Yankees' pitcher Michael Pineda broke a rule Thursday that clearly states you cannot rub a foreign substance on a baseball, but no one in Major League Baseball, or in Boston's dugout, seemed to care.
By Michael Parente
In the classic film Blue Chips, Nick Nolte’s character, fictional college basketball coach Pete Bell, tells his team, “Boys, the rules don’t make sense, but I believe in the rules.”
Then he goes on to explain how and why he broke them anyway, which is somewhat of a microcosm of professional sports in the 21st century.
We now live in a world where the phrase, “Rules are meant to be broken,” is taken at face value, not with the grain of salt with which it’s meant to be taken, and most of us firmly believe, “If you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t trying,” so we cheat at all costs to gain the upper hand.
What’s worse, we’ve learned to justify our callous disregard for the rules and regulations by comparing our indefensible behavior to that of other cheaters and frauds. Everyone else is doing it, so why not me? If that doesn’t work, we just throw our hands in the air and go with the timeless, “What difference does it make?” defense, as if breaking said rule doesn’t really help much anyway.
In the case of Yankees’ pitcher Michael Pineda, who was caught brown-handed Thursday night with a foreign substance believed to be pine tar in the palm of his pitching hand, both teammates and rivals have come rushing to his defense under the pretense that doctoring a baseball isn’t that much of a big deal to begin with, not to mention the fact everyone else does it.
Be that as it may, it’s a big deal to somebody, specifically whoever came up with Rule 8.02, which clearly states a pitcher may not “apply a foreign substance of any kind to the baseball.” Rule 8.02 (b) further explains the rule: “A pitcher may not have on his person, or in his possession, any foreign substance. For such infraction of this section (b) the penalty shall be immediate ejection from the game. In addition, the pitcher shall be suspended automatically.”
It’s worth noting Pineda twirled six innings of four-hit ball Thursday in New York’s 4-1 win over Boston, his second strong outing to start to the season, and it’s also worth noting there's new video evidence (courtesy of the screen-shot warriors trolling social media all afternoon) showing Pineda with a similar murky, brown substance in his palm back when he stymied the Blue Jays last week in his regular-season debut.
Pineda was never ejected Thursday because it took four innings for someone in the Boston dugout to notice what was going on, and by the time manager John Farrell decided to make a fuss, Pineda had already both literally and figuratively wiped his hands clean of this mess.
Either way, Farrell and his players seemed indifferent about it afterward, maybe because two of their pitchers, Jon Lester and Clay Buccholz (Thursday's starter opposite Pineda), have been accused of doing the same thing. David Ortiz, who failed a drug test in 2003, said, “Everybody uses pine tar. It’s no big deal.” Some even suggest pine tar only aids in a pitcher’s grip on the baseball on a cold night (it was 54 degrees Thursday), not in the way the ball dives and darts in and out of the strike zone.
The excuses laid out for Pineda sound a lot like the excuses everyone made six years ago for Patriots’ coach Bill Belichick when his team was illegally caught videotaping opposing teams’ signals from a specific location on the sideline, a clear violation of the rule. The football world was up in arms, but many came to New England’s defense, suggesting every other coach in the league has done the same thing at one point or another, or that having such signals on tape doesn’t really do much to help them in the first place.
A cynic might ask, “Why even do it if it doesn’t make a difference?” but the league doesn’t seem to care much about the usage of pine tar. MLB officials have already decided Pineda won’t be suspended, but they’ll talk to the Yankees about the incident, which is the equivalent of making them go to their room without supper.
There’s a small loophole in the aforementioned rule regarding foreign substances that suggests the umpire can use his judgment to decide whether or not the pitcher is trying to alter the ball. In other words, if someone on Thursday’s umpiring crew had noticed the gunk on Pineda’s hand before he wiped it off, they could’ve huddled and decided what to do. If they didn’t think he was trying to throw one of those Bugs Bunny changeups from the old Looney Tunes cartoons, they could’ve issued a warning or let it be. Unfortunately, we’ll never know what they would’ve done Thursday since the goop magically disappeared before anyone in the Boston dugout caught on.
If it’s not a big deal and neither the players, umpires or officials have a problem with pitchers doctoring baseballs, then just omit the rule entirely to avoid any confusion. Why keep an outdated rule on the ledger that will only raise eyebrows in newspaper columns and on talk radio shows the following morning, giving the sport a black eye it doesn’t need?
This is why the competition committee meets annually in football. They decide what does and doesn’t need to be regulated, they vote on it, and they get on with their lives. Except when it comes to steroids – the only form of cheating apparently not accepted unilaterally – baseball treats its rule book like the United States Constitution, as if any minor interpretation is sacrilegious.
Either rules are meant to be broken, or they’re not meant to be rules in the first place, but you can’t have it both ways, and those who break the rules can’t be given a free pass just because they don’t think your rule is worth following. If baseball – or any other sport – has no intention of enforcing a particular rule, then it needs to yank it out of the book and remove all doubt, otherwise we’re dealing with total anarchy. That’s fact, not fiction.
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