Skip to content

Michael Pineda and The Obviousness Factor

Apr 24, 2014, 2:42 PM EDT

michael pineda pine tar

There’s a fun element of parenting that I like to call “The Obviousness Factor.” It goes something like this: Sometimes you see your kid doing something kind of off but not exactly wrong. For instance, we will see a daughter quietly goofing around with the dog when she should be doing her homework or gently annoying her sister when she could be doing something constructive like cleaning up her room or writing a novel that will make us enough money to retire.

And, up to a point, that’s not really a big deal. You know: Kids will be kids.

But then there’s a point where it DOES become a big deal. And that’s the obviousness factor. This would be the time when the daughter is goofing around with the dog after being told repeatedly to do her homework or annoying her sister after we’ve already had the “OK, you two don’t talk to each other for the next 285 days” talk.

In theory, the first set of transgressions are precisely the same as the second set. But the second set of transgressions are absurdly obvious. And so, as a parent, they are treated differently. As a Dad, I’ll let the first one go pretty easily. I’ll put a stop to the second. That might be lousy and inconsistent parenting but, hey, we do the best we can.

All of which leads to Michael Pineda baseball rule: It’s OK to put pine tar on your hands when it’s cold out there but, for crying out loud, don’t make it SO BLEEPING OBVIOUS.

That, of course, is not the rule as written. Baseball Rule 8:02 states that a pitcher shall not apply a foreign substance of any kind to the ball. That’s where it ends. It is likely that the pine tar Pineda used was made here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. but I don’t think that’s what they mean by “foreign.” The rule is as plain and unambiguous as any rule in baseball — no foreign substance. Period. You can’t rub the ball on glove, person or clothing. You can’t deface the ball in any manner. You can’t spit on the ball or apply anything else. No foreign substance of any kind. Done.

MORE: Michael Pineda suspended 10 games for possessing foreign substance

Only … no … not really done. Because somewhere along the way players came to this general consensus that it really wouldn’t be too bad if pitchers put a little pine tar on their hands on cold days. Nobody I’ve talked to around the game seems entirely sure if pine tar actually alters the way a baseball moves. But it does seem to help the pitcher grip the baseball in cold weather. And while that’s an advantage for the pitcher, it’s also generally beneficial to the hitter. Nobody wants a pitcher up there with a blazing fastball and an unsteady grip on the ball. Nobody wants the ball slipping out of the hands of Michael Pineda.

It seems certain — based on photograph evidence and sheer logic — that Pineda had pine tar on his hands the first time he faced the Red Sox back on April 10. This became something of a Twitter cause. And the Red Sox, to a man, did not seem to care. The pitchers didn’t care because, hey, maybe they would like a little pine tar on cold night. The hitters didn’t care because, hey, it was cold, Pineda throws rockets, yeah, if he wants to subtly use a little pine tar so he can grip the ball better, hey, everyone on the Red Sox seemed pretty OK with that.

He pitched six strong innings, struck out seven, was pretty dominant, and the Red Sox were STILL OK with a little pine tar on the hand. People around baseball obviously see the stark rule as more of a guideline, kind of like a speed limit. You do 58 in 55 zone and nobody is going to complain too much — except that is the countless cars who want you to get over so they can pass you.

But Wednesday, against the Red Sox, Pineda went to the mound in a second inning with enough pine tar to cover all of George Brett’s bats on his neck. It was so blatant that Red Sox manager John Farrell just couldn’t ignore it. He didn’t. He pointed it out, the umpires threw Pineda out of the game, the Yankees talked about how embarrassed they were about it all, and so on.

Thing is, I have many, many complaints about the way baseball is run and umpired. But here I have to say, I think they handled these two cases exactly as they should. Is it inconsistent? Sure. Is it kind of illogical? Sure. Is it by the book? Absolutely not.

But, in a way, this comes back to my complaint about instant replay in sports. The older I get, the more I believe that games should not be officiated by the book. They should be officiated by the rules and a heaping handful of common sense. I tend to worry that we’re losing the common sense part.

