By In Baseball

The Obviousness Factor

There’s a fun element of parenting that I like to call “The Obviousness Factor.” It goes something like this: Sometimes you see your kid doing something kind of off but not exactly wrong. For instance, we will see a daughter quietly goofing around with the dog when she should be doing her homework or gently annoying her sister when she could be doing something constructive like cleaning up her room or writing a novel that will make us enough money to retire.

And, up to a point, that’s not really a big deal. You know: Kids will be kids.

But then there’s a point where it DOES become a big deal. And that’s the obviousness factor. This would be the time when the daughter is goofing around with the dog after being told repeatedly to do her homework or annoying her sister after we’ve already had the “OK, you two don’t talk to each other for the next 285 days” talk.

In theory, the first set of transgressions are precisely the same as the second set. But the second set of transgressions are absurdly obvious. And so, as a parent, they are treated differently. As a Dad, I’ll let the first one go pretty easily. I’ll put a stop to the second. That might be lousy and inconsistent parenting but, hey, we do the best we can.

All of which leads to Michael Pineda baseball rule: It’s OK to put pine tar on your hands when it’s cold out there but, for crying out loud, don’t make it SO BLEEPING OBVIOUS.

That, of course, is not the rule as written. Baseball Rule 8:02 states that a pitcher shall not apply a foreign substance of any kind to the ball. That’s where it ends. It is likely that the pine tar Pineda used was made here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. but I don’t think that’s what they mean by “foreign.” The rule is as plain and unambiguous as any rule in baseball — no foreign substance. Period. You can’t rub the ball on glove, person or clothing. You can’t deface the ball in any manner. You can’t spit on the ball or apply anything else. No foreign substance of any kind. Done.

Only … no … not really done. Because somewhere along the way players came to this general consensus that it really wouldn’t be too bad if pitchers put a little pine tar on their hands on cold days. Nobody I’ve talked to around the game seems entirely sure if pine tar actually alters the way a baseball moves. But it does seem to help the pitcher grip the baseball in cold weather. And while that’s an advantage for the pitcher, it’s also generally beneficial to the hitter. Nobody wants a pitcher up there with a blazing fastball and an unsteady grip on the ball. Nobody wants the ball slipping out of the hands of Michael Pineda.

It seems certain — based on photograph evidence and sheer logic — that Pineda had pine tar on his hands the first time he faced the Red Sox back on April 10. This became something of a Twitter cause. And the Red Sox, to a man, did not seem to care. The pitchers didn’t care because, hey, maybe they would like a little pine tar on cold night. The hitters didn’t care because it was cold, Pineda throws rockets, yeah, if he wants to subtly use a little pine tar so he can grip the ball better, well, everyone on the Red Sox seemed OK with that.

He pitched six strong innings, struck out seven, was mostly dominant, and the Red Sox were STILL OK with a little pine tar on the hand. People around baseball obviously see the stark rule as more of a guideline, kind of like a speed limit. You do 58 in a 55 zone and nobody is going to complain too much — except that is the countless cars who want you to get over so they can pass you.

But Wednesday, against the Red Sox, Pineda went to the mound in the second inning with enough pine tar on his neck to cover all of George Brett’s bats. It was so blatant that Red Sox manager John Farrell just couldn’t ignore it. He didn’t. He pointed it out, the umpires threw Pineda out of the game, the Yankees talked about how embarrassed they were about it all, and so on.

Thing is, I have many, many complaints about the way baseball is run and umpired. But here I have to say, I think they handled these two cases exactly as they should. Is it inconsistent? Sure. Is it kind of illogical? Sure. Is it by the book? Absolutely not.

But, in a way, this comes back to my complaint about instant replay in sports. The older I get, the more I believe that games should not be officiated by the book. They should be officiated by the rules and a heaping handful of common sense. I tend to worry that we’re losing the common sense part.

My pal Calcaterra used the Pineda story to make the point that the inconsistency of the Pineda ruling — punishing him only when it’s obvious — is completely inconsistent with the way we have viewed, say, PED use. I think there’s a strong point in there (in how we might want to reconsider the Infamy to PED Users stance that has become all too prominent) but I also think he might have missed something.

