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. Sarah Palin sticks up for Curt Schilling, tells ESPN to “stick to sports”

    Aug 28, 2015, 9:18 AM EDT

    Curt Schilling AP

    Oh, and if you didn’t know: ESPN is a tool of ISIS.

  2. And That Happened: Thursday’s scores and highlights

    Aug 28, 2015, 8:02 AM EDT

    Zack Greinke Getty Images

    Zack Greinke is doing things guys have not done since the Dead Ball era. And I do not mean making scary faces like that.

  3. Michael Taylor leaves game after crashing into outfield fence

    Aug 27, 2015, 10:00 PM EDT

    WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 24: Michael Taylor #3 of the Washington Nationals looks on before a baseball game against the Atlanta Braves at Nationals Park on June 24, 2015 in Washington, DC. The Nationals won 2-1 in the 11th inning. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images) Getty Images

    After losing Yunel Escobar on a hit-by-pitch, Michael Taylor left tonight’s game against the Padres when he crashed into the outfield fence.

  4. Yunel Escobar exits game after being hit in the hand by a pitch

    Aug 27, 2015, 9:27 PM EDT

    WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 03:  Yunel Escobar #5 of the Washington Nationals reacts after striking out to end the fifth inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Nationals Park on August 3, 2015 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images) Getty Images

    So, that thing about the Nationals’ projected Opening Day lineup finally being in place?

  5. Miguel Sano robbed of home run by catwalk at Tropicana Field

    Aug 27, 2015, 9:01 PM EDT

    Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, left, and teammate Logan Forsythe look up to see the ring of the dome at Tropicana Field that Minnesota Twins' Miguel Sano, right, hit with his RBI ground-rule double during the third inning of a baseball game Thursday, Aug. 27, 2015, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson) AP

    Twins rookie slugger Miguel Sano hit another mammoth blast tonight against the Rays. The only problem is that the catwalk at Tropicana Field got in the way.

  6. Adam Jones leaves game after colliding with outfield fence; hopes to be in lineup Friday

    Aug 27, 2015, 8:05 PM EDT

    Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones (10) chases a fly ball hit by Kansas City Royals' Ben Zobrist during the first inning a baseball game at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., Thursday, Aug. 27, 2015. Jones was injured on the play but stayed in the game and Zobrist doubled. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner) AP

    Jones was forced to exit Thursday’s game after colliding with the center field fence.

  7. Cubs acquire Fernando Rodney from the Mariners

    Aug 27, 2015, 7:13 PM EDT

    Fernando Rodney Getty Images

    After being designated for assignment by the Mariners over the weekend, Rodney will be reunited with Joe Maddon in Chicago.

  8. Video: Madison Bumgarner makes a nifty play at first base

    Aug 27, 2015, 7:05 PM EDT

    SAN FRANCISCO, CA - AUGUST 16:  Madison Bumgarner #40 of the San Francisco Giants is high-fived by teammates as he walks back into the dugout before their game against the Washington Nationals at AT&T Park on August 16, 2015 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Bumgarner also had a heck of a day on the mound.

  9. Report: Barry Bonds loses collusion case against MLB

    Aug 27, 2015, 6:25 PM EDT

    SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JULY 10:  Former Major League Baseball player Barry Bonds talks to Brandon Belt #9 of the San Francisco Giants during batting practice before the game against the Philadelphia Phillies at AT&T Park on July 10, 2015 in San Francisco, California.  The San Francisco Giants defeated the Philadelphia Phillies 15-2. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Bonds filed a grievance on the grounds that he was blackballed from the game following the 2007 season.

  10. Video: Enrique Hernandez nearly swings out of his shoes against Aroldis Chapman

    Aug 27, 2015, 6:04 PM EDT

    CINCINNATI, OH - AUGUST 26: Enrique Hernandez #14 of the Los Angeles Dodgers singles to right to drive in a run in the second inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on August 26, 2015 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Dodgers utility man Enrique Hernandez did his best to catch up to the heat from Reds closer Aroldis Chapman this afternoon.

  11. Jose Fernandez could return to Marlins within two weeks after “wow” bullpen session

    Aug 27, 2015, 5:34 PM EDT

    Jose Fernandez AP

    Fernandez missed much of the season recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery.

  12. Jessica Mendoza to sit in for Curt Schilling on Sunday Night Baseball this week

    Aug 27, 2015, 4:22 PM EDT

    Jessica Mendoza Getty Images

    Its not often we have reason to cheer the decisions ESPN makes but today we do.

  13. Must-click link: the actual twins who own the Twins.com domain

    Aug 27, 2015, 3:13 PM EDT

    Screen Shot 2015-08-27 at 3.11.55 PM

    This is a great slice of weird, totally suitable for killing time on a slow afternoon. Bonus: Bon Jovi is tangentially involved.

  14. Alberto Callaspo released by the Dodgers

    Aug 27, 2015, 2:16 PM EDT

    Alberto Callaspo Dodgers Getty Images

    Los Angeles acquired Callaspo from Atlanta in a late-May trade.

  15. Red Sox looking to trade outfielder Alejandro De Aza

    Aug 27, 2015, 1:34 PM EDT

    Alejandro De Aza AP AP

    Last week’s rumored trade with the Dodgers apparently fell through.

Top 10 MLB Player Searches
  1. D. Wright (2978)
  2. J. Fernandez (2395)
  3. Y. Cespedes (2342)
  4. G. Stanton (2223)
  5. D. Span (2035)
  1. Y. Puig (1967)
  2. M. Teixeira (1934)
  3. F. Rodney (1906)
  4. G. Springer (1893)
  5. H. Olivera (1875)