Should Pine Tar Be Legal for Pitchers?

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterApril 24, 2014

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Don't worry. We're about to throw some blame Michael Pineda's way. He deserves it for getting himself involved in yet another silly little controversy involving pine tar.

But I think it's also time for us to ask whether Major League Baseball should put an end to silly little controversies of this nature. It wouldn't take much. Just a simple rule change:

Make pine tar legal for pitchers.

Such a rule could have saved Pineda and the New York Yankees some grief a couple weeks ago, as we all remember the hubbub that arose from the brown, pine-tar-ish goo that was on his right hand during a dominant start against the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium on April 10.

Pineda claimed the stuff on his hand was just dirt, but former big league pitcher Dirk Hayhurst had the right of it in a guest column for Bleacher Report that all Pineda did with that excuse was insult everyone's intelligence. It was obviously pine tar.

And it came back in the second inning during Wednesday night's contest against the Red Sox at Fenway Park, as Pineda took the mound with a brown streak on his neck that the cameras couldn't ignore:

Image courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via

After Pineda got two quick outs, Red Sox manager John Farrell decided he couldn't ignore it either. He emerged from the dugout and asked home plate umpire Gerry Davis to take a look at Pineda.

He was gone moments later.

That Farrell acted on the brown streak on Pineda's neck is no surprise.

The matter of Pineda's apparent/obvious use of pine tar in his first start against the Red Sox was naturally a storyline before Wednesday's game, with one of the questions at hand being whether Farrell would let another incident slide like he did the first time.

Farrell hinted very strongly the answer would be no. Via Sean McAdam of

Farrell might as well have walked right over to the Yankees clubhouse and issued a warning directly to Pineda. It would have been the same thing.

So yes, Pineda has himself to blame for getting ejected from Wednesday night's contest. He was warned not to be obvious, and he was obvious.

But this is where we get into what Pineda's real crime was. Was it the pine tar itself, or was it the obviousness of the pine tar?

After the game, Farrell indicated the latter. Via Tim Britton of The Providence Journal:

This calls to mind something Farrell said after the last time his club met Pineda.

“In the cold weather you’re trying to get a grip,” Farrell said, via Brian MacPherson of The Providence Journal. “I can’t say it’s uncommon that guys would look to create a little bit of a grip. Typically you’re not trying to be as blatant.”

Translation: Had the stuff been, say, in Pineda's glove or underneath the bill of his cap, Farrell would neither have known nor cared it was there. 

Dustin Pedroia didn't care about Pineda's use of pine tar regardless, noting that he (and virtually every other hitter) doesn't really have a right to complain even if he did care.

“I have pine tar on my bat,” said Pedroia. “That’s a non-issue.”

Then there's what David Ortiz said: “Everybody uses pine tar in the league. It’s not a big deal.”

This would mean all pitchers are in violation of Rule 8.02, which states that pitchers are allowed neither to have a foreign substance on their person nor to apply said foreign substance to the ball. 

Which actually isn't much of an exaggeration. Maybe every individual pitcher doesn't use pine tar specifically, but Dirk Hayhurst wrote in his column that the use of foreign substances certainly isn't limited to a select few:

...I don’t know one single pitcher in my career who didn’t use something on the ball that was a violation of the rules.

When I first broke into the big leagues, it was my job to carry all the slick’ems and stick’ems out to the bullpen so everyone had the tools of the trade they liked best. Sunscreen and rosin, pine tar, firm grip, Fixodent, shaving cream or a combo of various other chemicals...

The accusation that you might want to make is that this means an awful lot of pitchers are guilty of doctoring the ball, but that's not really the idea. Doctoring the ball is more about doing something to the ball (scuffing it, etc.) that directly influences the kind of movement a pitch is going to have. 

Pine tar and other foreign substances are about getting a good grip, which is especially tough on cold April nights like the two in which Pineda has faced the Red Sox.

Which leads us to this good point from Red Sox catcher David Ross.

“I would rather the guy know where the ball is going and have a good grip, for me, personally,” said Ross. “As long as I’ve played there’s guys always trying to make sure they’ve got a grip when there is cold weather, early on. Maybe it’s cheating, but I don’t really look at it that way. Some guys might, but not me, personally.”

Red Sox hurler Clay Buchholz, who would know about such things, also chimed in: “It’s either have a grip on a baseball and semi-know where it’s going or don’t have a grip at all and get somebody hurt.

Consider Pineda's first inning, for example. When he first took the mound, there was no pine tar on his neck:

Image courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via

Without the pine tar, it was a wild inning for Pineda. In the process of allowing two runs on four hits, he threw 30 pitches. Quite a few of them were way off the mark, making it out to be something of a small miracle that he didn't plunk anybody. He clearly needed something to help him get a grip.

And it's no wonder Pineda felt he had to go to the pine tar.

The only thing MLB provides for pitchers to get a grip is rosin, and former big league pitcher Al Leiter noted in recent comments to The New York Times that rosin can't do the trick on its own.

“The rule is stupid,” said Leiter. “You are supposed to use the rosin bag, but if you don’t have any moisture, it’s just powder. It doesn’t do anything. They need to change the rule.”

You know what would help? Something not only wet, but a little sticky as well.

Like pine tar.

Things are a little different on cold nights. Provided both managers agree, the rules allow pitchers to blow on their hands, thus allowing themselves a little natural moisture in addition to some warmth.

The only trouble is that the natural moisture's going to go away pretty quickly. It would be better if pitchers were allowed to use something more permanent, preferably something a little wet and sticky. 

Like pine tar.

Your first instinct might be to rant and rave, but think about all we've discussed to this point.

As a foreign substance, pine tar may technically be illegal. But it's a substance that's not only plentiful in baseball, but one that a lot of pitchers are already using to get a grip. And since it's a gripping agent rather than a doctoring agent, it's no wonder that nobody cares much if it is used. As Farrell and the Red Sox demonstrated on Wednesday night, they just don't want to see it.

So if MLB were to legalize pine tar for pitchers, it wouldn't really be legalizing the substance itself. Just the visibility of it, really.

You've heard of a victimless crime. This would be a victimless legalization.


If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter.

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