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.
Mar 27, 2015, 11:55 PM EDT
Marcus Stroman will be a proud college graduate the next time he takes the mound for the Blue Jays.
Mar 27, 2015, 11:05 PM EDT
The Mets are likely to open the regular season without Daniel Murphy at second base.
Mar 27, 2015, 10:15 PM EDT
Alex Rios says he’ll have to manage his thumb injury throughout the duration of the 2015 season.
Mar 27, 2015, 9:25 PM EDT
Jeff Francoeur threw out Alex Rodriguez at the plate. It’s 2015, not 2011.
Mar 27, 2015, 8:35 PM EDT
The Twins reportedly have a bit of interest in free agent reliever Rafael Soriano.
Mar 27, 2015, 7:45 PM EDT
Domonic Brown is battling an Achilles injury, leaving him unlikely to play on Opening Day.
Mar 27, 2015, 6:55 PM EDT
Brandon League isn’t likely to pitch for a couple of months according to manager Don Mattingly.
Mar 27, 2015, 6:05 PM EDT
It doesn’t seem like the Nationals and Jordan Zimmermann will reach an agreement on a contract extension before the regular season begins.
Mar 27, 2015, 4:40 PM EDT
Drabek was once a top prospect and the Blue Jays acquired him from the Phillies in the Roy Halladay trade.
Mar 27, 2015, 4:13 PM EDT
The Rule 5 pick had a decent shot of making the Mariners’ pen out of camp.
Mar 27, 2015, 3:20 PM EDT
Should we be taking the rebuilt White Sox seriously as contenders?
Mar 27, 2015, 2:34 PM EDT
Verlander has continued to struggle this spring.
Mar 27, 2015, 2:01 PM EDT
There is only one reason a player should be tested for drugs as often as David Ortiz claims he has been: a previous positive test.
Mar 27, 2015, 12:46 PM EDT
Thanks to his mid-90s fastball and fantastic strikeout totals Salazar was a popular breakout pick for 2015.
Mar 27, 2015, 12:30 PM EDT
No word on “yicketty.”
Mar 27, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT
The Braves had one of the stranger off-seasons, both adding and subtracting players while also attempting to rebuild. How bad will they be in 2015?
Mar 27, 2015, 11:28 AM EDT
So far so good in Tanaka’s attempt to avoid Tommy John surgery.
Mar 27, 2015, 11:09 AM EDT
Good intentions are never enough.
Mar 27, 2015, 10:47 AM EDT
Howie Kendrick’s replacement.
Mar 27, 2015, 10:15 AM EDT
Ludwick signed a minor-league deal with the Rangers in early February and it would have paid $1.75 million if he made the team at age 36.
- 2015 Preview: Chicago White Sox 10
- Did David Ortiz admit to more than he realized with his Players’ Tribune editorial? 63
- 2015 Preview: Atlanta Braves 12
- David Ortiz: “Nobody in MLB history has been tested for PEDs more than me” 111
- 2015 Preview: Chicago Cubs 14
- Unsigned 2014 No. 1 overall pick Brady Aiken undergoes Tommy John surgery 57
- 2015 Preview: Seattle Mariners 15
- Cardinals add “OT” patch for Oscar Taveras 76
- Ex-Cardinals outfielder Curt Ford was assaulted in St. Louis and told to “go back to Ferguson” (116)
- College baseball player cut after making offensive tweet about Mo’ne Davis (115)
- David Ortiz: “Nobody in MLB history has been tested for PEDs more than me” (111)
- Mo’ne Davis says college ballplayer who wrote an offensive tweet about her deserves a second chance (88)
- Rob Manfred says it would be hard to reinstate Pete Rose in a limited way (88)