NEW YORK — Get a grip.
Using a suspicious substance for a better hold of the baseball on cool days is not such a sticky situation.
Whether it’s the Yankees’ Michael Pineda with a mysterious brown goo on his hand, Boston’s Jon Lester with a green smudge in his glove or Houston’s Josh Zeid spraying something on his forearm before entering a recent game, most major leaguers don’t care whether pitchers get a little help — even though it’s against the Official Baseball Rules.
To some, it’s preferable.
“It’s an unwritten rule in the game. I’m sure a lot of pitchers do it,” Red Sox outfielder Shane Victorino said Friday before Boston played the Yankees. “As a hitter, do what you got to do from letting that ball go astray and hitting me in the head. I’m fine with that.”
Ever since pitchers started throwing to batters in the 1800s, they’ve looked for an edge — and it has continued long after doctoring the baseball was banned in 1920.
Television cameras caught Pineda with what looked like sticky pine tar on his hand early in the Yankees’ 4-1 victory over Boston on a cool Thursday night, when the ball could be slick. Red Sox manager John Farrell didn’t see a photograph of Pineda’s hand until the fourth inning. By the time Pineda came out to warm up for the fifth, his hand was clean and Farrell didn’t complain to umpires.
“In conditions like last night, it’s not uncommon for pitchers to try and get a grip in some way,” Farrell said. “We’re more focused on what we need to do offensively to kind of get going rather than taking anything away from his abilities.”
Joe Torre, Major League Baseball’s executive vice president of baseball operations, said in a statement Friday that Pineda would not be suspended.
“The umpires did not observe an application of a foreign substance during the game and the issue was not raised by the Red Sox,” Torre said. “Given those circumstances, there are no plans to issue a suspension, but we intend to talk to the Yankees regarding what occurred.”
Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman spoke with Torre and said the issue was resolved. Pineda said hadn’t spoken with any Yankees management as of early afternoon.
Perhaps Farrell didn’t say anything because his pitchers have been accused of using something extra. Toronto Blue Jays broadcasters last season thought they caught Clay Buchholz — who faced Pineda Thursday — using an illegal substance. During the 2013 World Series opener, Lester was seen on TV with something in his glove.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi has never questioned his own pitchers, but he knows what goes on.
“I don’t talk to pitchers about that: ‘Do you use or don’t you use?’ This is not a recreational drug. I don’t talk to people about that,” Girardi said. “I’m aware. I’ve been on teams where I’ve seen it. I’m 99 percent sure that I know of other guys on other teams that use it.”
Rule 8.02 says a pitcher may not apply a “foreign substance” to the ball, and section B of the rule says a pitcher may not have any “foreign substance” in his possession on the mound. The penalty if caught is automatic ejection and suspension.
The rule has been applied, perhaps most famously when Twins pitcher Joe Niekro was caught with an emery board and sandpaper in the back pocket of his uniform pants in 1987. He was banned for 10 days. But Victorino agreed, doctoring the ball this way is different than improving one’s grip.
Dodgers reliever Jay Howell was suspended three days (later reduced to two) for pine tar on his glove in Game 3 of the 1988 NL championship series.
For a player to be ejected, he has to be caught. Umpires are obligated to take action if they see a violation or if one is reported to them. Not so easily done.
Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter and Victorino each said they have never gone up to the plate and noticed whether a pitcher had something on his hand or uniform. But as camera resolution increases, spotlight has increased on all players. Unlike golf, which has a self-policing policy that allows fans watching at home to point out rules violations, there’s no such mechanism in baseball.
Challenging the use of an illegal substance is not among the reviewable plays under MLB’s new replay system. Baseball executives plan to examine the rules and make changes for 2015, perhaps a path that would allow for a change.
For most, though, the problem for Pineda was he was too blatant.
“Be discreet,” Victorino said.