What Michael Pineda did last night was not cheating. It was certainly against the rules, but to call it "cheating" is excessive and literal in a way that ignores the realities of today’s game.
While the Yankees brass and the player himself apologized for showing poor judgement, everything about the Michael Pineda pine tar situation is weird.
The best way to describe Red Sox manager John Farrell approaching the umpires about the substance on Pineda's neck is "sheepish." The overriding concern about the gunk the big Yankees hurler painted on his neck is not that he's destroying the fabric of society by loading up the baseballs, but that's he flaunts a rule so openly.
A representative quote runs along the lines of "you can't be so blatant" when breaking a rule that everybody agrees is different in spirit than in application. All pitchers use something to improve their grip. The long-held practice of "mudding up" baseballs makes them difficult to grip.
No pitcher loads up the baseball to gain a competitive advantage by adding spin on their breaking ball. The rate at which baseballs are switched out in the modern game makes any doctoring of the balls futile.
On Tuesday night, the Toronto Blue Jays bench requested the umpires check the glove of Orioles pitcher Miguel Gonzalez in another AL East tilt, as the O's hurler went to his glove and then his arm after nearly every pitch. Nothing substantial was found in this strange break from protocol.
O's manager Buck Showalter met with a small collection of media before Wednesday's game and ended up on an extended rant about the practice of mudding baseballs and the use of rosin. In the veteran manager's mind, the process of mudding balls is an artifact from a bygone era, noting in Japan balls are treated with a sticky substance and game ready right out of the box.
Showalter, tongue firmly in his cheek, recalled taking the baseball from a pitcher he was removing from a game and barely being able to get the thing out of his hand, so coated in rosin and pine tar or whatever the pitcher used to ensure a firm grip.
This isn't the 1980s and we aren't talking about emery boards and thumbtacks poking through bandaids. Pitchers need to grip the baseball. Sunscreen and pine tar and whatever else helps them do so. Everybody does it, which is to say the culture of baseball permits the practice even if the rules as written do not.
It isn't cheating but it isn't legal. The grey area of speeding on the highway or logging into an unlocked wifi signal. A victimless crime, really.
Victimless as it might be, Michael Pineda will pay the price, both with his wallet and the increased scrutiny sure to follow him in the coming months. The unwanted attention on Pineda will only encourage players to bend the rules as history allows - under cover of darkness, away from the prying eyes and HD cameras. It's a tradition as old as the game itself.
Feature photo courtesy of USA TODAY Sports/Bob DeChiara