To recap the Michael Pineda situation: Rules are rules (unless everybody breaks them). Following the rules is important (unless it's not that important). Bending the rules is not acceptable (unless it is acceptable). And, oh yeah, Pineda was not particularly bright in the realm of pine-tar application.
You got all that?
Anybody piling on Pineda is missing the bigger issue, which is that the uneven application of a debatable rule is only going to lead to inconsistency in a game increasingly scrutinized by the glory of technological advancement.
We shouldn't have to summon the ghost of Potter Stewart and say that the application of Rule 8.02 comes down to an "I know it when I see it" scenario. We should either get this stuff in writing so that people like Pineda aren't demonized for doing something widely accepted in other circumstances or get more consistent application of the rule currently in place.
Clearly, Pineda could have been more discreet. But is a glob of pine tar on the neck considerably less discreet than that glowing green gunk (not exactly the typical hue of rosin) on Jon Lester's glove last October?
Is it truly less discreet than those bottles of spray-on sunscreen (which, for the record, is not expressly banned but apparently pairs well with rosin in improving wayward control) that have been spotted in various dugouts by intrepid home viewers?
Don't get me wrong. Given the media uproar over Pineda's previous start against the Red Sox (and let's be clear that the uproar did not extend to the Red Sox clubhouse), the Yankees probably could have done a better job getting the message to Pineda that discretion -- moving target though it may be -- is the better part of valor.
But as Pineda endures the humiliation of ejection and the sting of a 10-game suspension, let's remember that the context of the times in which he we live plays a huge role here. And a league that has embraced technology with the expansion of instant replay review ought to further acknowledge our technologically savvy society by erasing all doubt and semantics and conjecture from its rules on foreign substances.
If there are certain substances in certain amounts that are deemed to be both practical and defensible, let's put it in writing.
If applying pine tar really is akin to scuffing the ball to get better break and motion, let's do a better job of policing it.
Pine tar is seen by some merely as a means of improving the grip on the ready-made weapon that a fastball can become. This is a point the Red Sox's Clay Buchholz made in the wake of Pineda's first sticky situation earlier this month.
"Especially on cold, windy nights, it's tough to get a grip on a baseball," Buchholz told reporters. "I had that incident in Toronto where I had stuff all over my body. You can use rosin, water, and sunscreen stuff. Either you have a grip on the baseball and have a semi-idea of where it's going, or get somebody hurt… If you're scuffing the ball [and creating more control], that's one thing… But I've never seen any pitcher have an edge by using it. You use it to get the best grip possible."
Rosin is legal, but pitchers will argue that it's useless in dry conditions (hence the popularity of sunscreen even on not-so-sunny days). Pine tar is illegal but widely used and widely embraced as a "safety issue."
There are, however, those who consider the "safety issue" argument to be bunk.
"Pine tar is used 2 make ur breaking pitches sharper& help ur sinker 4 more movement!" Doc Gooden tweeted Thursday.
In the current climate, batters (who, of course, are permitted to use pine tar up to 18 inches from the handle of their bat) don't seem to have a problem with pitchers using pine tar. Pitchers certainly don't seem to have a problem with other pitchers using pine tar. In the long frame, it would be helpful to get some dependable studies on the impact of pine tar on pitches and whether it enhances performance or actually protects the hitter at the plate.
Right now, though, the problem is this nebulous notion of the "right way" to cheat. It's another one of those wonderful "unwritten rules" that doesn't hold up so well in the 21st Century.
Just as the transfer rule has revealed itself to be in need of tweaking now that technology has an increased presence in the sport, MLB needs to put fresh eyes on Rule 8.02. Otherwise, we're cracking down on one form of cheating (performance-enhancing drug use) like never before while willingly turning a blind eye to another ... unless it really catches our eye. That's intellectually dishonest, needlessly nebulous and, above all else, not camera-friendly.
Saying pine tar is wrong in certain situations and acceptable in others doesn't cut it anymore. It's either acceptable or it's not. If it's not acceptable, police it full-bore. If it is acceptable, get it in writing so that people like Pineda don't get caught in the crosshairs of capricious discipline.