The obviousness factor was (and remains) a HUGE part of the PED story. People only started caring about PED usage in baseball when muscle-bound men began hitting an absurd number of home runs. There is little doubt that some baseball players used steroids before, say, 1994. It didn’t just happen one night. Steroid use was prominent in the NFL and track and field and swimming and other sports in the 1970s and 1980s, and you cannot tell me that baseball players just sat out because of the love of the game, especially as the money in the game began to skyrocket. We’ll never know unless someone comes out and admits it, but baseball players were popping greenies like M&Ms, they were smoking pot and drinking to excess and doing any number of illegal drugs. And cheating in various ways whenever they could get away with it. You can’t tell me they drew some sort of line at steroids.

But, from what I can tell, people don’t really care if anyone used steroids in 1970s and 1980s baseball. Why? Nobody hit 70 home runs, that’s why. Nobody broke Hank Aaron’s record, that’s why. You didn’t have unknown players cracking 40 home runs like it was easier than the test sample questions, that’s why.

There is a lot of evidence to suggest the home run surge of the Bud Selig Power Hour was only partly due to steroid use — that it was much more about juicier baseballs and shorter fences and shrunken strike zones and harder bats that have handles thinner than iPads. But there was an OBVIOUSNESS that was impossible to miss about those new burly baseball players with their bigger heads and thicker necks and cartoonish numbers. And so steroid abuse became a theme of the game in a way it never really did in football, where steroids are certainly used more.

It was that obviousness, I think, that tore away any reasonable conversation about whether or not steroids or HGH should have a place in the game as a way to keep players on the field or to help them recover from injury.

If pitchers started throwing nine inning, 18-strikeout shutouts game after game because they were using pine tar, if pine tar pitchers started throwing 10-mph faster than before, or going 30-2 with 0.50 ERAs and 450 strikeouts, yes, I think there would be a pretty big outcry about it. But for now, it seems that all pine tar does is help a pitcher grip a baseball when it’s cold outside. Maybe baseball will put in a rule allowing a moderate amount of pine tar when the weather falls below a certain temperature — sort of the way they let pitchers lick on their hands in colder weather. Maybe they won’t.

Either way, that’s how the game has been officiated for a a while now because pitchers, hitters and umpires all seem to agree that a little pine tar on the hand is not that big a deal. Now, a gob of pine tar on the neck? Yeah. That’s too obvious. That’s flouting the rule. I can understand how that inconsistency would drive some people crazy. But as a parent, I follow the logic entirely.

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64 Responses to The Obviousness Factor

  1. Michael Green says:

    Something else to consider is this. Ron Luciano said that when he would go to check Gaylord Perry, Perry would say, “Don’t look on my right shoulder.” And Luciano would let him off the hook. Why? Maybe he didn’t want the confrontation–but when you consider that league presidents and now the commissioner have, historically, been total wusses in the hip pocket of the owners (or they have been gone FAST), why should the umpire not expect to get crucified if he interferes with a player? When it’s obvious, yes, it’s unavoidable. When it’s not, well, not only might you not want to know, but how DO you know?

    • Breadbaker says:

      The one and only time Gaylord was thrown out of a game, with the Mariners late in his career, they didn’t check him for anything. He just threw a pitch that moved so weirdly that Dave Niehaus had to remark on it. I was listening on the radio and he said something like “what was that?” And suddenly Gaylord was gone. I don’t believe there was an argument.

  2. RickyB says:

    Perhaps pitchers are using pine tar (or something else) too often. Strikeout numbers continue to rise, just not necessarily for one pitcher, for in a less obvious way. How much longer before this trend reaches the tipping point to become obvious?

