Michael Pineda put himself and the Yankees in a sticky situation when he took the mound in the second inning of last night’s game wearing a very noticeable swath of pine tar on his neck. The glistening goop was so noticeable, the big right hander would have been better off stealing the pine tar rag from the on-deck circle and tying it around his forehead like a bandana. After all, every good comedy thrives on absurdity.
Michael Pineda’s crime wasn’t that he cheated. He just didn’t do it very well. If only Pineda had studied the video tape of Clay Buchholz, he might have been able to get away with the deception. At the very least, he probably would have satisfied Red Sox’ manager John Farrell, who, in postgame comments, stated that the Yankees’ righty compelled him to blow the whistle by so blatantly doing what otherwise is universally accepted, including within his own clubhouse. Because at least a couple of his pitchers are notorious users of foreign substances, the last thing Farrell wanted to do was squeal. However, if Pineda had shut down his team once again, the Red Sox manager would have had a hard time explaining his inaction to the media, the team’s fan base and, most importantly, his bosses. In a sense, Pineda’s sticky situation put Farrell in one as well.
Everyone interviewed after the game pretty much offered the same commentary as Farrell. Pineda’s use of pine tar would have been acceptable if only he hadn’t flaunted it in the face of the opposition. Who knew conventional wisdom could be so stupid? And yet, that’s how everyone in the game seems to think. Apparently, in baseball, the means justifies the end.
Michael Pineda broke a rule. He did so blatantly…and for the second time in two weeks against the same team. For such brazenness, he deserved to be ejected. However, neither he nor the Yankees need to apologize. If anything, major league baseball is the one that should be offering a mea culpa. By ignoring the portion of rule 8.02 that prohibits pitchers from using a foreign substance, baseball’s lax enforcement has created a culture within the game that tacitly accepts and promotes a clear violation of the rules.
Bud Selig has two choices. The first option is to implement a zero tolerance policy for violations of rule 8.02, in which case ejections and suspensions would likely become epidemic, creating an even more embarrassing situation than the one Pineda finds himself in this morning. That isn’t the Pandora’s Box Farrell or anyone else in the game wants opened, so the second option is probably more realistic. Just like hitters have a pine-tar rag, pitchers should also be given an approved substance to apply to their hands at pre-determined times. It’s a simple choice and there shouldn’t be any further delay in making it.
While baseball mulls over a possible rule change, there’s still the issue of a pending suspension for Pineda. Although the rule suggest a 10-game ban, the length is left up to MLB’s discretion. In 1983, American League president Lee MacPhail ruled that although George Brett’s use of excessive pine tar was prohibited, his actions did not violate the spirit of the rule. Hopefully, when Joe Torre reviews Pineda’s actions, he will come to the same conclusion. Otherwise, the message will be loud and clear: “Baseball is OK with cheating…just try not to get caught”.