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Michael Pineda’s Suspension Opens Question About Unwritten Rules of Pine Tar

Larry Fleisher says it’s time for the MLB to officially clarify the unwritten wink-wink rules around pine tar use by pitchers.

Michael Pineda
Michael Pineda

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

It has to be tough for Michael Pineda even if his actions brought this extra and often tabloid scrutiny to the forefront. It has to be tough when he is asked questions in a language he’s not entirely comfortable with about using pine tar so blatantly.

That came across in the three times that I’ve heard Pineda speak since getting ejected after two innings for getting caught with pine tar. I heard him first on the postgame show, again on an audio soundbite on WFAN, and for the third time in an exclusive interview on the Yankees pregame show.

The last two times came after MLB handed Pineda a 10-game suspension and when he spoke about it, he sounded contrite and regretful of the incident. Now the skeptic might say, Pineda’s sorry only because he was caught, but instead of jumping down his throat in the look-at-me shout loud world, let’s stick with him being contrite and regretful.

It should also be worth noting that Pineda did not decide to use the pine tar in a malicious fashion. While it might enhance his ability to throw, it also helps him get a better grip on the ball, especially in colder conditions, the same weather that the pine tar was first detected two weeks ago in Yankee Stadium.

“The first time they talked to me what was going to happen,” Pineda said to reporters. “I said, ‘OK.’ Last night I make a mistake because I don’t really feel the ball in the first inning. I was trying to be careful not to hit somebody on the other team. I used it because I want to make a good pitch in the game. The pine tar is pine tar. Pine tar does not make me throw more hard. It helps me to feel a better grip on the mound.”

The tabloids are ensuring that Pineda has the full experience with front pages that read “Tar-nished” and “Tar Wars”. Left unsaid is the bigger issue and the slippery slope of cheating.

Two weeks ago the Red Sox were asked about it at Yankee Stadium. In fact the discussion was so rampant that Shane Victorino, who didn’t even face Pineda, talked about it.

While baffled that he was being asked to talk about pine tar, Victorino’s comments should have made the focus not necessarily on Pineda or anyone else, but rather why is pine tar allowed in the first place.

“I’m not going to sit here and critique,” Victorino said. “The bottom line is last night was obvious. If you want to sit here and get an opinion from me, it was obvious that something was going on. I’m sure every pitcher does it for purposes of getting a better grip or whatever but last night was flat-out blatant.”

Basically it was an admittance and acceptance kind of like the everyone does it line you hear about many things good or bad.  The main talking point were that it’s acceptable, but just hide it very well.

Perhaps it’s time for MLB to unhide some of the rules pertaining to how and when pine tar or other substances can be used if at all. They’ve been walking the slippery slope of cheating with steroids and figuring out ways to find an appropriate punishment.

Yes, Pineda was foolish for being so blatant in using pine tar for the second time. Perhaps even more foolish is the unwritten understanding of a wink-wink, “I won’t tell if you don’t” that allows pitchers to get involved with these in the first place.

Maybe if we had a rule that gave us guidelines for acceptable use, we wouldn’t be talking extensively about pine tar and the focus would be on how well Pineda pitched in his first three starts as a Yankee following two years of injuries.

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