New York Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda is hardly the first major leaguer to head to the mound hoping to get away with using pine tar to aid his grip.
And he won’t be the last, those in baseball say, because it’s simply part of the game.
He just got caught.
“It’s not like somebody sits you down and says, âHey, dude, you should try this.’ You see things,” Washington Nationals reliever Drew Storen said. “And being around the game, you know things that can be done.”
What stood out for many around the sport was how glaringly obvious the splotch of brown goo was on the side of Pineda’s neck. It got him ejected from a game against the Boston Red Sox and drew a 10-game suspension Thursday.
“That was pretty blatant,” Storen said. “Wasn’t really subtle.”
Hours before Washington hosted San Diego on Thursday night, a highlight package from Wednesday’s major league games was shown on the videoboard at Nationals Park, and a lengthy segment poked fun at Pineda’s easy-to-spot pine tar.
Padres manager Bud Black said it’s “common knowledge among baseball people” that “there are pitchers — and probably more than you would think — that use some sort of substance to gain tack on your fingers, because at times it is needed, based on weather conditions, based on the personal preference of a pitcher.”
Black, who pitched in the majors from 1981-95, noted it usually would be “some minimal amount of pine tar that maybe really doesn’t overly affect the outcome of a game.”
The sticky stuff is used by hitters, legally, to help make sure bats don’t slip out of their hands. Pitchers use pine tar, illegally, for better holds on a ball, especially when cold weather makes it slick.
“And the option is this: I either get a grip on the ball or I’m hitting someone in the neck because I haven’t got a grip on it. And if you ask the hitters, they’d say, âGet a grip on it.’ You’ve still got to make pitches,” New York Mets manager Terry Collins said.
“You’ve got to be a little bit discreet,” Collins continued. “You can’t just, like, walk out with a pine tar bottle. I was a little surprised when I saw the replay last night that that was quite as evident as that. But you could check every pitcher. I’m sure there would be a lot of guys that would have something.”
Indeed, that’s makes skippers wary of being too eager to accuse opposing pitchers of using pine tar.
That line of thinking goes: Once I make the umpires check your pitcher, you’re going to tell them to check my pitcher.
“No manager, no pitching coach, no group of pitchers wants to be checked on all the time, because there’s going to be a lot more people found guilty,” Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
San Diego’s Black mentioned that some catchers apply pine tar to their shin guards so they can use it to help get better grips when they need to try to throw out a potential basestealer, for example.
Padres pitching coach Darren Balsley said players haven’t asked him how to scuff a baseball or use pine tar.
But if one did, he said, “I would try to teach him how to use a rosin bag.”
“For some reason, the rosin bag is a lost art,” Balsley said. “Guys don’t know how to use rosin the way they used to, so perhaps they’re finding something different to use.”
Maddon thinks pitchers’ use of pine tar could be allowed one day.
“I do believe you’re going to see some kind of remarks or issuance regarding how to deal with this in the future, more of a legalization of it,” he said. “It’s got to be legalized at some point.”
Storen’s not so sure that’s a great idea, saying: “It’s kind of a can of worms if you say, âOK, now you can doctor the baseball.”‘