In the annals of illustrious moments in pitching history, I’m not exactly sure where Michael Pineda’s pine tar on the neck ranks among such past incidents as Whitey Ford’s turpentine ball, Gaylord Perry’s Vaseline, Rick Honeycutt’s thumbtack in the glove, Mike Scott’s physics-defying "splitter," Joe Niekro’s sandpaper on the finger and flying emery board, Kenny Rogers’ mystery substance or even Clay Buchholz’s extra sweaty forearm, but suffice it to say it was one of the lamest attempts at cheating you’ll ever see.
I mean: Where was Derek Jeter’s veteran leadership? You can’t allow Pineda to take the mound when his neck is oozing in goop and gnats are sticking to it like they flew into a Venus flytrap.
If he had been in the minors, Pineda would have faced an automatic 10-game suspension after getting ejected when Red Sox manager John Farrell asked plate ump Gerry Davis to check him out. Rule 8.02(a) is clear on this:
The pitcher shall not –
(2) expectorate on the ball, either hand or his glove;
(3) rub the ball on his glove, person or clothing;
(4) apply a foreign substance of any kind to the ball;
(5) deface the ball in any manner; or
(6) deliver a ball altered in a manner prescribed by Rule 8.02(a)(2) through (5) or what is called the "shine" ball, "spit" ball, "mud" ball or "emery" ball. The pitcher is allowed to rub the ball between his bare hands.
PENALTY: For violation of any part of Rules 8.02(a)(2) through (6)
(a) the pitcher shall be ejected immediately from the game and shall be suspended automatically. In National Association Leagues, the automatic suspension shall be for 10 games.
While the rule is clear, the length of the suspension for a major league offense, or determining Pineda's intentions, are not so easy to delineate.
This isn’t Perry, about whom Indians president Gabe Paul once said, "Gaylord is a very honorable man. He only calls for the spitter when he needs it." This isn’t Ford, who confessed that in the 1963 World Series, "I used enough mud to build a dam." It’s not Don Sutton, who once left a note inside his glove that read -- in case the umpires dared to check it that day -- "You're getting warm, but it's not here."
No, by all accounts, Pineda wasn’t doing anything most major league pitchers haven’t done at one time or another: Use a foreign substance -- pine tar and spray-on sunscreen are popular choices -- to get a better grip on the ball. Pineda was just a little too obvious about it, as he was a couple of starts ago when pine tar was clearly visible on the palm of his hand.
As former Diamondbacks and Angels pitcher Barry Enright (now in Triple-A for the Phillies) explained in an exchange I had with him on Twitter, resin isn’t always helpful in gripping the baseball on a cold night (or a windy one like Wednesday in Boston). "Some baseballs feel like they've been tossed in baby powder to start the game," he wrote. "Balls in cold weather or places like Arizona are like throwing a cue ball. Especially hard when you can't get a good sweat going in cold weather. Sweat at least helps with getting the dust off the ball."
His point is that using something like pine tar isn’t done to manipulate the movement of the ball, as with a spitter or when scuffing the ball. "Not condoning the use of illegal substances. Just saying something like tar/sunblock aren't used the same way as tack or Vaseline," he said.
Aaron Boone and Rick Sutclifffe, working the ESPN telecast of the game, didn’t seem to have much of an issue with a pitcher using pine tar either, other than pointing out you can’t be so obvious about it. Enright agreed, writing, "I've talked to a lot of hitters and most don't have an issue as long as it's not affecting the 'flight' of the ball." Boone, a former hitter, echoed that assessment.
The trouble, of course, is even if all the players generally accept substances such as pine tar and sunscreen as part of the unwritten rules of baseball, how should you legislate their usage? Right now, those are foreign substances and, by rule, illegal. The Red Sox were certainly within their right to request a check on Pineda.
Are there levels of cheating? Steroids are evil bad stuff but pine tar is OK? But what about Whitey Ford’s mud or Don Sutton’s sandpaper? What if some pitchers can throw a better slider by applying a little extra pine tar on the right spot on the ball?
It’s certainly a slippery slope and as baseball wrestles with some of the issues involving instant replay and the new transfer rule, it has another can of worms (or cans of spray-on sunscreen) to deal with. If you're all about enforcing the rules -- whether it's catching steroids users or defining a catch -- do you start enforcing the use of foreign substances by pitchers?
Enright's tweets have been edited for the sake of clarity.