BOSTON — New York Yankees Manager Joe Girardi sat in the visitors’ dugout at Fenway Park, hours before his team’s game Thursday night with the Boston Red Sox. Dozens of reporters closed in, TV cameras aimed and microphones turned on.
But Girardi did not talk about Derek Jeter’s final season, or how to pitch to David Ortiz.
Girardi opined on pine tar.
One of New York’s prized pitchers, Michael Pineda, was suspended for 10 games Thursday because he used an illegal substance – pine tar – during a cold Wednesday night game at Fenway. After Red Sox Manager John Farrell complained about it in the second inning, the umpires ejected Pineda.
“We want to move on,” Girardi said. “We’ll continue to educate (Pineda) on how to do things.”
We can only assume what kind of “education” Pineda is receiving.
There will be no command not to cheat. Pineda will be instructed on how to cheat without getting caught.
Pineda’s crime had nothing to do with using pine tar – just for using it so obviously.
This is not a case of only the Yankees ignoring the rules. It is Major League Baseball ignoring its own rules; or, in baseball-speak, creating its own “unwritten rule.”
According to players and managers alike, pitchers have to use pine tar in cold weather. But they have to do it discreetly.
During a game against the Red Sox in New York on April 10, Pineda had gobs of the substance on his hand. Farrell did not complain, but hinted that Pineda needed to use more prudence. On Wednesday, Pineda emerged in the second inning with streaks of pine tar on his neck – for everyone to see.
“A blatant disregard of professionalism,” said Red Sox catcher David Ross, who is not opposed to pitchers using pine tar.
“We’re looking out for the game of baseball and players performing to the best of their ability. It just can’t be that obvious.”
Pine tar is a substance baseball players use on a bat to grip it better. The rules allow that. The pine tar does not help the batter hit the ball better, only to hold onto his bat.
Pitchers are not allowed to use pine tar, the belief being that with an enhanced grip, the pitcher can make better pitches than he normally would without the substance.
But in cold weather, the “unwritten rule” comes into play because the baseball is too difficult for some pitchers to grip.
“I think there are some things inside the game – and this being one of them – that pitchers, particularly in climates like (Wednesday) night, you’re looking for some sort of grip,” Farrell said.
So a player may stash pine tar in his glove or some other unnoticeable place. Farrell said there is a line between being discreet and obvious.
“That was demonstrated (Wednesday) night,” he said.
But if players regularly break a rule, should baseball change it?
“I don’t think this is something in need of a rule change,” Farrell said. “It seemingly has worked fine for a number of years.”
In simple terms – without the baseball-speak – it’s OK to cheat. Just don’t be so obvious about it.
“Yeah, that is kind of strange, isn’t it?” Girardi said. “It makes you wonder if people understand that there is something wrong when it’s cold and it is hard to grip a baseball. Obviously when you get into some of these northeastern cities and the Midwest, there are some really tough conditions.
“Is it something that needs to be addressed in some meetings? I wouldn’t be against coming up with an idea.”
The idea could be a legal, limited use of pine tar by pitchers, or finding another substance that would be acceptable.
Most batters have not spoken against pitchers using pine tar.
“I think the hitters would prefer that the pitchers know where the ball is going,” Farrell said, suggesting the idea of a wild 95 mph fastball is not something a hitter is comfortable with.
But one of Farrell’s players, outfielder Jonny Gomes, wants the rules enforced.
“A rule’s a rule,” Gomes said. “I have rules I have to follow.
“They have to figure out how to pitch without pine tar. It has to be performance-enhancing somewhat if it’s a rule.”
Use the words “performance-enhancing” and Major League Baseball should pay attention. Baseball fans have had enough of players illegally enhancing their efforts. And fans have had enough of cheaters.
Pitchers using pine tar does not equate to the performance-enhancing-drug scandal.
But can baseball have a rule it only enforces when a player shows bad form? Girardi is right. This is strange.
Fix the rule. There should be no right way to cheat.
Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or at: