There are calls for a new baseball rule, because a member of the New York Yankees broke an existing baseball rule.
That should be our first hint: It’s not necessary.
Nothing against the Yankees, of course, but we need to consider the context of Michael Pineda’s latest pine tar offense.
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After misinterpreting the counsel of manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild — more on that later — Pineda took the mound Wednesday with the substance smeared on his neck. He did so against the Boston Red Sox, in the sport’s most intensely watched rivalry, during a game televised by three — three! — networks.
So, because Pineda foolishly and brazenly flaunted baseball’s cold-weather code, Major League Baseball is supposed to tear up its rule book? Because, you know, MLB officials aren’t busy enough with the turbulent instant-replay rollout, minutiae of new guidelines on home-plate collisions, and clarification of the suddenly bothersome transfer rule.
If the past several months have taught us anything, it’s that (a) the 2013 incarnation of baseball wasn’t as flawed as it appeared to be and (b) changes to a century-old sport can have unintended consequences.
Should pitchers be allowed to use pine tar and other substances to enhance their grip on the ball in cold weather? Sure. They already are. The Red Sox, in fact, are among the most egregious users of grip-enhancing substances. And position players find it perfectly acceptable, so long as the pitchers do so with a modicum of discretion. Pineda didn’t. He was caught.
On Thursday, after MLB slapped Pineda with a 10-game suspension, Girardi proposed a concept with some merit: He suggested MLB should legalize and regulate a standard-issue substance to help pitchers grip the ball, once the temperature drops below a certain point.
That could work, if every pitcher used that substance and absolutely nothing else. But baseball history tells us that is unrealistic. Very quickly, an enterprising pitcher will realize that, when mixed with a sliver of pine tar and dollop of sunscreen, the Officially Licensed MLB Goop turns an ordinary fastball into a diving, darting cutter from hell.
And then what recourse would MLB have? Issue a press release in mid-April and declare that everything must go back to the way it was?
Sorry. Too late. This is one instance in which I trust those on the field — umpires, managers, players — to police the game. That way seemed to work well, until the folks in pinstripes gave their archrival no choice but to bring the matter into full public view.
The Yankees have lost Pineda for 10 games, because they did a poor job of communicating baseball’s unwritten rules: You can’t use pine tar . . . but you actually can . . . everybody does it . . . you just need to be careful . . . it’s probably a good idea to rub it on your glove or belt loop so that the umpire and TV cameras can’t see.
Nuanced? Complicated? Absolutely — and that’s if English is your first language. It isn’t for Pineda, a native of the Dominican Republic. Pineda, who was first caught with pine tar in an April 10 start against the Red Sox, said his follow-up conversations with Girardi and Rothschild were in English without an interpreter present. Obviously, Pineda didn’t get the message. And that is the Yankees’ fault, not Pineda’s.
So let’s not lose sight of why we’re having this discussion. Baseball’s marquee franchise botched a basic protocol — that is, how to cheat the right way. The Yankees shouldn’t respond by asking MLB to change the rules. They need to evaluate their own practices and show more savvy.
For baseball’s proudest organization, a dab of humility would go a long way.