    • Richard Aronson says:

      I believe strikeout numbers are rising for many reasons, not least of which is that it is generally more effective on offense to swing extra hard and hit more homers (or strikeout if you miss) than to just make contact. Lots of factors make that so: Earl Weaver was smart, fielders are better than ever, positioning is better, gloves are better, relief pitchers reduce the likelihood of scoring with a sustained three hit rally. But the net result is: teams and batters are much more willing to pay in strikeouts for more runs with homers.

  3. aboutamoo says:

    “People only started caring about PED usage in baseball when muscle-bound men began hitting an absurd number of home runs.”

    Gotta disagree. People only started caring when a sullen, entitled jerk in San Francisco started hitting an absurd number of home runs. When it was a couple of smiling, friendly guys in Chicago and St. Louis who gave interviews and waved to the fans, everybody thought that was just dandy.

    • 18thstreet says:

      Yes. But I think it also bothered people when they lied to Congress about it. I think that was also a big moment.

    • KHAZAD says:

      While I think that might have been part of it, I can’t completely agree with that, although personal opinion of a player changes alot of things. (I witnessed this in two Yankee games a couple of years ago. In the first game, Arod’s shirt was grazed by a pitch, and he played it up a little bit, took his base, and the announcer basically called him a punk. In the second game, Jeter was not even touched by an inside pitch, and writhed on the ground like a soccer player, had the trainer come out to check him out, and the very same announcer said that Jeter was a great player who would do anything to win.)

      Most hardcore baseball fans, and more importantly, the baseball media, stuck their head in the sand for a long time about steroids. I was speaking out about the problem in baseball from the late 1980s, and people didn’t want to hear it. I thought that the one OK thing that might come out of the ’94 labor dispute might be steroid testing, Selig didn’t even bring it up. Even when the Mcgwire/Sosa era came about afterwards, people didn’t want to believe it. Some even used the fact that Mcgwire was shown to be taking a (then legal OTC) supplement, they used that as a reason for the power surge. (Body building and legal supplements just changed the game, they would say.)

      Then Barry, who was already the best player in the game, started taking the newest and best stuff, and became cartoon superhero good. It became almost impossible to live in denial any longer.

      I can’t speak for everyone, but in my personal experience, the most virulent anti PED people, the ones who want to keep everyone out of the HOF and put asterisks on records and the like, are the same people who were in denial the longest, and baseball writers lead the way. Some of these people consider everyone guilty who had a power surge or were muscle bound. I had someone tell me the other day that he was 100% sure that one player was using steroids because he hit the same number of home runs in one season as he did the previous two. Of course, using those parameters, Roger Maris would have to be considered guilty as well, and if he had hit his 61 in the 90s, his guilt would just be assumed. (Although in the 1961 season, it is a well known fact that Mantle’s pursuit of 61 was curtailed by an abscess from an infected needle after an injection of a steroid amphetamine mix, so I guess it is possible)

      Those who were in denial the longest seem to place an inordinate amount of blame on Bonds, but I think they just feel foolish and blame Barry for ending their innocence.

  4. Pat says:

    Can we stop sliding from every instance of rule breaking to steroids in order to ask “well aren’t they the same?” Batters sometimes cork their bats, pitchers sometimes sneak a nail file in their gloves, yes, yes, all the world is full of cheaters.

    You know what nail files and pine tar have in common? They pose precisely zero health risk to minor league players trying for an edge to make the majors. They have precisely zero correlation with teenage suicides among high school athletes who want to be like their sports heroes some day.

    The rest of this post is spot-on—and I still refer to Joe’s point about nobody caring until the home run records fell, because that seems precisely right to me—but there is an enormous bright line, and a heap of dead kids, between the charming scoundrelry of Michael Pineda, Joe Niekro, et al., and baseball’s steroid problem.

    • flcounselor says:

      Yes, the concern is about the health of all our athletes.

      That is why there is such a hue and cry over the use of steroids in the NFL, right?

      • Which hunt? says:

        Right? At least they catch a guy every once in a while and slap his wrist.
        I have never to my recollection ever heard of an NBA player being caught with steroids in his system or his locker. Those guys are enormous muscly dudes who suffer though a grueling 82 game season and then if they’re still going strong through two months of playoffs. You can’t tell me that steroid and HGH use isn’t rampant in the NBA. Do they even test?

