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. Mets acquire lefty reliever Eric O’Flaherty from A’s

    Aug 4, 2015, 11:02 PM EDT

    Texas Rangers v Oakland Athletics Getty Images

    O’Flaherty owns an ugly-looking 5.91 ERA in 25 appearances this season, but the 30-year-old has held left-handed batters to a .186/.286/.209 batting line in 2015 and a .201/.266/.263 line for his career.

  2. Richie Shaffer’s first major league hit was a home run

    Aug 4, 2015, 10:50 PM EDT

    Richie Shaffer AP

    Shaffer, a first-round pick in 2012 out of Clemson University, was sporting an impressive .954 OPS and 16 home runs through 55 games this season at Triple-A Durham.

  3. Video: Billy Hamilton sprints, soars for tremendous grab

    Aug 4, 2015, 10:21 PM EDT

    Billy Hamilton AP

    Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton robbed Jason Heyward of extra bases on Tuesday night in Cincy …

  4. Dodgers first-rounder Walker Buehler requires Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery

    Aug 4, 2015, 9:13 PM EDT

    dodgers logo

    Walker was selected 24th overall back in June and later agreed to a $1.78 million signing bonus — around $314,400 under his recommended slot value.

  5. Video: Jimmy Rollins returns to Philadelphia

    Aug 4, 2015, 8:08 PM EDT

    Carlos Ruiz, Jimmy Rollins AP

    Jimmy Rollins received a huge ovation Tuesday evening in his first game back in Philly …

  6. Justin Turner expects to return on August 12

    Aug 4, 2015, 7:15 PM EDT

    Justin Turner, Wilmer Flores AP

    Turner is having a tremendous season for the National League West-leading Dodgers, boasting a .323/.387/.563 slash line with 13 home runs, 20 doubles, and 44 RBI in 87 games.

  7. Brad Ausmus receives a vote of confidence from new Tigers general manager Al Avila

    Aug 4, 2015, 6:32 PM EDT

    Seattle Mariners v Detroit Tigers Getty Images

    Tigers owner Mike Ilitch cut ties with longtime general manager Dave Dombrowski on Tuesday afternoon, but it doesn’t sound like anybody else is on the chopping block yet.

  8. Title or no title, Dave Dombrowski’s tenure in Detroit was a success

    Aug 4, 2015, 5:20 PM EDT

    Dave Dombrowski

    After arriving in 2002, Dombrowski rebuilt an organization that was an utter dumpster fire.

  9. Rangers demote center fielder Leonys Martin to Triple-A

    Aug 4, 2015, 5:01 PM EDT

    Leonys Martin AP AP

    Martin heads back to the minors as a 27-year-old with nearly 1,500 plate appearances as a big leaguer.

  10. Braves lose Freddie Freeman to another injury

    Aug 4, 2015, 2:46 PM EDT

    Freddie Freeman AP

    In between the DL stints Freeman played just 10 games.

  11. Believe the hype: Carlos Correa is already a superstar

    Aug 4, 2015, 12:27 PM EDT

    150804-Carlos-Correa Getty Images

    Incredible numbers for a 20-year-old shortstop.

  12. The Tigers may be calling up Matt Boyd

    Aug 4, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT

    Matt Boyd Getty Images

    He’s pitcher number two they received in the David Price deal.

  13. An English soccer club effectively bars media. Get used to this, U.S. sports fans.

    Aug 4, 2015, 9:48 AM EDT

    press hat

    Not having access to athletes and coaches would be a bummer at first, but over time the press would do just fine with it.

Top 10 MLB Player Searches
  1. C. Gomez (4826)
  2. Y. Cespedes (4695)
  3. B. Revere (3545)
  4. C. Hamels (3376)
  5. D. Price (3308)
  1. J. Soria (3137)
  2. H. Olivera (2989)
  3. B. Moss (2881)
  4. G. Parra (2825)
  5. M. Leake (2755)