Making Sense Of Michael Pineda's Suspension And MLB's Unofficial Official Pine Tar Rules

By James O'Hare
Michael Pineda, New York Yankees
Getty Images

Official Rule  8.02 in the MLB rulebook states: “The pitcher shall not apply a foreign substance of any kind to the ball.”

New York Yankees’ pitcher Michael Pineda has been suspended 10 games for using pine tar in his last start against the Boston Red Sox (he’s a starting pitcher so really it’s a two game suspension). It was the second time that cameras have caught the right-hander using the substance.

The situation seems like it’s a black and white issue: there’s a rule banning all foreign substances, Pineda used a foreign substance, so he got ejected and suspended. Simple, right? Not quite.

Though there is an official rule prohibiting the use of any foreign substance, there is an unwritten rule among teams concerning an acceptable level of breaking it. Essentially, it’s a policy of “I won’t tell on you if you don’t tell on me.” No one cares if an opposing team’s pitcher is using something to get a better grip because their pitcher is likely doing the same thing.

It’s not a big deal as long as it’s used discreetly ie., don’t put a glob of pine tar on the ball, your arm or, in Pineda’s case, your neck that the entire stadium can see when you start your delivery.

It’s similar to the unwritten rule concerning stealing signs. Though it’s technically cheating, it’s part of the game. Everyone does it so it’s okay, but if you’re a runner on second base, don’t shout out what pitch is coming to the batter. It’s bush league to be that blatant. What Pineda did was the equivalent of shouting.

ESPN’s Doug Glanville provided another analogy: using pine tar is like speeding in a car. Everyone goes a little over the limit but Pineda was doing 120 mph through a school zone.

There are those who call Pineda a cheater and who believe that using pine tar or any substance to improve grip on the ball is comparable to using PEDs. Don’t be ridiculous. You know who else uses pine tar? Hitters. They use it abundantly, along with increasingly high-tech batting gloves to gain a better grip on the bat.

They also use elbow guards, wrist guards and shin guards so they can crowd the inside corner without fear of being hit. Meanwhile, the pitcher gets nothing more than a rosin bag.

With all of these tools legally at the hitters’ disposal, it’s reasonable for pitchers to use a substance that helps them grip the ball, especially in cold weather. They need to be able to throw inside and hitters don’t want the ball to end up in their ear.

That being said, there’s definitely a difference between using a substance simply to grip the ball and using a substance to doctor its flight. When a pitcher has as much pine tar on him as Pineda did, he’s crossing that line.

The game Pineda was caught and ejected is the perfect example of what’s acceptable and what’s not under this rule. John Lackey started for the Red Sox that night and he, too, was using something to help his grip. Whenever he took a ball from the umpire, he rubbed it up like all pitchers do – but not before removing his glove and carefully rubbing his left wrist first.

Lackey had something somewhere out of sight and used it sparingly and cautiously. Perfectly acceptable. Pineda had a gigantic smear of pine tar on his neck. Not okay. The Yankees’ starter is downright stupid for believing he could get away with using the substance twice against the same team, especially considering the latter incident was much more blatant. Joe Girardi and Larry Rothschild are just as much to blame.

The use of pine tar by pitchers is not as simple as official rule 8.02 but the unwritten rules among players concerning its use are actually quite clear. Basically, no one will say anything if you use it, but don’t be stupid.

James O’Hare is a writer for Follow him on Twitter @JimboOHare, like him on Facebook and add him to your network on Google.

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