The Michael Pineda pine tar thing last night will set tongues wagging on talk radio today. Which is fine, because it’s fun to talk about that kind of crap while we wait for the next day’s games. But as our tongues wag, let’s remember something here: just about every pitcher uses something to mess with baseballs and/or enhance their grip, and for the most part baseball is content to look the other way about it.
We were reminded of this last year when Clay Buchholz was (more or less) busted with the Bullfrog sunscreen on his arms. While pitching in a domed stadium. At night. No on one the Blue Jays complained about that — it was noted by broadcasters Dirk Hayhurst and Jack Morris — and in the aftermath we got reports that upwards of 90 percent of pitchers use something to enhance grip. Heck, Pineda wasn’t even the only pitcher using foreign substances yesterday. As Evan Drellich reports, Astros reliever Josh Zeid was seen putting sunscreen on his arms yesterday before entering the game. In a domed stadium. At night.
When asked about it on the record, pitchers — after some hilarious early denials that they had anything untoward on their hands or arms — will tell you that they do this to get extra grip on the ball and hitters will tell you that they are more or less OK with this if it prevents pitches from being inadvertently sent on a trajectory toward their heads. Off the record, of course, pitchers will note that if it helps them get some extra mustard on the ball, well hey, ain’t that a daisy? Off the record hitters will privately grouse about it too (and apparently Red Sox players were privately grousing about Pineda’s pine tar last night). But no one makes a stink out of it because the last thing a hitter wants is his own pitcher being similarly scrutinized.
So this is the dance. It’s a dance that wasn’t as necessary before HDTV, telephoto lenses and social media made these incidents visible and subject to discussion in real time, but it’s a dance that isn’t likely to change any time soon. With the exception of PEDs, baseball has always been able to deal with these gray and complicated ethical areas in which someone may be cheating but our guy is cheating too without getting too worked up about it.
Just keep that in mind if your local sports yakker decides today that Michael Pineda is a dirty rotten cheater and that baseball must do something about it.
UPDATE: Andy Martino of the Daily News spoke with Chris Capuano and some other players about it. And the message: yes, everyone does it. Just don’t be so obvious about it, ok?