About Pineda and Pine Tar

Last night’s game was just another reminder of how as much as I love baseball, sometimes it frustrates the hell out of me.

For the second time this season against the Red Sox, Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda was found to have a foreign substance on his person, presumably to help him pitch. (It was not the second time this season he was caught by cameras with the pine tar. His outing in Toronto was also enhanced by the sticky substance.)

After the first time against the Sox I felt pretty ‘meh’ about it. None of the players complained, good for him he got away with something. But last night irritated me on a few different levels. So let’s give thanks to Pineda for causing my first rant of the 2014 season.

Before the game John Farrell responded to a question about pine tar by saying “I’m sure I would expect that, if it’s used, it’s more discreet than the last time.”

Yeah, not so much.

I don’t have any idea if I should be mad that Pineda uses pine tar. Apparently everyone uses it and no one in the game usually cares. What annoys me is how everyone blows it off (including and especially the players) as if it isn’t a big deal when it is, regardless of how well it is hidden, against MLB’s rules.  This isn’t stealing signs. This is something specifically against the rules. If you want the rule changed, you’re in a union, go talk to them. But the rule is there and if the only time it’s going to be enforced is when it’s so bloody obvious my legally blind father with a 10 year-old NON HD television can see it then I think that’s pretty ridiculous.

I’m also annoyed by the way the entire Yankees team was only too happy to throw Pineda under the bus the moment the game was over and the questions came out. Sure, he’s an adult, makes his own decisions, blah, blah, blah. And it was pointed out to me last night that dugouts between innings aren’t exactly libraries so it’s possible his manager, the coaches, his teammates and everyone else in there didn’t notice the giant, messy blob on his neck before he took the field in the second inning.  But he’s done this at least two other times this season already. The media was all over it yesterday before the game. I absolutely do not believe that no one in the Yankees organization thought to maybe talk to this kid before the game and say “Gee, the spotlight is going to be on you, maybe cut the shit for one night, huh?”  And if they did and he ignored them you would think that the reaction from, oh let’s say Joe Girardi would have been a lot more angry than it was. Girardi responded like it was no big deal (although in fairness Brian Cashman seemed a bit more miffed – probably just that his player was stupid enough to ‘hide’ it on such an obvious place).

The word ‘mistake’ has been bandied about quite a bit regarding this incident. No. It wasn’t a mistake. It was a purposeful decision. A stupid one, mind you I won’t argue with anyone that what Pineda did was ridiculously stupid, but a specific decision and not a  mistake nonetheless.

As with most of my rants, I know I’m all over the place here. There’s a part of me that sympathizes with Pineda. He’s 25, English isn’t his first language, and he’s pitching for a team that, at least in theory, offers zero room for mistakes. Who knows what kind of pressure he’s feeling or what kind of support he’s getting? And what kind of mixed messages has he received? I mean,hell, if I can’t figure out why I’m supposed to be mad about pitchers using pine tar (given I keep getting told everyone does it), how is he supposed to know if he’s doing something wrong?  He knows it’s “wrong” in the sense that it’s against MLB rules but as long as you conceal it well it seems to not be “wrong” among his fellow players, coaches and managers. So in a sense it’s easy to see why he thought he could get away with it.

The players need to clean up their own mess. It sounds a bit hypocritical to hear John Farrell and  John Lackey and others essentially saying the only reason they brought the umpires into it was because of how blatant it was. Suddenly we have to defend the integrity of the game (or our own egos) just because everyone can see it? So if CC is hiding something between his fingers tonight and none of us ever get a look at it, does that make him better than Pineda because he hides his cheating better?* How’s this work? Do players get the rulebook and note the asterisks next to some of rules? “Pay no attention to the red asterisked rules, fellas. Those are just there for show.”

*In case a CC fan happens to read this, I’m not accusing him of cheating. But if everyone else is right, apparently chances are he probably is.

