Is Using Sunscreen for Sticky Grip a Pitcher's Version of Pine Tar or Cheating?

Joel ReuterFeatured ColumnistMay 8, 2013

Following the controversy that surrounded Clay Buchholz's recent start against the Toronto Blue Jays in which it looked as though he may have been doctoring the ball, another explanation for what he could have been doing has come to light.

In a recent report from Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, the use of sunscreen as a grip aid is pointed to as a league-wide practice. It is seen as a potential answer for what the foreign substance on Buchholz's arm was.

Two veteran pitchers and one source close to the Red Sox told Yahoo! Sports that about 90 percent of major league pitchers use some form of spray-on sunscreen – almost always BullFrog brand – that when combined with powdered rosin gives them a far superior grip on the ball.

Saying that a handful of guys use sunscreen for grip is one thing, but for "90 percent" of the league to be doing it, there is clearly a substantial benefit to the practice.

Does this practice compare to a batter using pine tar to better grip the bat at the plate? Or is it more comparable to a pitcher throwing a spitball or doctoring the ball in some other illegal fashion?

Passan quotes one American League pitcher who states the mixture of sunscreen and rosin creates an incredibly tacky substance similar to glue "that engineers would be jealous of."

The report states "players accept it as part of the game because they don't believe it leads to crazy movement on pitches like spitters of yore." But given the recent attention Buchholz has garnered, it at least bears further investigation at this point.

Pitchers looking for new ways to get an advantage over hitters is nothing new, with the spit ball perhaps the most relevant example but far from the only one. The spitter has a rich history, dating back to the early 1900s. The pitch was actually legal until 1920, when it was officially banned by the league (h/t Sports Illustrated).

That doesn't mean that was the end of its use, though, with Hall of Fame right-hander Gaylord Perry perhaps the most famous offender of the rule.

The movie Major League portrays crafty veteran Eddie Harris using everything from Crisco to snot in order to get some added drop on his pitches. Even though that was an exaggerated caricature, it's not all that far off from what pitchers have been caught doing over the years.

So is the rosin/sunscreen mixture just the latest concoction pitchers have come up with to get an edge, or is it just a smart and legal way to get some added grip?

Major League Baseball would be wise to nip this issue in the bud now and do some testing on what effect the substance has on the ball.

If there is no effect aside from the added grip, there is no reason that the supposed league-wide practice shouldn't be allowed to continue. It would be a perfect comparison to pine tar for a batter.

However, if it does in fact add to the break of a pitch, it would be right on par with the use of Vaseline or sandpaper as clear-cut forms of doctoring the ball to gain an unfair advantage. It would be comparable to a player corking his bat or using superballs to get some added pop at the plate.

Anything that a player knowingly does to get an unfair advantage has to be lumped into the same category. Given how much attention this has received in the past week, the league will no doubt get to the bottom of this before it becomes a bigger issue.