“How dumb can you possibly be?”
A simple question begged by ESPN New York writer Ian O’Connor of righty hurler Michael Pineda.
On April 23, Pineda took the mound for his fourth start of the regular season, an early matchup against the Boston Red Sox.
Rewind to the last Yanks-Sox series on April 10.
Pineda was on the bump for his second start of the season and dealt seven strikeouts through six innings and only allowed one earned run in a 4-1 New York victory. Ask any Sox fan about this game, however, and you’ll find quite the uproar.
During the course of the game you could clearly see a streak of some dark substance on his hand. The widely-accepted train of thought after the game was that it was a splash of pine tar. Pine tar is a wood preservative that is extremely sticky. Rule 8.02 of the MLB rulebook states “the pitcher shall not apply a foreign substance of any kind to the ball.” See: pine tar. It allows pitchers to have exceptional grip on the ball and give pinpoint precision to their pitches, as listed on rantsports.com.
Now, nothing short of bellyaching from Red Sox fans came of that April 10th start. But, again, as Ian O’Connor asks, “How dumb can you possibly be?”
Fast-forward to April 23, in the second inning of the Yanks-Sox game. Watching the game, you could clearly see a smudge across Pineda’s neck that didn’t look at all like his skin, dirt, sweat or anything ordinary.
Pine tar, yet again.
Home plate umpire Gerry Davis took all of ten seconds to detect the pine tar and eject Pineda from the ball game for what has to be the dumbest, most egregious use of the substance.
According to ESPN, when pressed on why he would possibly use pine tar in such a ridiculously obvious fashion, Pineda claims he was just looking out for the Red Sox batters.
“I [didn’t] feel the ball,” Pineda said, “and I don’t want to hit anybody.”
That excuse could’ve flown after he first used pine tar on April 10. What’s the old adage? “Fool me once, shame on me, fool me twice, shame on you.” Not advocating cheating of any kind here, but if Pineda really wanted to pull this stunt again, why do it in your NEXT start? Seriously, at least wait until the hype over your last pine tar incident has died down.
Pineda has since been suspended for ten games.
Fellow Yankee starter Ivan Nova is done for the season after suffering a torn ulnar collateral ligament, and now with Pineda out for ten games, the Yanks’ pitching staff is down two reliable starters.
But on top of pitching rotation worries, this raises the question of gamesmanship in baseball.
This is not the first pine tar episode and surely won’t be the last. But Pineda is now in the category of George Brett, who famously slathered his bat in pine tar in a game against, coincidentally, the Yankees in 1983.
Down 4-3 in the ninth, Yankees pitcher Goose Gossage threw to Kansas City Royals third baseman George Brett, who hit a two-out two-run home run — presumably to give the Royals the lead. Coming around from the third base, Yanks’ manager Billy Martin demanded that Brett’s bat be checked, and it had a large amount of pine tar on it.
The umpire ruled it to be an illegal bat, ruled Brett out and the game ended. So why is it that baseball players feel that gamesmanship is okay? Obviously Pineda and George Brett aren’t the only players who edge the rules to get ahead.
Whether it was Whitey Ford using his wedding ring to scuff up the ball before he pitched, or Derek Jeter acting like he got hit by a pitch when in all reality, the ball bounced off the butt of the bat, it seems like every season we hear a new story about some ballplayer edging the rules. What kills me is how it’s just widely accepted, swept under the rug as just a part of the game.
According to ESPN Boston, Red Sox manager John Farrell knows that the pine tar is a problem, but also knows it’s widely accepted.
“I’m well aware of what the thought across the field might be,” Farrell said. “Maybe more of a willingness to have our guys checked. But again, I think there’s an accepted level of some additive used to gain a grip.”
How long do we let gamesmanship take over games? Obviously it’s not like every single game that’s played includes cheating on an egregious level like Pineda, but when MLB managers are admitting that it’s a widely accepted fact, that’s when things need to change.
Enough of the, “That’s how it is” mentality. I just want consistency. I’m not saying check every inch of every player’s equipment before games, but look out for the obvious things like Pineda wiping his wrist, or Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz using his own sweat and suntan lotion to grip the ball.
Umps need to be on the lookout for these kinds of tip-offs, or else pitchers have the same type of advantage as steroid-using batters. Both have an advantage that is wildly unfair, and it’s time for that to stop.
Ray Waldron can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org