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Wednesday night, for the second time in two weeks, Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda was caught using pine tar, both times against the Red Sox.
The first time, with a wad sitting on his wrist, he was obvious about it.
This time, with a streak on his neck, he was more than obvious.
Washing away pine tar from your body takes but only a few seconds. Clearing your name of blatantly cheating is nearly impossible to remove.
Forgetting all of the fun we can make of Pineda, who will now forever be known as PINE-da, there are plenty of questions that this incident raises:
Is Pineda that ignorant? Naïve? Just plain dumb? How long should be he suspended for? Is this a bigger problem in baseball? Or, queue the conspiracy theorists: Did he want to get caught purpose?
Attacking this from purely a league perspective, there is no way Pineda can be suspended for less than 10 games (effectively 2 starts for a pitcher). Official Rule 8.02 states: "The pitcher shall not apply a foreign substance of any kind to the ball." 8.02(a): "The pitcher shall be ejected immediately from the game and shall be suspended automatically. In National Associate Leagues (Minor Leagues), the automatic suspension shall be for 10 games."
The rule essentially states that Pineda will be suspended, but MLB reserves the right determine the length. Keep in mind they warned the Yankees about his use of pine tar after his last offense on April 10th, placing the team on probation of sorts. Suspension would have been issued immediately after that first incident, but because Red Sox manager John Farrell did not bring it to the attention of the umpires during the game, nothing could be done. To add some perspective, back in 2012 relief pitcher Joel Peralta was suspended eight games for using pine tar in his glove. It was his first offense.
If there’s one thing that both MLB and fans hate, it’s being lied to, straight to their face. When it was clearly obvious Pineda had a glossy, sticky substance the first time, he tried to convince everyone it was "dirt" on his wrist. Not even the most die-hard of Yankee fans could defend him on that one. It was clear he was trying to play baseball, and it’s fans, as fools. Where have we had a situation like this before? Some guy named Ryan Braun. What happened to him? Baseball dragged him through the mud (no pun intended) and hit him with a 62 game suspension. His reputation will never be repaired.
League penalty aside, what I can’t seem to wrap my head around is why Pineda would be so obvious with his use of an illegal substance, especially so soon after being warned not to do it. Is he ignorant; choosing to ignore baseball’s warnings, testing the league? Is he naïve; thinking he wouldn’t get caught again, even though all eyes would be on him? Or is he just plain dumb? Don’t give me the "language barrier" excuse, he understands and speaks English, and the Yankees have plenty of translators. I can’t imagine he went to the dugout after the first inning, threw a glob of thick black tar on his neck, and thought 30+ HD cameras along with hundreds of thousands of people watching a primetime game on TV wouldn’t notice. Give me a break.
Discussions arose after his first use of pine tar, and the general consensus around the league was that it is widely used and accepted, both by pitchers and batters, just don’t make it obvious. On hot days pitchers say they will use it to get extra grip on the ball and combat sweaty hands. There is a rosin bag available, but apparently that’s not good enough. Batters don’t mind it, as they’d rather have a pitcher throw strikes as opposed to having a fastball get away and head straight for their face. Just don’t tell them as they’re walking up to the plate you’re using it.
We’ve all driven 65 mph in a 55 mph zone, just be smart about it. Pineda dropped the top on his red Corvette and flew by a cop doing 100. Plenty of kids have discreetly written notes on their hands during a test, Pineda put the book on his desk and opened it up.
Is Girardi to blame here? How much accountability should be we put on his Yankee teammates? Are we really to believe he did this completely on his own in the dugout without anybody there noticing? There is no clear explanation that doesn’t point to the idea there is much more to this story.
Now, I hate "conspiracy theorist" guy. Really, I think they are entertaining, funny to laugh at, but never to be taken seriously. But I’m going to be that guy for a second.
Given the circumstances: The obviousness of his last offense, the attention it got, the obviousness of this offense, etc. Can we honestly say, with a straight face, this was not done on purpose? We are talking about the Yankees here, widely regarded as one of the smartest sports franchises in the entire world. They really would let something like this happen unknowingly?
Let’s think about who they are playing. The Yankees/Red Sox rivalry for so many years was regarded as the most heated in all of American sports. It reached a pinnacle in the early 2000s, notably with the drama of the ALCS in 2003 and 2004, coupled with the A-Rod v. Varitek fight and the infamous Pedro Martinez v. Don Zimmer "scuffle". Baseball is largely a localized sport: fans outside of their own market don’t pay attention to other teams. When the Red Sox and Yankees faced each other, it always drew national attention.
Since then, for a multitude of reasons, the rivalry has died down. Even though the Yankees have a championship and the Red Sox have two, the excitement around the teams has diminished significantly. No other rivalry in the game has picked up. This has made baseball become a completely localized sport, garnering significantly less national attention.
There is real concern in baseball that they are losing the younger generation. They are the future of not only the game as players, but for attendance numbers and TV ratings.
As a sport, it’s losing out to the likes of lacrosse; a faster-paced, more action-driven sport. There is less down time, more players on the field at once getting action, quick-paced, more scoring. It’s symbolic of our society today. Kids need to be constantly stimulated. Nobody wants to stand in the outfield all day long waiting for a ball that will never get hit to them.
The NFL is slowly but surely conquering the sports world. During football season, sports TV and radio shows are 24/7 NFL coverage, we can’t get enough of it. C-list headlines in the NFL will dominate A-list headlines in any other sport. They have become marketing geniuses, stealing attention away from all other sports, especially baseball.
Take last night for example: The NFL released it’s regular season schedule. Just the schedule. We are months away from on-field action. Yet it trumped coverage of the NBA playoffs, the most exciting basketball of the year. Until, something else stole the headlines from the NFL: Michael Pineda.
What gets the attention back to baseball? Controversy. Rivalries. Drama. The game itself has become slow, boring. What generates interest is the storylines.
Did baseball seize an opportunity last night to add some fuel to a dying rivalry? One that, if started back up again, could generate the serious interest of fans again? One that could get young kids around the country glued to the TV every time these teams face each other? Sure, it sounds crazy. But really, does it? Think about how much better the game would be, as a whole, if these two teams were good on the field while maintaining genuine dislike for each other. The emotion of the early 2000s, one that I felt was the greatest ever in my lifetime in sports, could be captured once again.
We may never find out the reasoning behind last nights pine tar incident. The Yankees, Red Sox, and baseball will say all the right things to downplay the event. Bottom line: Michael Pineda will be suspended, and it should be hefty. The Yankees have now, yet again, asked for the microscope to be cast upon their franchise. But there is a part of me that really thinks there is more to this story than just a mediocre pitcher using an illegal substance to gain a little grip on a baseball.
The Yankees and Red Sox have a reputation of playing not only some of the most intense games in baseball, but also some of the longest. Friday night, (and into Sunday morning), certainly did nothing to help that reputation.