Michael Pineda might as well have been wearing a flashing neon sign around his neck Wednesday night, alerting the baseball world that he was once again using pine tar.
The thing is, if he had done that, he would have gotten the sticky stuff on the sign. Yes, that is right, the least conspicuous place to keep the pine tar that Pineda could think of was smack dab on the side of his neck, in plain sight for everyone to see.
Very clever, Michael. Red Sox skipper John Farrell and the umps needed 20/20 vision to catch that one.
After a shaky first inning that saw Pineda give up two runs to Boston, the Yankees pitcher returned for his second frame with an obvious brown smudge across his neck. Farrell spotted it, talked with home plate umpire Gerry Davis, and just like that, Pineda's night was over.
This, of course, is not the first time Pineda has been caught with an illegal substance this season. The last time came against the Red Sox on April 10, which explains why Boston was so privy to it this time around. Last time, Pineda kept a glob of it on his wrist, once again for all to see. And that is where the problem lies.
You see, while the written Rule 8.02 states that pitchers are forbidden from using a foreign substance on a ball, there is an unwritten rule which says that as long as you do not shove it in the face of your opponents or the umpires, it is generally okay to use pine tar.
Frankly, the unwritten rule makes more sense. Pine tar, unlike other ways in which pitchers cheat (see Jeff Passan's "Pitchers' guide to cheating: How to do it right"), does not affect a ball's movement or break. Instead, pine tar is about getting a grip on the baseball, and on a cold or rainy day is that not better and safer for everyone?
It's an unwritten rule in the game. I'm sure a lot of pitchers do it. As a hitter, do what you got to do from letting that ball go astray and hitting me in the head. I'm fine with that.
That same day, former Yankees and Mets pitcher and current YES Network broadcaster Al Leiter came to Pineda's defense, bashing the rule against pine tar on the Boomer and Carton radio show.
Notice, both Leiter and Victorino emphasize how a better grip is safer for the batter, especially when a guy like Pineda is throwing in the mid-90s.
Of course, the rule is still in effect, so Pineda had to go once he flaunted it on his neck for a second time. That is where he went wrong—he used it blatantly. There was no effort by him to conceal it. He smeared a bunch of it on his neck and took the mound without a care in the world, and that is where he messed up.
As Passan points out, the problem was that he was too obvious about it.
Two starts ago, Pineda made national news for using a foreign substance too obviously. Today, he was even more obvious. That takes talent.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) April 24, 2014
In addition to the ejection, Pineda is all but guaranteed a suspension. Joel Sherman of the New York Post looked at some recent cases of pitchers who were suspended for pine tar.
Actually just checked again and 8.02(b) is National Association rule = Minor League Baseball. No mandatory penalty at Major League level.— Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) April 24, 2014
Pineda suspension precedent: Brendan Donnelly banned 10 gms in ’05 for substance on glove, Joel Pearlta 8 gms in ’12 for same #Yankees— Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) April 24, 2014
If Major League Baseball can be objective here, which they certainly have been with the rule book as of late, the league will look at declassifying pine tar as a "foreign substance." It just makes sense.
Should MLB consider allowing pitchers to use pine tar?
In the meantime, if Pineda is going to continue to use the stuff, it would be advised that he use some common sense and be a tad more sneaky about it.
What is your take on the Michael Pineda situation and on the rule banning the use of pine tar? Be sure to voice your opinions below.