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Pineda and pine tar: baseball is, once again, sending mixed signals about cheating

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I get into a lot of baseball arguments which end up with people telling me how damn clear the rules and morals are and how I’m a jerk for not understanding that. How breaking the rules is cheating, cheating is wrong and cheaters are bad people. How defending the cheaters is an exercise in amoral or even immoral excuse-making. Rules are rules, and if I can’t understand that well, God help me.

Then Michael Pineda is caught twice using pine tar, and apparently nuance is the order of the day. “His crime wasn’t cheating, so much,” the consensus holds. “Everyone uses a little something to help them get a grip on the ball. His crime was being so obvious about it. It’d be just fine if he used pine tar in a manner that didn’t make a mockery of the situation.”

MORE: Yankees’ Pineda caught with pine tar, faces suspension

Imagine if we applied that standard to other forms of cheating. Most players who use PEDs claim with a straight face that they do so for totally legitimate reasons, separate and apart from gaining an advantage on the competition. Now, picture a guy getting busted for HGH and being met with the same sort of response the Pineda thing is getting: “Hey, a lot of guys use this stuff because they just wanna get off the disabled list more quickly, and if you do it we’re not going to care all that much. But you can’t go getting caught by George Mitchell, dummy. Jeez, what an idiot.”

I don’t feel like that dynamic would fly too well. So forgive me if I don’t think the conventional wisdom forming around the pine tar issue this morning is all that great.

Specifically, I don’t understand why, after a decade’s worth of hand-wringing over the moral depravity of rule-breakers, people are accepting of a situation where breaking the rules is totally fine as long as no one is being obvious about it and no one is doing things to cause it to make big, controversial news. This was baseball’s original m.o. regarding PEDs, after all. Steroid use was widely known and acknowledged as something that was happening and something that was wrong, but it only became a big issue once Jose Canseco and Ken Caminiti decided to start talking about it in 2002. That approach has been soundly rejected as shameful and willful blindness on baseball’s part, and everything that has happened with PEDs since then has been a reaction to it or correction of it.

VIDEO: Farrell on Pineda | Yankees embarrassed

Yet, here we are again. When it comes to pine tar or other foreign substances used by pitchers, baseball seems content to look the other way until someone as indiscreet as Pineda literally forces them to acknowledge it. And fans and commentators, it seems, are content to go along with that. To mock and punish the guys who openly flaunt the rules, while not thinking too terribly hard about the rules or their inconsistent application in the first place.

How nice it would be if, this time, baseball actually looked at the issue at hand in a mature and non-reactionary way and determined whether, if rules are being broken, why they are being broken and whether the rule in question should actually exist in the first place.  To ask if what everyone says is true and pitchers legitimately need pine tar or sunscreen to get a grip on the ball. To determine if doing so is not objectionable, whether maybe it’s a good idea to legalize pine tar or sunscreen or whatever is being used. To put a big tub of it on the mound for the pitchers to use. Or at the very least to examine pitcher grip in an intelligent way and decide which substances are OK and which substances aren’t. People claim this is a matter of batter safety. If so, let’s make baseball put its money where its mouth is rather than just stigmatize people and go after the low-hanging fruit like Michael Pineda or any of the guys named in the Mitchell Report.

If, however, that angle is oversold and, in reality, pitchers use this stuff to get an advantage over hitters — and if people’s usual willingness to look the other way on this is a function of not wanting their cheating pitchers to lose their advantage — let’s not pretend that how obvious someone is about their cheating is the real issue here and actually start enforcing a clear rule which has been on the books for far longer any rules about PEDs have been.

I don’t expect either of those things to happen, of course. Rather, I expect that people will be content to laugh at Michael Pineda and criticize him for being obvious. For lecturing anyone who questions those who would mock Pineda about the unwritten rules of cheating in baseball and how, if they don’t get that, they obviously haven’t played the game before and don’t understand baseball’s rich and colorful history.

Then, the next time someone recovering from a torn ligament get busted for taking HGH, I expect us to be back in the land of heroes and villains, moral certainty and the deficient character of those who would cheat. Because the only consistent thing there is when it comes to baseball and cheating is its considerable inconsistency.

Marlins sign Martin Prado to a three-year extension

ATLANTA, GA - AUGUST 06:  Martin Prado #14 of the Miami Marlins hits a sacrifice fly in the third inning during the game against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on August 6, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)
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The Miami Herald reports that the Marlins and Martin Prado have agreed to a three-year, $40 million contracy extension.

Prado has been highly effective for Miami, hitting .297/.350/.405 over two seasons The Marlins were eager to keep him and many teams were no doubt interested in trying to sign him this winter as he stood pretty darn tall on a pretty weak free agent market. He may very well have done better than the $40 million he’s getting, but a qualifying offer could’ve made the free agency process a bit more drawn out one than he would’ve preferred. And, of course, he seems very happy in Miami, as evidenced by his increasing role as a team leader with the Marlins.

For his career Prado has hit .293/.342/.423 over 11 seasons. He’ll now be locked up through his age-35 campaign.

The Cardinals were jeered at home last night

ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 26: Reliever Michael Wacha #52 of the St. Louis Cardinals is removed from the game against the Cincinnati Reds in the fourth inning at Busch Stadium on September 26, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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The Cardinals got shellacked 15-2 by the Reds, one of baseball’s worst teams, last night. In so doing they fell a half game behind the Giants for the second Wild Card.

Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post Dispatch wrote about last night’s game. What struck him was the reaction from the crowd at Busch Stadium:

And the fans, in a rare moment of pique, let the Cardinals hear about it, first booing and then erupting in a Bronx cheer when the final out of a seven-run fourth was recorded. They booed a little more later on and then many of them beat the traffic, with some of them at least leaving with a Grateful Dead T-shirt, a special theme night promotion . . . The paid crowd to witness the carnage was 34,942, snapping a string of 240 straight crowds here of over 40,000, dating to Sept. 24, 2013. Matheny said he noticed the reaction of the crowd and appeared to find little fault with it.

It’s been such a weird season for the Cardinals. Maybe the weirdest part of all has been how terrible they’ve been at home, with a record of 33-42. They have six more games at home, and they no longer control their own playoff destiny.

Is this booing and leaving a one-time thing, or will we see a lot more of it between now and Sunday?