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Should we care if pitchers use pine tar?

Last night the Yankees got demolished by the Mariners, 10-1, but the only thing fans were talking about after the game was Yusei Kikuchi’s apparent use of pine tar during the game.

Pete first tweeted me around the sixth inning that he noticed Kikuchi’s hat had pine tar all over it. I had noticed he was frequently “adjusting” his cap, but had not noticed the substance to that point. I went back to Tauchman’s at bat and the camera caught an angle underneath Kikuchi’s hat that clearly showed the pine tar.

Because the Yankees were getting dominated by Kikuchi — who allowed just 1 earned run over 7.2 innings and took a no-hitter into the 6th behind an array of off-speed crap — fans were calling for MLB to punish the Mariner’s lefty. Kay and O’Neill on YES mentioned the pine tar in the 8th inning, and Boone said after the game he was not made aware of it until the 8th inning as well.

Let me first get this out of the way: The Yankees did not lose on Wednesday because Kikuchi was using pine tar. Jonathan Loaisiga couldn’t put hitters away and the garbage-end of the Yankees bullpen was forced to pitch too many innings. However, the pine tar clearly gave Kikuchi an advantage, because why else would he use it?

So the question is: Should pine tar be allowed?

What do the rules say?

In the official MLB Rule book, the only direct mentions of pine tar are in Rule 5.04(b)(2), which applies to a player’s use of it in the batter’s box, and Rule 3.02(c), which states: “If pine tar extends past the 18-inch limitation (on the bat), then the umpire, on his own initiative or if alerted by the opposing team, shall order the batter to use a different bat.”

Pine tar is never directly mentioned in reference to pitchers.

Rules 6.02(b) to 6.02(c)(6) cover the many things pitchers cannot do, including the use of illegal substances. “The pitcher may not attach anything to either hand, any finger or either wrist (e.g. Band-Aid, tape, Super Glue, bracelet, etc.). The umpire shall determine if such attachment is indeed a foreign substance for the purpose of Rule 6.02(c)(7), but in no case may the pitcher be allowed to pitch with such an attachment to his hand, finger, or wrist.”

TL;DR: Pine tar is considered one of the many many illegal substances that pitchers cannot use.

Cat-and-mouse game

We all remember the infamous Pineda pine tar incident vs Boston, which led to him being ejected from the game and suspended.

The whole discussion then was not if using pine tar is right or wrong, rather that Pineda was being too obvious about it. It was slathered on his neck screaming F— you, Boston!, which is why the Red Sox called him out.

You may also remember the playoff game in 2006 in which Kenny Rogers outdueled Randy Johnson in a 6-0 win for Detroit. There were many shots of Rogers’ hand which showed a poop-colored substance on his palm.

In both cases, it was up to the opposing team to notify the umpires who would then determine if the substance was illegal. Umpires are not going to take it upon themselves to regulate substances. I remember screaming at my television in October 2006 for Joe Torre to notify the umps, and I remember blaming Pineda — not the Red Sox — for being so damn obvious about his use of pine tar.

The reality is many pitchers on all teams use something to get a better grip on the ball. If it isn’t pine tar, then it’s sunscreen in the hair or glue in the glove. Why else do you think Clay Buchholz looked like he just went swimming whenever he pitched in 40-degree weather?

That is why we have a cat-and-mouse game between teams. If they call out an opposing pitcher for using a substance, then their pitcher might get called out the next game.

There are some players who take the rules seriously. Just search “@BauerOutage; pine tar” on Twitter and you’ll see that Trevor Bauer has many, many opinions about the substance. He points out that it can make your stuff better and increase spin rate, which is a huge advantage for the pitcher. The counter-argument is that hitters want pitchers to have a better grip on the ball, especially in cold weather when they can lose a 97-mph fastball up-and-in.

My opinion

I fall on the side of Bauer. If pine tar can give you a big competitive advantage then it should continue to be disallowed. Pitchers have a rosin bag available to them which drys the hand to improve grip. For whatever reason MLB has deemed that substance legal and pine tar, sunscreen, glue, etc. illegal. As long as pine tar is illegal I don’t think pitchers should use it, but I understand they will still try to get away with it. Ultimately I put the onus on the opposing team, which on Wednesday was the Yankees, to do something about it. In the words of Ice-T, don’t hate the player, hate the game.


Follow me on Twitter: @Andrew_Rotondi