TO CHEAT, BUT NOT TO GET CAUGHT
Borrowing from the vernacular of the sport’s British cousin, Major League Baseball is dealing with a sticky wicket. That substance that adorned the neck of Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda in Wednesday’s loss to the Red Sox at Fenway Park has created quite a stir, but the reaction it’s generated, particularly from the Red Sox clubhouse, is a bit surprising. Less people are angry at Pineda for violating the rules of the game than are angry at him for getting caught. It’s not just that he got caught, he got caught because he made it so obvious.
To hear Red Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski discuss the situation after Wednesday’s game he would have preferred that Pineda just be a little more subtle about using the pine tar than putting it out in the open, on the side of his neck, with television cameras zooming in. On a cold night, Pierzynski reasoned, when pitchers are having trouble gripping the ball, it’s much more to the batters benefit to have the pitcher use something that gives him a better grip on the ball and keeps a 95 mile an hour fast ball from zeroing in with no control. Pierzynski even suggested other places Pineda could put the pine tar so it would be concealed, like inside his belt, or the waistband of his uniform pants or under a sleeve on his forearm. Peirzynski went as far as to suggest that all pitchers use pine tar to give themselves a better grip on the ball on cold nights and most of them are using something on the ball all the time, be it pine tar or rozin or sweat or sunscreen.
Not everyone agreed with Pierzynski’s assertion. Cardinals pitcher Lance Lynn, last night’s loser to the Mets at Citi Field, when asked by the New York Post what he does to get a grip on the ball on cold nights said, “I grab it with my fingers, it’s pretty simple.”
When Lynn was challenged about a dark spot on the brim of his cap that he touches before pitches, he said it was a combination of legal substances, rosin and sweat. A rosin bag is available to all pitchers, left behind the rubber on the mound before the game, and, when mixed with saliva or sweat, it’s supposed to give pitchers a better grip on the ball. The trouble with rosin is when the temperature is too cold it turns to powder and isn’t effective.
Pierzyski’s take on Pineda’s use of pine tar seemed to be the prevailing attitude, no problem with him using it, just wish he’d be more subtle about it. Major League Baseball history is full of stories about pitchers loading up baseballs, many of them hall of famers. Gaylord Perry wrote a book about it and made no secret he was oiling up the ball to no advantage for the hitter.
It’s interesting to note Red Sox manager John Farrell knew Pineda was using pine tar on the heel of his hand two weeks ago at Yankee Stadium but chose to do nothing, perhaps because his pitcher that night, Clay Buchholz, has been found in the past to be loading up and had suspiciously oily hair that night, which he ran his money hand through before delivering pitches.
If the prevailing attitude is that pine tar just gives a pitcher a better grip and doesn’t alter the flight of the ball Major League Baseball should consider making it as available to pitchers as it is to hitters in the on deck circle, as they try to improve their grip on the bat.
Until such time, however, it’s illegal and that’s why Pineda drew a ten game suspension. Breaking the rules is cheating, and there are no degrees of cheating, you do it or you don’t. Unfortunately, in this instance, it appears everyone is in agreement that Pineda isn’t being punished for cheating, he’s being punished for being stupid about it and getting caught. At least, from here, that seems to be the message.
With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.