Should Pine Tar Be Legal for Pitchers To Use?

Why Major League Pitchers Are At A Disadvantage Without Pine Tar

Given the recent suspension of Yankees’ right-hander Michael Pineda for the use of pine tar in Wednesday’s game against the Boston Red Sox, I think it’s time to question whether or not Major League Baseball should make the use of pine tar legal for pitchers.

The main argument against this potential rule change is that the use of a sticky foreign substance might actually give the pitcher an advantage; however, even in Pineda’s situation Boston’s primary complaint wasn’t that he had used pine tar but how obvious he was about using it.

This image, courtesy of ESPN, shows the addition of pine tar to Pineda’s neck between the first and second inning of Wednesday’s game.

“Everybody uses pine tar in the league,” said David Ortiz, who hadn’t seen or been told about the pine tar during the game. “It’s not a big deal.”

This would mean all pitchers are in violation of Rule 8.02, which states that pitchers are allowed to neither have a foreign substance on their person nor to apply said foreign substance to the ball.

Clay Buchholz also commented on the matter, stating that substances such as pine tar are essential on “cold, windy nights, [when] it’s tough to get a grip on a baseball.” Buchholz went on to say that “It’s either have a grip on a baseball and semi-know where it’s going or don’t have a grip at all and get somebody hurt.”

Even Dirk Hayhurst, retired professional baseball pitcher, author, and broadcaster, admits that the use of foreign substances certainly isn’t limited to just a few pitchers. “I don’t know one single pitcher in my career who didn’t use something on the ball that was a violation of the rules,” Hayhurst wrote.

The accusation that the use of pine tar gives pitchers the ability to doctor the ball, or influence the kind of movement the pitch is going to have, is not really the idea behind the use of it. Doctoring the ball is more about doing something to the ball, such as scuffing it, whereas pine tar and other foreign substances are about getting a good grip.

Red Sox catcher David Ross also takes a similar stance to that of Clay Buchholz, as he stated “I would rather the guy know where the ball is going and have a good grip, for me, personally… As long as I’ve played there’s guys always trying to make sure they’ve got a grip when there is cold weather, early on. Maybe it’s cheating, but I don’t really look at it that way. Some guys might, but not me, personally.”

Without the pine tar, it was a wild inning for Pineda, as he threw 30 pitches (with quite a few of them missing by a lot) in the process of allowing two runs on four hits. He clearly needed something to help him grip the baseball and it’s no wonder Pineda felt the need to use pine tar.

Rosin_Bag_2014The only thing Major League Baseball provides for pitchers to get a grip is rosin, but without having moisture on your hands, it’s just powder and doesn’t really do much to help the pitcher grip the baseball. However, the rules allow pitchers to blow on their hands (provided both managers agree) thus allowing themselves a little natural moisture in addition to some warmth.

The only trouble is that the natural moisture’s going to go away pretty quickly. What pitchers need is something more permanent, like pine tar.

The bottom line is this: pitchers using pine tar shouldn’t be any more illegal than hitters using pine tar (which isn’t illegal, by the way.)

Michael Pineda’s suspension has just opened the door for other accusations to be made and this is just the beginning of silly little controversies of this nature. Preventing these wouldn’t take much, either, just a simple rule change.


Matt Stein is a season-credentialed media member covering the Tampa Bay Rays and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, also assisting with coverage of USF Athletics. He attended the University of Tampa and graduated with a Bachelor's of Science in Sport Management.