Skip to content

Pineda and pine tar: baseball is, once again, sending mixed signals about cheating

Apr 24, 2014, 8:07 AM EDT

pineda hand

I get into a lot of baseball arguments which end up with people telling me how damn clear the rules and morals are and how I’m a jerk for not understanding that. How breaking the rules is cheating, cheating is wrong and cheaters are bad people. How defending the cheaters is an exercise in amoral or even immoral excuse-making. Rules are rules, and if I can’t understand that well, God help me.

Then Michael Pineda is caught twice using pine tar, and apparently nuance is the order of the day. “His crime wasn’t cheating, so much,” the consensus holds. “Everyone uses a little something to help them get a grip on the ball. His crime was being so obvious about it. It’d be just fine if he used pine tar in a manner that didn’t make a mockery of the situation.”

MORE: Yankees’ Pineda caught with pine tar, faces suspension

Imagine if we applied that standard to other forms of cheating. Most players who use PEDs claim with a straight face that they do so for totally legitimate reasons, separate and apart from gaining an advantage on the competition. Now, picture a guy getting busted for HGH and being met with the same sort of response the Pineda thing is getting: “Hey, a lot of guys use this stuff because they just wanna get off the disabled list more quickly, and if you do it we’re not going to care all that much. But you can’t go getting caught by George Mitchell, dummy. Jeez, what an idiot.”

I don’t feel like that dynamic would fly too well. So forgive me if I don’t think the conventional wisdom forming around the pine tar issue this morning is all that great.

Specifically, I don’t understand why, after a decade’s worth of hand-wringing over the moral depravity of rule-breakers, people are accepting of a situation where breaking the rules is totally fine as long as no one is being obvious about it and no one is doing things to cause it to make big, controversial news. This was baseball’s original m.o. regarding PEDs, after all. Steroid use was widely known and acknowledged as something that was happening and something that was wrong, but it only became a big issue once Jose Canseco and Ken Caminiti decided to start talking about it in 2002. That approach has been soundly rejected as shameful and willful blindness on baseball’s part, and everything that has happened with PEDs since then has been a reaction to it or correction of it.

VIDEO: Farrell on Pineda | Yankees embarrassed

Yet, here we are again. When it comes to pine tar or other foreign substances used by pitchers, baseball seems content to look the other way until someone as indiscreet as Pineda literally forces them to acknowledge it. And fans and commentators, it seems, are content to go along with that. To mock and punish the guys who openly flaunt the rules, while not thinking too terribly hard about the rules or their inconsistent application in the first place.

How nice it would be if, this time, baseball actually looked at the issue at hand in a mature and non-reactionary way and determined whether, if rules are being broken, why they are being broken and whether the rule in question should actually exist in the first place.  To ask if what everyone says is true and pitchers legitimately need pine tar or sunscreen to get a grip on the ball. To determine if doing so is not objectionable, whether maybe it’s a good idea to legalize pine tar or sunscreen or whatever is being used. To put a big tub of it on the mound for the pitchers to use. Or at the very least to examine pitcher grip in an intelligent way and decide which substances are OK and which substances aren’t. People claim this is a matter of batter safety. If so, let’s make baseball put its money where its mouth is rather than just stigmatize people and go after the low-hanging fruit like Michael Pineda or any of the guys named in the Mitchell Report.

If, however, that angle is oversold and, in reality, pitchers use this stuff to get an advantage over hitters — and if people’s usual willingness to look the other way on this is a function of not wanting their cheating pitchers to lose their advantage — let’s not pretend that how obvious someone is about their cheating is the real issue here and actually start enforcing a clear rule which has been on the books for far longer any rules about PEDs have been.

I don’t expect either of those things to happen, of course. Rather, I expect that people will be content to laugh at Michael Pineda and criticize him for being obvious. For lecturing anyone who questions those who would mock Pineda about the unwritten rules of cheating in baseball and how, if they don’t get that, they obviously haven’t played the game before and don’t understand baseball’s rich and colorful history.

Then, the next time someone recovering from a torn ligament get busted for taking HGH, I expect us to be back in the land of heroes and villains, moral certainty and the deficient character of those who would cheat. Because the only consistent thing there is when it comes to baseball and cheating is its considerable inconsistency.

Latest Posts
  1. Royals could lose Eric Hosmer for month with stress fracture

    Jul 31, 2014, 11:24 PM EDT

    Eric Hosmer Eric Hosmer

    Royals robbed of their hottest hitter after quiet deadline day Thursday.

  2. Cliff Lee placed on DL with recurrence of flexor pronator strain

    Jul 31, 2014, 11:19 PM EDT

    Cliff Lee AP AP

    Cliff Lee has aggravated the flexor pronator strain that has already cost him two months. It’s safe to say that his season is over.

  3. C.J. Wilson expected to return from disabled list Saturday

    Jul 31, 2014, 10:31 PM EDT

    Cliff Lee AP AP

    C.J. Wilson landed on the disabled list earlier this month due to an ankle sprain, but he’s due to rejoin the Angels’ rotation on Saturday.

