Yankees' Pine-Tar Pineda Isn't a Villain

Michael Pineda has given the baseball world yet another occasion to redeploy its self-righteousness robots.
Look, Derek, nothing up my sleeve. Photographer: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Michael Pineda has given the baseball world another occasion to deploy its self-righteousness robots. The New York Yankees right-hander was ejected in the second inning of last night's game against the Boston Red Sox for having pine tar smeared on his neck -- the second incident involving Pineda and the foreign substance this month.

Back on April 10, in a game also against the Red Sox, Pineda visibly had pine tar on his right wrist, but removed it in between innings before anything could be done about it. Yesterday, however, he wasn't as slick (or perhaps he was too slick?); after Aaron Boone commented on the obvious glob under Pineda's right ear during ESPN's broadcast of the game, Boston manager John Farrell approached the umpires, who went through the motions of checking the pitcher before ejecting him.

Cue the outrage. Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci labeled the incident "embarrassing," chiding Pineda for "making a mockery" of the rules and raising the question of whether he's capable of pitching well without using a foreign substance. The Boston Globe's Christopher L. Gasper took it a step further, calling it "a black mark on Pineda and the proud Pinstripe brand."

If I have to read one more article comparing Pineda's blatant pine tar usage to speeding past a traffic cop, I'll scream. Because that's really what most people are upset about -- not that Pineda "cheated," but that he made zero attempt to hide it, in a nationally televised game between the two biggest rivals in professional sports. This isn't even a New York-Boston thing; Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz was involved in a similar incident last season and some Boston players themselves took little issue with Pineda.

"Every pitcher does it," first baseman Mike Napoli Said. "I'm all for it," catcher A.J. Pierzynski added. "Put it on your pants, in your glove, on your belt. Wherever. You just can't do it that way." Even George Brett, the most famous pine-tar user of all time, criticized not Pineda's use, but inability to properly hide the substance.

It's widely accepted throughout baseball that pitchers use pine tar to get a grip on the ball on cold nights, not to affect pitch movement or achieve an unfair advantage. In fact, many hitters support its use to curb weather-induced wild pitching, opting for rule-breaking over getting hit with a 95 mph fastball. Pineda violated the unwritten rule that says breaking the written rule is okay as long as you don't draw attention to it, proving that there's no end to just how ridiculous the collective hand-wringing in baseball can get.

Did Pineda break the rules, both written and otherwise? Absolutely. Should Major League Baseball revisit Rule 8.02 and look into legal ways for pitchers to get a better grip on the ball? Probably. Though, as Doc Gooden tweeted, the idea that pine tar is never used to give pitches undue movement is as silly as this whole ordeal, a fallacy perpetuated by the same kind of willful ignorance that looked the other way during the Steroid Era. As NBC Sports' Craig Calcaterra asserts, there are different levels of cheating, and the idea that "everybody does it" isn't a good enough excuse. But if we're going to vilify Pineda, let's do so because he actually broke a rule, not because he didn't bother to hide it.

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