My pal Calcaterra used the Pineda story to make the point that the inconsistency of the Pineda ruling — punishing him only when it’s obvious — is completely inconsistent with the way we have viewed, say, PED use. I think there’s a strong point in there (in how we might want to reconsider the Infamy to PED Users stance that has become all to prominent) but I also think he might have missed something.

The obviousness factor was (and remains) a HUGE part of the PED story. People only started caring about PED usage in baseball when muscle-bound men began hitting an absurd number of home runs. There is little doubt that some baseball players used steroids before, say, 1994. It didn’t just happen one night. Steroid use was prominent in the NFL and track and field and swimming and other sports in the 1970s and 1980s, and you cannot tell me that baseball players just sat out because of the love of the game, especially as the money in the game began to skyrocket. We’ll never know unless someone comes out and admits it, but baseball players were popping greenies like M&Ms, they were smoking pot and drinking to excess and doing any number of illegal drugs. And cheating in various ways whenever they could get away with it. You can’t tell me they drew some sort of line at steroids.

But, from what I can tell, people don’t really care if anyone used steroids in 1970s and 1980s baseball. Why? Nobody hit 70 home runs, that’s why. Nobody broke Hank Aaron’s record, that’s why. You didn’t have unknown players cracking 40 home runs like it was easier than the test sample questions, that’s why.

There is a lot of evidence to suggest the home run surge of the Bud Selig Power Hour was barely due to steroid use at all — that it was much more about juicier baseballs and shorter fences and shrunken strike zones and harder bats that have handles thinner than iPads. But there was an OBVIOUSNESS that was impossible to miss about those new burly baseball players with their bigger heads and thicker necks and cartoonish numbers. And so steroid abuse became a theme of the game in a way it never really did in football, where steroids are certainly used more.

It was that obviousness, I think, that tore away any reasonable conversation about whether or not steroids or HGH should have a place in the game as a way to keep players on the field or to help them recover from injury.

If pitchers started throwing nine inning, 18-strikeout shutouts game after game because they were using pine tar, if pine tar pitchers started throwing 10-mph faster than before, or going 30-2 with 0.50 ERAs and 450 strikeouts, yes, I think there would be a pretty big outcry about it. But for now, it seems that all pine tar does is help a pitcher grip a baseball when it’s cold outside. Maybe baseball will put in a rule allowing a moderate amount of pine tar when the weather falls below a certain temperature — sort of the way they let pitchers lick on their hands in colder weather. Maybe they won’t.

Either way, that’s how the game has been officiated for a a while now because pitchers, hitters and umpires all seem to agree that a little pine tar on the hand is not that big a deal. Now, a gob of pine tar on the neck? Yeah. That’s too obvious. That’s flaunting the rule. I can understand how that inconsistency would drive some people crazy. But as a parent, I follow the logic entirely.

Latest Posts
  1. Geovany Soto leaves Wild Card game with thumb injury

    Sep 30, 2014, 9:06 PM EDT

    Geovany Soto Athletics AP

    Derek Norris came off the bench to replace him.

  2. Matt Shoemaker throws another bullpen session, has “no doubt” he can pitch in ALDS

    Sep 30, 2014, 8:59 PM EDT

    matt shoemaker getty Getty Images

    Angels starter Matt Shoemaker hasn’t pitched in a game since September 15 due to a left oblique strain, but he is making steady progress behind the scenes and expects to be available for the ALDS.

  3. Braves hitting coach Greg Walker has resigned

    Sep 30, 2014, 8:04 PM EDT

    braves logo

    Braves hitting coach Greg Walker officially stepped down on Tuesday evening, as announced on the club’s Twitter feed.

  4. Travis Ishikawa will be Giants’ left fielder in Wild Card game

    Sep 30, 2014, 7:31 PM EDT

    ishikawa_travis AP

    Ishikawa is 31 years old and has started a grand total of three career games in the outfield.

  5. Clay Buchholz undergoes surgery on right knee

    Sep 30, 2014, 7:08 PM EDT

    clay buchholz getty Getty Images

    Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz underwent surgery Tuesday to correct a right meniscus injury that bothered him off and on throughout the 2014 season. He should have a fairly normal winter.

