Fair Play Lines Blurred in MLB “Cheating” Controversy

So was it wrong or not? It’d hardly be out of character for a member of the Boston Media to summon the spirit of righteous indignation when the New York Yankees dispatch the Boston Red Sox like they did Thursday night, winning 4-1 on the back of what appeared to be pine tar on the base of Michael Pineda’s palm. But even MassLive lead off their coverage by saying that, “It’s one of the unwritten codes in baseball: When it’s chilly, pitchers do anything to get a good grip,” and no less a Fenway deity than David Ortiz pointed out that, “Everyone [does it]. It’s no big deal.”

David Ross, catcher for the Red Sox, delivered the definitive point on the evening’s discussion. “I would rather the guy know where the ball is going and have a good grip, for me, personally,” Ross told MassLive. “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.”

The curious thing about it is that only the fans seem to get upset about it. Well, that, and the fact that, according to the rulebook, it’s cheating. The rulebook does, helpfully, provide the punishment for the offense — “the pitcher shall be ejected immediately from the game and shall be suspended automatically. In National Association Leagues, the automatic suspension shall be for 10 games.” Harsh.

Baseball mitt catcher glove

It’s interesting that baseball, which enjoys such a ‘crotchety old man’ stereotype among the major American sports (rivaled and possibly surpassed only by golf), has such a relaxed attitude toward the rules. The NBA and the NFL, both sports that seem to hold more popularity among the young — and by extension, should have a relaxed attitude towards things like the rules because what are you, some kind of square? — are dominated by arguments about flopping and offsides and travelling and fumbles. But the majority of baseball fans seem to have found peace with it.

“Especially on cold, windy nights, it’s tough to get a grip on a baseball,” Clay Buchholz explained to The New York Times. “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 it’s giving you an edge 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.”

The MLB does not plan to suspend Pineda over the incident. There has been no word on whether the chill, relaxed, ‘it’s part of the game’ attitude towards breaking the rules will be extended to the use of performance enhancing drugs, or if Pete Rose’s lifetime ban would be repealed.