Andy Martino, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Major League Baseball's language on pitchers using pine tar to improve their grip could not be more clear. Rule 6.02 (c)(4) states that "a pitcher shall not ... apply a foreign substance of any kind to the ball."
In practice, the issue is far more nuanced.
Many pitchers use pine tar, sunscreen and other substances, and most hitters don't mind, because they prefer that pitchers are able to control the potentially deadly sphere in their hands. Pine tar helps them do that, so baseball's unwritten rules view it as acceptable. It is not seen as egregious as scuffing or doctoring a ball.
That's why, when Yankee fans began complaining on Twitter on Tuesday night about the pine tar on Seattle pitcher Yusei Kikuchi's cap, our first response was to dismiss it.
But to be certain, we texted the below photo to several current and former pitchers and pitching coaches around the league, none of whom are associated with the Yankees or Mariners.
Lmao but this isnt obvious??? pic.twitter.com/r96Js8GaGp- gettleman is ass (@ghanf289) May 9, 2019
The responses were clear and consistent: Kikuchi had gone too far.
"It's over the top," said one pitching coach. "Someone needs to make him aware of the obvious disrespect. Seriously, he needs to be more discrete."
Those ideas of discretion and respect come from the notion that pitchers should be sneakier about their rule-breaking. This might seem odd, but it's how the unwritten rules work: Don't be stupid and ruin it for everyone.
A quote from then-Red Sox manager John Farrell after Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda slathered pine tar on his neck in a 2014 game illustrates that idea.
"I can't say it's uncommon that guys will look to create a little bit of a grip," Farrell said. "Typically, you're not trying to be as blatant."
A recently retired pitcher agreed that Kikuchi was too obvious, and said that the brim of the cap is a common place for pine tar. "I think they always assume that no one will ever notice anything under the hat," he said.
Another pitcher, asked if Kikuchi's use was over-the-top, added sarcastically, "Just a smidge. Welcome to HD."
To be clear, pine tar is not the reason that Kikuchi dominated the Yankees on Wednesday. He won the game by baffling hitters with a slow curve, plus slider, and fastball made sneakier by the offspeed pitches. He was crafty and clever.
But he also cheated a bit too blatantly, disrespecting the Yankees by making it too obvious.