      • Pat says:

        I’m sorry, what is the argument you’re making, other than unnecessary snark? The health record of the NFL is an embarrassment. You don’t need to catalog all the concussions and post-suicide autopsies revealing extensive brain damage—although that would certainly make the point forcefully—you need only ask yourself how many old football players, other than former QBs, you ever see on t.v. anymore.

        NFL players have a sham of a union, and partially as a result their sport is needlessly hazardous. If the safety record of America’s coal mines were as bad as professional football’s, we’d probably have a viable labor movement again. Baseball, like other enterprises, should aspire to something higher than that embarrassingly low threshold.

        • Ty Sellers says:

          Mark Schlereth – 48
          Tom Jackson – 63
          Cris Carter – 48
          Lomas Brown – 51
          Eric Allen – 48
          Herm Edwards – 60
          Mike Golic – 51
          James Hasty – 48
          Merrill Hoge – 49
          Mike Ditka – 74
          Matt Millen – 56
          Chris Spielman – 48

          And that is just ESPN.

    • Spencer says:


      The CDC lists the death rate for anabolic steroids at 3 per year. 3.

      I don’t really think it’s the moral outrage you think it is. Tylenol kills more people per year.

      • Pat says:

        I missed the part where I called it a moral outrage. My point is just this: There are good reasons to ban steroids, entirely outside of the moral posturing quite a few sports fans seem to think is the whole story here. Yes, there’s a racial component—and more than that, a curious sanctity given to the home runs records—that underlies the gasp of outrage from baseball fans in the late nineties who discovered there was gambling going on in this establishment. That’s not the whole story.

        That said, I’m not at all an expert, nor even familiar with the epidemiological data, but I’m strongly skeptical of the figure you cite. Off the top of my head, there are three mechanisms by which steroid use can be fatal: heart failure, cancer, and suicide, particularly among young users. The first of these seems hard to attribute specifically to any one cause, and the last seems unlikely to have any reliably reported data, at all. This suggests to me two different possibilities: either (a) your figure of three deaths per year is underinclusive of deaths that in fact were contributed to by steroids but which could not be thus categorized, or (b) the CDC data does somehow penetrate these methological difficulties and pins down a remarkably precise figure that, in a country of 300mn.+, is vanishingly small. I just don’t find (b) plausible.

        (Adding, what is it with this thread and the comparisons of steroids in baseball to hugely dangerous things? The NFL, now Tylenol? Tylenol is really bad for you. Steroids also don’t kill as many people as drivers using cell phones. But I hardly think that’s an endorsement of their safety.)

  5. Brent says:

    Pat: Roy Chapman does not agree with your assessment as the health risks of cutting a baseball to make it move more.

    • Pat says:

      That would be Ray Chapman. Can I point out something that probably needn’t be pointed out? Batter wear helmets now. Another example of rule changes inspired to make the game safer.

    • Pat says:

      … and the pitch from Mays wasn’t cut, it was scuffed and stained with dirt and grass and couldn’t be picked up as easily against the sky over the outfield. Shortly thereafter (if memory serves), baseball started starting games with multiple replacement balls so each pitch would be with a clean ball.

  6. In the last paragraph, “flaunting the rule” should read “flouting the rule.”

  7. Max says:

    I think you need to define “obvious” here. You say steroids became a big deal when they were “obvious”, but then point out it really wasn’t the steroids causing these homers. Isn’t that the opposite of obvious, since what people thought they saw was caused by one thing, when really it was caused by a bunch of things? The “obviousness” if the homers were masking the truth, not making it more apparent or obvious. I think nothing is obvious in sports, including why a game happened the way it did, and thinking something is obvious usually leads to uninformed opinions. Isn’t that what Bill James is all about, challenging what we thought was common sense or obvious?

