Apr 24, 2014, 8:07 AM EDT
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.”
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.
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.
Apr 25, 2015, 8:05 PM EDT
The Dodgers’ thin bullpen could get even thinner if Joel Peralta needs to go on the disabled list.
Apr 25, 2015, 7:10 PM EDT
The Rays designated slugger Allan Dykstra for assignment to make room for Everett Teaford on Saturday.
Apr 25, 2015, 6:15 PM EDT
Watch Kevin Plawecki swat his first major league homer.
Apr 25, 2015, 5:21 PM EDT
But it’s not Rusney Castillo time yet.
Apr 25, 2015, 5:01 PM EDT
The Marlins have stumbled out of the gate with a disappointing 6-11 record, but they entered play today on a three-game win streak and here’s some good news about their rehabbing ace.
Apr 25, 2015, 4:27 PM EDT
Fanning was involved in baseball for more than 60 years.
Apr 25, 2015, 4:01 PM EDT
It’s of utmost importance that this happens.
Apr 25, 2015, 3:48 PM EDT
It looked like the Blue Jays had one of the best young left-handed pitchers in the game after Romero compiled a 3.60 (119 ERA+) across his first three seasons in the majors, but his career veered off track after 2011 due to control problems and knee issues.
Apr 25, 2015, 3:05 PM EDT
Albers suffered a compression fracture of a finger on his throwing hand during Thursday’s brawl.
Apr 25, 2015, 2:16 PM EDT
The Rangers will reportedly only be responsible for less than $7 million of Hamilton’s remaining contract.
Apr 25, 2015, 1:58 PM EDT
Anthony Rendon suffered a sprained MCL in his left knee in early March, but he’s finally close to joining the Nationals.
Apr 25, 2015, 1:54 PM EDT
Surgery will likely cost him 4-6 weeks.
Apr 25, 2015, 1:05 PM EDT
TJ House will start in his place against Detroit.
Apr 25, 2015, 12:24 PM EDT
Six players were suspended for Thursday’s benches-clearing brawl between the White Sox and Royals. Yordano Ventura got the longest suspension with seven games.
Apr 25, 2015, 12:01 PM EDT
Nelson Cruz just keeps on mashing for the Mariners.
Apr 25, 2015, 11:15 AM EDT
Five players were ejected after Thursday’s benches-clearing brawl between the White Sox and Royals, but there was also some drama behind the scenes.
Apr 25, 2015, 10:20 AM EDT
Could a trip to the disabled list be in Yasiel Puig’s future?
Apr 25, 2015, 9:38 AM EDT
Check out a double-dose of defensive excellence from Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado.
Apr 25, 2015, 8:49 AM EDT
A quick recap of a busy Friday night around MLB, including another promising outing from Carlos Martinez.
Apr 24, 2015, 11:35 PM EDT
The Dodgers made a couple of moves to make room for reliever Sergio Santos, called up on Friday.
- Report: Rangers will pay Josh Hamilton less than $7 million; deal includes opt-out after two years 60
- Suspensions announced for Thursday’s brawl between the White Sox and Royals 74
- Settling the Score: Friday’s results 80
- Report: Angels, Rangers agree on Josh Hamilton trade 67
- Must-Click Link: Alex Rodriguzez: the slugger with a thousand faces 22
- And That Happened: Thursday’s scores and highlights 115
- The Royals and White Sox had a benches-clearing fracas, five players ejected 155
- Bartolo Colon picks off a baserunner. By running him down all by himself. 55
- The early leaders in MLB’s “Franchise Four” thing have been announced (166)
- The Royals and White Sox had a benches-clearing fracas, five players ejected (155)
- Kelvin Herrera gets a five-game suspension; Yordano Ventura fined (133)
- Jose Bautista and the Orioles exchanged some words last night (117)
- Joe Buck has a truly awful suggestion about how to improve MLB broadcasts (116)