By Jim Monaghan
Note – the following contains material originally published on RedSoxLife.com.
In the 2nd inning of the Yankees-Red Sox game on April 23rd, Boston manager John Farrell called time and approached the home plate umpire. After a few words, Gerry Davis approached the mound where Yankees starting pitcher Michael Pineda was waiting. After checking Pineda’s throwing hand and glove, he asked the right hander to turn around. It was then that Davis noticed something on Pineda’s neck. After touching it with his hand, Davis announced it was pine tar and threw Pineda out of the game.
“I could see it from the dugout,” Farrell said after the game. “It was confirmed by a number of camera angles in the ballpark. And given the last time we faced him, I felt like it was a necessity to say something.”
Farrell’s reference was to a game between the two teams on April 10 when Pineda was noticed to have a substance that appeared to be wet on his throwing hand, something that was caught on camera by both the Yankees and Red Sox television crews. That substance disappeared an inning later before the Red Sox could bring it to an umpire’s attention, and following the game Pineda tried to claim it was dirt.
Farrell said something in his post-game press conference that night that Pineda might want to be more discreet about putting something on his pitching hand, and Major League Baseball was said to have had a conversation with Pineda about the incident.
As the scene was unfolding with Davis & Pineda, Yankee broadcasters John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman launched into a tirade about how this could eventually backfire on the Red Sox because of their own pitchers’ use of something on the ball, most notably Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. The drama played out on social media and on call-in shows in both New York and Boston over the next few days.
You may recall that shortly after Lester’s dominant outing in the Red Sox 8-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 1 of the 2013 World Series, the allegations started flying – LESTER WAS UP TO SOME FUNNY BUSINESS WITH HIS GLOVE!
Whether prompted by the parent club or not, Cardinals minor leaguer Tyler Melling tweeted out a photo of Lester (the tweet was almost immediately deleted by Melling) that showed what appeared to be some kind of green substance on the thumb of Lester’s glove.
In response to the predicted reaction, Boston manager Farrell said, “If you know Jon Lester, he sweats like a pig and he needs resin. And you know what? He keeps it in his glove. Other guys will keep it on their arm. Other guys will keep it on their pant leg. So that’s my response to the allegations. The one thing that seemed very odd is that it shows up in a lime green color. I don’t know how that can happen.”
In looking at various video clips and gifs that were subsequently posted on the Internet, it was obvious that Lester was indeed going to his glove for something. For his part, Lester acknowledged that the green substance looked “like a giant booger” while maintaining that all he’s ever used is resin. Before each game, one of the umpires places a resin bag on the mound for pitchers to use. Why Lester felt he had to put the same substance in his glove is probably up for discussion.
The fact is, use of a substance such as pine tar or resin by pitchers is commonplace, especially in colder weather. And while it’s technically illegal for players to use pine tar for anything other than helping with gripping a bat, it’s usage by pitchers is also well-known throughout the game leading some to believe that there is almost tacit approval of the practice. One former MLB pitcher told me, “I usually used pine tar. Using something in the cold weather really helps with the grip.”
I also spoke with a former MLB catcher who added, “When it’s cold out, 99% of pitchers use something for a grip. Always have…always will.”
One former minor league pitcher learned about using some kind of sticky substance from a former MLB pitcher. “I used pine tar most of the time (I was pitching), hot or cold weather. Better grip creates better rotation, thus better movement.” And another former minor league pitcher added that he would use pine tar, leaving it mostly on the end of the lace off the pinkie finger of his glove. “It gave me a better grip in the cold, and (when it wasn’t cold) I felt I got a better bite on my sinker.”
Opinions on whether a little pine tar on a pitcher’s fingers adds movement to a pitch vary. Speaking on the subject a few nights ago on the MLB Network, former Braves elite pitcher John Smoltz said he didn’t feel that it did anything to help the baseball move in a way it’s not supposed to. And know that umpires are well aware of the ball moving in an unnatural way. Remember, they see pretty much exactly what the hitter sees.
Pitchers aren’t the only ones with a little extra in their gloves, either. A former minor league infielder once told me he used pine tar in his glove to help the ball stay in, as well as to help stiffen the glove (he liked to have a nice wide pocket). And former Red Sox utility player Lou Merloni, now a co-host on WEEI’s Mut & Merloni midday show, has repeatedly said on the air that he used pine tar on occasion for a better grip when throwing the ball; he also said that he knew of some catchers who had a little something extra in their mitts for the same reason.
As for how hitters feel about it, most of the former professional hitters I’ve spoken with said they accept it as a part of the game. Their sentiments were echoed by Farrell who added this in his post-game comments following Game One of the 2013 World Series – “I know talking to our own hitters, they want to be sure that a pitcher has got a complete grip of the baseball. Last night and in this series, there are pitchers on both sides that are going to be mid to upper 90s‑type velocity. If a hitter in the batter box has a little more comfort knowing the pitcher has a good grip, then maybe they’re a little more at ease as well.”
So it would appear that Michael Pineda broke one of baseball’s many unwritten rules – use it, but for crying out loud be a little discreet, wouldya? The common hiding places are well-known – a piece of lace hanging from the pinky finger of a glove, under the bill of a player’s cap, inside the belt…the list goes on and on. Just don’t leave a 4-inch schmear of it on your neck.
Jim Monaghan can be heard Monday through Friday mornings on the WDHA Morning Jolt from 6-10AM & Sundays from 7-10AM with “All Mixed Up.” He’s also an instructor at Professional Baseball Instruction in Upper Saddle River. Follow him on twitter – @Monaghan21.