    • Which hunt? says:

      I think that’s the point. It’s not that it is correct to attribute the homerun explosion to steroids, but it’s “obvious” because the giant mean dudes with no necks are jacking dingers without regard to Roger Maris’ feelings, and that is why we care.

    • What’s your explanation for broken bat opposite field HRs? Diluted pitching from expansion?

  8. Blake says:

    I want to know where all the Yankee fans who write HES A CHEATERZ on any ESPN post about whether or not Barry Bonds should make the Hall of Fame are today.

    If this had happened in a Cubs-Brewers game, would it be a big deal?

    • jscape2000 says:

      As a lifelong Yankee fan, there are some real idiots in the pack. But I suspect the Brewers have a few dumb fans too. Yankee fans have been cheering for Arod for ten years, and Clemens and Pettitte before that. Now, this is the moment you manage to wonder where the unreasonable fans are?

      I root for laundry.

    • Pat says:

      … I’m wondering where the Yankee fans who were ever cheering A-Rod are. Having lived as a Red Sox fan in New York for about ten years (including ’03-’04, when they acquired him), I never heard the end of Yankee fans talking about their team—but they were few and far between who copped ever to liking Rodriguez. “Not like Jeter” and “not a true Yankee” were the prevailing sentiments.

  9. I don’t know why people keep referring to the mid 90s as the time everyone noticed about steroids. Jose Canseco was obvious about it from the time he entered the league in 1985. I remember being part of a crowd that chanted “steroids, steroids” at Canseco in either 1986 or 1987. His teammate, Mark McGwire, was still pretty skinny… but we all thought his 49 rookie HRs was a little suspicious with a steroid fueled teammate cracking them almost as much.

    So, to me, steroids entered my consciousness in baseball in the mid 80s, and obviously Canseco proved the lie that was that if you got to big, you’d be muscle bound and couldn’t hit. That’s where things started spreading. I think it was widely thought that steroids would HURT performance in baseball prior to that time. There were outliers, like a Brian Downing & others that just did it on their own (alledgedly). But, for the most part, it wasn’t the availability of steroids, it was just the thought that they wouldn’t help. Once players realized they’d help them…. a lot…. then off it went. Yeah, I guess by the mid 90s things had gotten pretty widespread and pretty obvious. But to dedicated fans, the light didn’t suddenly turn on in 1994.

  10. Carlos says:

    It seems like if a player cheat, but is improductive is forgiven.
    Look at Pujols, was Pujols at roids in 2012,2013 ?. Nobody are ready to say yes.
    But Pujols is back to be a force, and, of course a pile of morons arge that hes on roids.
    Back to Pineda, he broke the rules, he es guilty.

  11. […] Pineda deserved to be kicked out. Joe Posnanski makes a pretty good point here about the Obviousness of Rule Breaking.  Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, you’re out of here. It’s not just that […]

  12. InsaneJedi says:

    While pine tar may not make the ball break more like some other substances that Eddie Harris might use, doesn’t it still darken the ball, making it harder to see? Seems like a pretty distinct advantage to the pitcher. A hard-to-see spitball also was one of the factors that contributed to the death of Ray Chapman, if I’m not mistaken.

    • Bono says:

      If this were the case, wouldn’t the players say so? If the batters don’t care I don’t think we should dig up reasons to make it seem more like cheating.

  13. Herb Smith says:

    Bill James has often said that there are at least 3-5 guys that “he knows of” who used steroids, and are ALREADY in the Hall of Fame. Bill is not the type to just make things up, as you all know.

    Which got me thinking…it’s highly doubtful that the Hank Aaron/Willie Mays greenie-era stars used steroids. It was too early. So what players have been inducted in the past 15-20 years to Cooperstown?

    Tony Gwynn, Cal Ripken, Goose Gossage
    Rickey Henderson, Jim Rice, Dawson, Andre Dawson
    Robbie Alomar, Bert Blyleven,
    Barry Larkin, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas
    Phil Niekro, Don Sutton
    George Brett, Nolan Ryan, Robin Yount
    Kirby Puckett, Dave Winfield
    Ozzie Smith, Gary Carter, Eddie Murray
    Dennis Eckersley ,Paul Molitor
    Ryne Sandberg, Wade Boggs

    Pick 3 to 5 guys. And you holier-than-thou types, please spare us the Bagwell-esque “How dare you cast aspersions without total proof, without 100% damning, smoking-gun evidence!”