  6. Clayton Kershaw “likely” to pitch on short rest if needed

    Sep 30, 2014, 7:01 PM EDT

    Clayton Kershaw AP

    Kershaw and Greinke four times in five games?

  7. Cubs expect Javier Baez to be their Opening Day second baseman despite rookie struggles

    Sep 30, 2014, 6:20 PM EDT

    javier baez Getty Images

    Javier Baez hit just .169 with 95 strikeouts in 52 games as a 21-year-old rookie.

  8. Josh Hamilton declares himself ready for the ALDS

    Sep 30, 2014, 6:13 PM EDT

    josh hamilton getty Getty Images

    Josh Hamilton has played in just one game since September 4 due to shoulder, chest, and rib cage injuries, but the 33-year-old outfielder took batting practice, threw some long toss, and ran the bases on Tuesday afternoon and has declared himself ready for the ALDS, which begins on Thursday.

  9. The Cardinals have the Best Fans In Baseball

    Sep 30, 2014, 5:29 PM EDT

    old TV

    It’s all about how you define the term “best,” of course.

  10. Dee Gordon cleared to play for Dodgers after hip injury

    Sep 30, 2014, 4:46 PM EDT

    Dee Gordon AP

    Gordon led the NL in steals and triples this season.

  11. Manny Ramirez, Cubs assistant hitting coach?

    Sep 30, 2014, 4:16 PM EDT

    Manny Ramirez AP

    It’s not as crazy as it may seem.

  12. Marlins president says Giancarlo Stanton will be on the Marlins next year

    Sep 30, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT

    giancarlo stanton getty Getty Images

    Giancarlo Stanton is about to get expensive. But the Marlins are not inclined to deal him.

  13. Carlos Beltran had elbow surgery

    Sep 30, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT

    beltran getty Getty Images

    He should be good to go by spring training.

  14. Wild Card Game: A’s vs. Royals lineups

    Sep 30, 2014, 3:05 PM EDT

    Royals WIld Card Game AP

    Some surprises for Oakland. Zero surprises for Kansas City.

  15. Pouliot’s 2014 National League awards picks

    Sep 30, 2014, 2:30 PM EDT

    clayton kershaw getty Getty Images

    You know Kershaw is the Cy Young. Is he the MVP, too?

  16. Tigers center fielder Rajai Davis could miss ALDS with groin injury

    Sep 30, 2014, 2:14 PM EDT

    Rajai Davis AP AP

    Davis isn’t a big name, but he stepped in as the primary center fielder when the Tigers traded Austin Jackson to the Mariners in the three-team swap that netted them David Price from the Rays.

  17. Guy will give away primo Nats playoff tickets in exchange for a threesome

    Sep 30, 2014, 2:03 PM EDT

    MLB-Atlanta Braves @ Washington Nationals

    I’d say “act like you been there before,” but I’m guessing this guy has never, ever been there before.

  18. Odds have A’s and Royals as a coin-flip in the Wild Card playoff game

    Sep 30, 2014, 1:47 PM EDT

    gambling poster

    And the odds-makers expect a low-scoring game, too.

  19. The Yankees are going to give Brian Cashman a contract extension

    Sep 30, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT

    Brian Cashman Brian Cashman

    You cool with this, Yankees fans? Not sure I’d be cool with this.

  20. Tigers’ playoff rotation has Scherzer in Game 1 and Verlander, not Price, in Game 2

    Sep 30, 2014, 1:15 PM EDT

    ALCS - Detroit Tigers v Boston Red Sox - Game Two Getty Images

    Rick Porcello is in line to start Game 4, with Anibal Sanchez in the bullpen.

Featured video

Do Royals or A's have the edge tonight?
Top 10 MLB Player Searches
  1. D. Jeter (3538)
  2. C. Kershaw (2663)
  3. R. Martin (2524)
  4. A. Rodriguez (2215)
  5. J. Hamilton (2023)
  1. J. Altuve (1981)
  2. D. Gordon (1877)
  3. M. Trout (1849)
  4. D. Ortiz (1846)
  5. P. Hughes (1749)