  4. Winners and losers at the trade deadline

    Jul 31, 2014, 10:12 PM EDT

    A.J. Burnett, Ruben Amaro Jr., Ryne Sandberg A.J. Burnett, Ruben Amaro Jr., Ryne Sandberg

    Keeping score in the aftermath of Thursday’s deadline deals.

  5. Dave Dombrowski sent some fun smack talk to Billy Beane after the David Price deal

    Jul 31, 2014, 9:50 PM EDT

    f674aba0893b522acb1e0a3177608bc1 AP

    The arms race between the Athletics and Tigers is just too much fun.

  6. Tyler Skaggs leaves after 4 2/3 hitless innings due to left forearm tightness

    Jul 31, 2014, 8:59 PM EDT

    Tyler Skaggs Getty Getty Images

    Angels left-hander Tyler Skaggs was working on a no-hitter against the Orioles this evening before he left his start with forearm tightness.

  7. Athletics will go ahead with Yoenis Cespedes t-shirt night even after trade to Red Sox

    Jul 31, 2014, 7:45 PM EDT

    b42a3c37d8e650e611bed40b8ce53060 Getty Images

    Yoenis Cespedes t-shirt night is a little awkward now that he’s with the Red Sox, but the Athletics are going ahead with the giveaway anyway.

  8. Tampa Bay news station tweets classless Detroit joke following David Price trade

    Jul 31, 2014, 6:58 PM EDT

    detroit price tweet

    For some reason, FOX 13 in Tampa Bay thought it was a good idea to make a classless joke about Detroit to console Rays fans following the David Price trade.

  9. No ligament damage in Matt Cain’s elbow, but he’s dealing with “loose bodies”

    Jul 31, 2014, 6:16 PM EDT

    matt cain giants getty Getty Images

    Matt Cain’s ulnar collateral ligament has checked out fine, but he’s dealing with “loose bodies” in his throwing elbow and it’s unclear when he’ll pitch again.

  10. Diamondbacks call up former elite prospect Andy Marte

    Jul 31, 2014, 5:28 PM EDT

    andy-marte-indians-broken-bat Getty Images

    Once upon a time Andy Marte was one of the best prospects in baseball. He cracked Baseball America’s top 15 list in 2004, 2005, and 2006.

  11. Cubs trade James Russell and Emilio Bonifacio to the Braves for a catching prospect.

    Jul 31, 2014, 4:52 PM EDT

    Russell_James

    The Braves get their lefty and a venerable super sub. The Cubs get an interesting catching prospect.

  12. Yankees designate Brian Roberts for assignment

    Jul 31, 2014, 4:46 PM EDT

    Brian Roberts Getty Images

    Shortly after acquiring Stephen Drew and Martin Prado in separate trades this afternoon the Yankees announced that starting second baseman Brian Roberts has been designated for assignment.

  13. Jared Cosart traded from Houston to Miami

    Jul 31, 2014, 4:30 PM EDT

    Cosart AP AP

    Some pitching heading Miami’s way.

  14. Kurt Suzuki stays in Minnesota, signs extension with Twins

    Jul 31, 2014, 4:20 PM EDT

    Kurt Suzuki Twins AP

    All month the assumption has been that the Twins would either sign Kurt Suzuki to a contract extension or trade the 30-year-old impending free agent in the middle of his career-year.

  15. The Yankees acquire Martin Prado from the Diamondbacks

    Jul 31, 2014, 4:16 PM EDT

    Martin Prado AP

    A super sub at heart who can and will be used at multiple positions by the Yankees.

  16. 2014 Trade Deadline Tracker

    Jul 31, 2014, 4:15 PM EDT

    David Price David Price

    Recapping all of Thursday’s dealings in one spot.

  17. Cats and dogs, working together: Red Sox trade Stephen Drew to Yankees for Kelly Johnson

    Jul 31, 2014, 3:59 PM EDT

    Stephen Drew Getty Images

    How committed are the Red Sox to blowing up the roster? They just made a trade with the Yankees–the Yankees–sending shortstop Stephen Drew to New York just 39 games after re-signing him to a $10 million deal.

  18. ACES GALORE: The Rays trade David Price to the Tigers

    Jul 31, 2014, 3:55 PM EDT

    David Price David Price

    With Price in town, a guy who one the AL MVP and Cy Young Award a couple of years ago is now the TIgers fourth starter.

  19. Indians trade Asdrubal Cabrera to Nationals

    Jul 31, 2014, 3:40 PM EDT

    Asdrubal Cabrera Getty Images

    In search of infield help with Ryan Zimmerman on the disabled list again, the Nationals have acquired switch-hitting shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera from the Indians in exchange for minor leaguer Zach Walters.

Featured video

The Jon Lester-Yoenis Cespedes trade is a win-win
Top 10 MLB Player Searches