    Taking a look at that list, the thing that really catches my eye are that the two most honored, beloved, Mt. Rushmore-type players are the two most obvious candidates. And, hoo-boy, how heads would spin if it ever came out that THOSE two guys had …gasp…used the evil stuff.

    • Richard Aronson says:

      I don’t know who your most honored two guys are. I see four guys I think are above the rest and going to rank highest on Joe’s top 100 list: Ripken, Rickey, Maddux, and Ozzie. And if Rickey, Maddux, and Ozzie were using steroids, I think they were using them wrong.

      • bpdelia says:

        Oh I Have no doubt RICKEY used steroids. This comes from a guy who himself used steroids while playing division I college ball with a future major leaguer who also used. He was in the Mitchell report but it just makes me uneasy to use his name. Google rickey henderson pictures man. You’ll see early rail thin Rickey and then you’ll see super hero .1% body fat body building Rickey.

        However I think he was referring to ripken and Ryan who both maintained quality for many years. Ryan in particular was still a very very hard thrower even at the end. In fact it seems like Ryan still had basically the same physical abilities but just couldn’t stay healthy in his mid 40s.

        On that list I see Rickey, Ryan, Puckett and maybe gwynn. Also boggs was very competitive and agym rat type.
        Ripken is possible.

        • EnzoHernandez11 says:

          “On that list I see Rickey, Ryan, Puckett and maybe gwynn.”

          Tony Gwynn? You mean steroids make you fat and help you to hit eight home runs a year? If this were true, we could send every high school in America before-and-after pictures of Tony, and we’d end this problem overnight.

    • flcounselor says:

      One of my favorite players was Kirby Puckett. But I can’t be the only one who noticed an obvious difference in Puckett’s stats:

      1984: PA 583, HR 0
      1985: PA 744, HR 4
      1986: PA 723, HR 31

      Puckett also had a few legal troubles caused by an aggressive temper, didn’t he?

    • MisterMJ says:

      Hey, current and recently-retired players are up for scrutiny so why not examine HOFers? I’d say Paul Molitor … widely-known history of drug use and a curious peak from 1991-1996 (age 34-39) when he barely missed any games – his career had been riddled with injuries during the 1980s. Rickey Henderson … extraordinarily large ego, tremendous physique into his 40s, and long, long, long career. Robbie Alomar … career fell off a cliff when steroid/PED testing increased. Kirby Puckett … weight-lifting enthusiastic from his teenage days and his power numbers shot up; also health complications post-career.

    • Spencer says:

      @herb Smith

      Most likely to me are Ripken, Ryan and Henderson.

      Productive longevity and ability to stay healthy are big red flags.

      • Ian R. says:

        Not to pick on you in particular, Spencer, but I find this interesting:

        You cited “ability to stay healthy” as a red flag.

        Others cite Kirby Puckett’s health issues as a red flag.

        Look at some recent known steroid users, and they’re a mixed bag. Bonds, for instance, was pretty remarkably healthy until he hit 40. A lot of people attribute that to steroids. But Mark McGwire and Jason Giambi, to name two, had pretty significant injury troubles in their 30s… and quite a few people attribute that, too, to steroids.

        You may be right (or you may be completely wrong, who knows?) but I’m not sure if injuries or lack thereof are a red flag.

      • Ripken had a pretty normal career trajectory. MVP season at age 30, and then started to decline. He was still a good player until 35, but continued to decline. He was done at 40, which is about how long many super stars lasted. They could still play a little even at 40, because they were that good. Ripken had the games played streak, but his numbers didn’t show anything unusual especially late in his career.

    • EnzoHernandez11 says:

      If Bill James *knows* they used steroids, then why would he pick a dodgy number like 3-5?