In an ESPN.com article about this debacle, Ian O’Connor amusingly wonders if this will “sink” the Yankees season. But that isn’t the most entertaining thing about the piece. Normally, I avoid the comments but in some instances the schadenfreude is too much to pass up.  My favorite comment came from someone named Joseph who wrote (and this is all cut and pasted, typos and/or misspellings aren’t mine):

I’m very disapointed in Cashman at the moment. i think he is letting the yankees get pushed around again. He shouldn’t have come out defiant. He should have denounced Farrell’s ploy for what it was: gamesmenship. He should have promised retalalition. Not say your sorry because Pineda’s only crime it seems was to try and get a grip of the baseball. The rule was designed to prevent people from doctoring the baseball not prevent a pitcher from being able to grip the ball on a cold night because that’s a safety hazard. Let’s be honest here John Farrel doesn’t give a darn about the rule. He just cares about giving his team an edge whether it is in the rules or not. Somebody should ask him if he thinks that Jon Lester should be suspended. Or if he thinks Clay Bucholtz should be suspended? My guess is that he’ll say no even though there is actual video proof that these guys cheated. If you suspend Pineda you have to suspend those other pitchers as well. Otherwise leave the kid alone.

Aside from old Joseph not knowing how to spell Farrell or Buchholz, he misses the point of why Pineda will be suspended and Lester and Buchholz only got spoken about in the media. No one on the opposing team called out Lester or Buchholz during the game (I almost wish they had. I mean I’d be interested to see how the umps reacted to the stuff on Clay’s arm and in Crabby’s glove.) which means there were no reprimands.  Which brings me to another thing that makes no sense to me in MLB…why is it on the teams to police themselves? Why didn’t one of the umps approach the mound (or the Yankees dugout) and say “Yo, what up with the neck gunk?” It seems to me that MLB is as accepting of this practice as the players are – as long as the pitchers aren’t obvious enough to get caught.

The mixed message is annoying. If I’m going to be outraged, dammit, tell me why I should be!

I’d rather the media focus on how amazing the Red Sox pitching was last night – especially John Lackey. For schadenfreude, how about Derek Jeter’s absolutely horrendous defense or Mark Teixeira’s Golden Sombrero?  All interesting baseball stories.  Instead we get to listen to the likes of Karl Ravech say things like “There is no joy in Pinetarville” (he really said that – and then went on to say that John Farrell couldn’t really enjoy beating the Yankees last night because he knows his pitchers “cheat” too). And tonight we’ll be subjected to discussions about the length of Pineda’s suspension (10 games, equalling 2 starts – the iron hammer of Joe Torre seems a little weak) and concerns that the Red Sox opened a can of worms that their pitchers will have to pay for.

I mean hell, I’ve written almost 1500 words about the damn subject and I don’t even really know how I feel about it. I don’t like cheaters and I’m a bit of a good two-shoes when it comes to rules…so in theory I should be mad that Pineda pulled this again. But really I just wonder, if it really is being done by all of them, why more pitchers don’t get caught.

I’ll say this much, the theater of John Farrell coming out of the dugout, the umpire practically strip searching Michael Pineda and Joe Girardi almost dismantling an ESPN dugout camera wouldn’t have been quite as amusing had the Red Sox lost last night’s game.  So I thank John Lackey for being outstanding and really wish the rest of it would just go away.

2 thoughts on “About Pineda and Pine Tar

  1. I learned mroe about pine tar last night than I ever needed to know. (Did you know there is clear pine tar you can get from North Carolina?) I know it is against the rules, but when the players are saying it’s fine and they would prefer the pitcher to have better grip/control over the ball, you have to wonder if it is time to change the rule. Since rosin doesn’t work in the cold/dry weather, why not provide pitchers with a pine tar bag in addition to the rosin bag? That levels the playing field and eliminates the gamesmanship and ‘cheating’. All other substances and ball marring would remain against the rules. Pitchers can only use the rosin or pine tar provided on the mound. The players have a union, maybe they should lobby for this rule change in the off season.

  2. If you asked me whether I considered myself a law-abiding person, I would say yes. If you asked me whether I obeyed the speed limit–a law–I would admit that no, I don’t. That said, generally speaking, highway traffic pretty much requires that at least some folks drive above the speed limit. Get a cop out there in the wrong place, so that everyone slows down, and you create traffic jams; there’s just too much volume on the roads for it to work at the posted speeds. (The guy who writes the traffic column for the Globe actually wrote a column about his experimental effort to drive the speed limit on the Pike! Cliff notes version: you can’t.) However, there’s a different between driving over the speed limit (say, 80 in a 65) and driving WAY over the speed limit (100 in a 65) or adding a complicating factor (80 in a 65 in the right-hand lane or weaving between lanes). It’s a judgment call, but a pretty consistently identifiable judgment call, and it works, when trying to get the laws changed can be too big of a challenge and by-the-books enforcement is impractical. Basically, I think that’s the way the question of grip enhancers works, too.

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