The current controversy surrounding Michael Pineda’s alleged use of pine tar to doctor pitches highlights one of the biggest double standards in professional sports. Not even a year ago, Major League Baseball suspended Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun and 11 other players for the use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) in connection with the Biogenesis scandal. Conversely, the league has shown a clear unwillingness to take action against pitchers who have continuously used foreign substances such as pine tar to gain a similar unfair advantage.
Pineda will be the big name in the news for the next week or so simply because he got caught. However, the league has already issued a statement saying that it does not intend to punish him because the substance was not found during the actual game. Past precedent also tells us that this will be a very short-lived scandal. Around this time last year, video evidence indicated that Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz was using a similar foreign substance to improve grip on his pitches. While this was a talking point in sports media for a couple of weeks, Buchholz never faced consequences from the league and the event has had very minimal impact on his reputation among fans.
It becomes incredibly difficult to blame individual pitchers for using everything at their disposal to get an upper hand when the league provides no real disincentive for this type of behavior. After the MLB has taken such firm stances against PEDs in order to protect the integrity of the game, it seems hypocritical to continue complicity allowing pitchers to use substances like pine tar. The onus should now be on the league to either take more definitive action against pitchers like Michael Pineda or acknowledge that this might simply be part of the game.
New York Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda delivered an impressive performance last Thursday against the Red Sox, striking out seven and allowing just one run in six innings pitched. The performance was not without controversy, however; television cameras showed the presence of a foreign substance on Pineda’s hand. While he contends that the substance “was just dirt,” the majority of spectators agree that in all likelihood the substance was pine tar. The consensus is so strong in fact, that popular debate centers on not what the substance is, but whether it warrants action by the league. In this sportswriter’s opinion, we should all stop caring, both on an individual and league-wide basis.
From a league perspective, MLB rules states that a pitcher may not “apply a foreign substance of any kind to the ball,” including pine tar. However the use of pine tar does not give a pitcher a major advantage over batters; it allows pitchers to get a better grip on the ball, a fact that batters should appreciate as it helps mitigate wild pitches. Additionally, the use of pine tar does not alter the movement of the ball the way that other substances such as Vaseline do.
Finally, in all likelihood, many pitchers around the league employ pine tar but some have not been exposed to it yet, meaning that it is a normal part of the game.
“I’ve been on teams where I’ve seen it. I’m 99 percent sure that I know of other guys on other teams that use it,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
I liken it to a batter using batting gloves to get a better grip on the bat – ultimately no big deal. From an individual perspective, the league should not punish Michael Pineda largely off of the basis that the umpires did not catch him in the act and that the Red Sox did not raise any concerns about it during the game.
Did Michael Pineda have pine tar on his hands when he pitched against the Boston Red Sox this Thursday? Judging by the reactions of the MLB, opposing teams and social media buzz, the answer does not seem too important. The Red Sox players and staff all noticed that Pineda had something resembling pine tar on his hands, but no one decided to take issue with it and inform the umpires.
My stance on this issue is that it shouldn’t really matter what a pitcher has on hands as long as he is not able to unfairly alter the path, spin or speed of the ball. In Pineda’s case, he did not throw any pitches that he otherwise would not have been able to throw without the pine tar and no one believed he had an unfair advantage over the batters, even though he dominated for six innings. A reasonable explanation as to why Pineda would use pine tar is because the weather was cold, which results in less control of the ball. So it is logical to assume he was doing this in order to bring his control of the ball back to normal levels when the weather would be warmer.
However, baseball has a lengthy history of players cheating to gain unfair advantages. Players, like Sammy Sosa, have been known to cork their bats to get more power and more recently we have seen players like Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez get caught for taking steroids. Although I do not personally believe pine tar is an issue in the cold weather, I think people need to be a little more wary when the weather gets warmer because in 80 degree temperature there is no reason for a player to use a foreign substance to amplify his game unless he wanted to cheat. So while Pineda should get a pass, the MLB still needs to be aware of shady substances being used by players, especially because cheating has been somewhat common in baseball.