      • Herb Smith says:

        I think that he said five. However, I can’t recall for certain, and so rather than state the higher number as fact, I generalized. Does anyone know the exact quote? I’m pretty sure that Mr. James has mentioned it many times.

        While we’re here, go take a quick look at Nolan Ryan’s baseball-reference page. Among many curious facts: From age 25-32, he leads the league in strike-outs every year but one. From ages 33-39, he never once leads the league, and usually finishes with less than 200 K’s.

        Then suddenly, starting at age 40 and through his age 43 (!) season, he leads the league for 4 straight years in strike-outs, including 301 K’s at age 42. Just kind of interesting.

  14. Cathead says:

    I don’t know if it’s fair to say that the Red Sox didn’t care that first time. There could have been several reasons not to make a fuss. That game was at Yankee stadium. The Sox bench may not have been as sure about it as the tv crew was. Just like a parent who lets the kid off the first time, it’s not because they don’t care.

    But the second time was at Fenway, it was just as obvious, the Sox were alerted to the issue, and you just can’t let the other team get away with it too many times.

  15. Chris Caggiano says:

    Joe, thank you for helping me wrap my head around this. When you framed it like the speed limit it sorted out a lot of things for me that I’ve been struggling to put into words. There is this trend in all things now where its either one or the other. But the way we treat the speed limit is such an amazing thing. It is a consensus that we’ve all reached without ever defining it outright. The further you stray the 5,6, or 7 mph over the bigger chance your taking from straying too far from our undefined consensus and face the consequences. Instant replay, like traffic cameras takes away those subtleties. I now have to define something to the nth degree and at a certain level, I’m thinking of things like the ball transfer, I’m wrapped up in a distinction that is pointless. I can know a catch without having to define it exactly and I know when I’m getting into risky territory while driving without the rulebook laying it out. This is the best thing I’ve seen written on this pine tar episode and one of favorite pieces by you. The Rulon Gardner piece is still my all time favorite and one I reread often by the way.

  16. J Hench says:

    My wife calls the speed limit a “speed suggestion.”

    That seems to speak to the common-sense aspect of the law.

  17. bpdelia says:

    Great metaphor with the speed limit. 5mph is illegal but tolerated. 8 over? Ehhhh, depends on the cop. 10 over? Now your risking it. However when everyone on the highway is going 80 it’s fine. When one guy blows past going 85? Now it’s too obvious. You’ve pierced the illusion and have to pay.

  18. Guest says:

    i think “flaunting the rule” should read james baldwin, but i’m just an establishment liberal new york times reporter, so what the “hay/hey” do i know?

  19. Matthew says:

    Just as the Pineda suspension news came out today, the Cardinals were playing the Mets, and Lance Lynn was obviously using some kind of foreign substance. There was a dark spot on the bill of his cap that (in the 5th and 6th innings at least) he would touch, then lick his fingers, then grip the ball. Before every pitch. If you have MLB.TV, you can go to the game archive and see it for yourself. It’s not subtle.

    So I guess my question is, where do you draw the line? If the weather is 10 degrees warmer, would Lynn’s actions be wrong? If it’s a playoff game, and someone notices and raises hell on twitter, does that make it wrong? If Lynn were pitching poorly, would that justify it somehow?

    I think baseball should, and ultimately may have to, develop a set of rules about this stuff that they are willing to enforce. Selective enforcement of the rules seems like it leaves too big a gray area.

  20. Cliff Blau says:

    The thing is, Pineda wasn’t ejected and suspended for applying a foreign substance to the ball. If that had been the case, the umpire wouldn’t have had to inspect him. He was ejected/suspended for applying a foreign substance to his person, violating rule 8.02(b).

