for two reasons — they can grip the bat better (even smothering it on their batting gloves) and pitchers can use it to avoid hitting people with an errant fastball.
Red Sox manager John Farrell protested Wednesday night because Pineda didn’t hide the pine tar he applied to his neck. I think Pineda was right not to hide it. We saw how much he had and we saw him reach for it.
I truly believe, like most young power pitchers, Pineda has no idea how to actually doctor the ball to improve movement.
I believe Kenny Rogers, at age 41 and pitching for the Detroit Tigers in the 2006 World Series against St. Louis in Game 2, knew exactly how to create movement by using pine tar.
That was not the case in either of Pineda’s pine tar incidents against the Red Sox this season, the second of which resulted in the suspension.
Why don’t we measure pitchers’ pine tar use the same way we do with hitters?
On NESN, Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley and pregame host Tom Caron agreed that pine tar applied to a rag, similar to a rosin bag, would be a good way to allow pitchers to improve their grip. Eckersley said he sometimes used pine tar to improve his grip, but not very often.
Pitchers’ use of a pine tar rag could be monitored by umpires and allowed only in cold weather conditions. It’s a potential solution to an issue that MLB would like to be rid of.
If you can see it, if the umpires can see it, if the players and managers can see it, it shouldn’t be a problem. It would remain a problem if the pine tar is hidden by the pitcher, or if he is using more than an acceptable amount.
For those of you who feel pitchers using pine tar should be illegal, period, you have to consider the times.
Most teams have several pitchers who throw 95-100 m.p.h. — something that was uncommon years ago — and some of them have trouble with control. You don’t want an epidemic of pitchers losing control in the cold weather.
Did Pineda cheat? Under the current rules, yes. After Pineda was ejected, MLB disciplinarian Joe Torre had to suspend him.
Pineda’s real mistake was he didn’t listen to his coaches and manager about not being so blatant about it.
But for me, being upfront is better than hiding or concealing the action.
I suspect the “pitcher pine tar” situation will continue on as one of those unwritten rules of baseball that doesn’t make you feel right.
There’s a committee for everything, so there should be one for this, too. Find a way to end the hypocrisy of this rule and allow pitchers to use pine tar legally for gripping purposes.