  21. :-) says:

    I find it interesting how some rules can be broken and people can be branded a “Cheater” and others are just “Strategic”. Consider: an NFL lineman who holds (against the rules) and gets away with it; a NBA player who “flops”-(which is a contact foul and against the rules) and gets the charge call. What about a pitcher who balks (breaking the rules), but it isn’t called. All of these guys are helping their team win. Steroid users figured out a way to help their team win. Those wins aren’t being redacted. They got away with it. They were exactly what their numbers say they were. Now we can test better in the future to make sure it doesn’t happen again, but that doesn’t take away from what these guys (Bonds, Arod, Clemens..) accomplished. They were strategic and made calculated decisions with a risk/reward just like a pitcher with a good balk move.

    • So, you’re comparing umps or refs missing a balk or holding call to using steroids? That’s a new one. Steroid apologists may not be logical, but they’re damned creative with their analogies.

  22. Pat says:

    … sorry, one more: Mays’s ball wasn’t cut or shaved; it was covered in dirt and grass stains. And it didn’t move more than expected; it was too dark to pick up against the sky over the outfield. In addition to helmets, the rules now provide for fresh balls.

  23. DjangoZ says:

    Oh, you’re doubling down on this. Okay.

    Please point us to evidence-based analysis that shows that “juicier baseballs” led to the homerun surge. Would really like to read that.

  24. Richard says:

    The “speed limit” analogy is a good one. There’s also the matter of “Effective use of enforcement resources”. In traffic enforcement, we could have radar guns every mile or so along every street, with police at key points ready to go after speeders. But no one would ever be willing to even pay for such enforcement, never mind the question of infringement on personal privacy.

    In baseball, we could have the umpires inspect every player before they step onto the field at the start of each inning. Does anyone really want that?

    There are plenty of laws and rules and regulations in real life as in sports that are on the books, but rarely enforced. It’s a matter of making the best use of the resources you have available. You pick the fights where you have a good chance of winning, or the ones (as with Pineda) the offense is so blatant that you cannot ignore it.

  25. Patrick Bohn says:

    Eh, I don’t know. I think there’s a segment of writers/fans who just make up the rules as they go, and show no logical consistency when it comes to other sports, or in the game itself.

    Bryce Harper needs to play smart and not go crashing into walls to catch flyballs. Robinson Cano needs to run out a routine ground ball in the 3rd inning of a four-run game in the 17th game of a 162-game season. Hitters who flip bats and watch home runs are showboaters, but every time the NFL makes a rule limiting celebrating, we make “No Fun League” complaints. Media guys hate it when players give cliched non-answers, but will criticize players who make controversial, non-cliched answers. A football player who can’t remember the name of his kids is criticized, but apparently Daniel Murphy can’t take paternity leave. We have congressional hearings about steroids in baseball, but football players can be suspended for steroids and no one really cares. We talk about morality in the game, but spend 1/100th of the time talking about Josh Lueke as we do A-Rod.Bonds/Clemens.

  26. Andy says:

    Barry Bonds’ new nickname: Captain Obvious

  27. JimW says:

    The “Obviousness Factor” was topical regarding Pineda, but it gained a new relevance today with everything happening in the NBA. Donald Sterling as a dyed-in-the-wool bigot has been public and documented knowledge for years, without more than recurring minor pushes for his ouster. An explicit audio tape must have crossed the threshold, because we just went from zero to 100 on the public pressure in about a minute.

    • Karyn says:

      It’s been public knowledge in the sense that all the discrimination lawsuits he lost are part of the public record. But until the last three years or so, the Clippers were terrible, so no one cared. A recording? On TMZ? During the playoffs? That’s national news, my friend.

  28. DB says:

    If they need pine tar, then what is the rosin bag for? And isn’t rosin essentialy pine resin which is pretty much the same as pine tar?

  29. keenboss says:

    Several MLB pitchers have commented that pine tar does more than merely help with the “grip.” Supposedly, thew grip helps the ball spin in a tight way.

  30. KB says:

    It almost feels like John Farrell got a call in the dugout from some anonymous Player’s Union rep who told him, “John, you gotta go out there and say something this time. You let him get away with it again and there will be no end to the ball busting the guys on Baseball Tonight give us. If we want to keep the pitchers using pine tar, you gotta make a sacrifice for the greater good right friggin now.”

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