Michael Pineda messed up, but MLB shouldn't overreact and pine-tune rule book

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Home plate umpire Gerry Davis, right, confers on Home plate umpire Gerry Davis, right, confers on the mound with Michael Pineda, left, shortstop Derek Jeter, and others in the second inning of a game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park in Boston, Wednesday, April 23, 2014. Pineda was ejected after umpires found with a foreign substance on his neck. Photo Credit: AP / Elise Amendola

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David Lennon David Lennon has been a staff writer for

David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.

Ask any major-league pitcher, active or retired, about the Michael Pineda pine-tar fiasco and every one of them will have a story about their own experiences with so-called foreign substances.

Not what they've done, necessarily -- wink, wink. It still is considered cheating, after all. But tales involving their colleagues.

The names mentioned in those conversations include some of the elite arms in the game, past and present.

But until a pitcher is actually called out on such behavior, as Red Sox manager John Farrell did with Pineda on Wednesday night at Fenway Park, these allegations don't amount to much.

Does pine tar or sunscreen or hair gel transform a mediocre starter into a Hall of Famer? The majority of players would say no.

That's why the call for another rule change, this time to 8.02, which details the illegality of foreign substances, sounds a bit extreme after the Pineda episode.

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The rule itself doesn't require much interpretation. To paraphrase, if a pitcher puts a substance other than rosin on the baseball, or has a substance on him or in his possession, he can be ejected and suspended.

Pretty simple stuff. We understand the need to get a better grip on the ball during chilly temperatures, but pitchers have been dealing with that for decades. It's not some new phenomenon caused by the melting of the polar ice caps or increased carbon emissions. Through it all, we've seen a tiny fraction of pitchers actually exposed for violating Rule 8.02, so everyone -- with the exception of Pineda, of course -- seems to be operating just fine inside those guidelines.

Just because Pineda committed two obvious blunders with excessive loading up of pine tar -- within two weeks, against the same team -- shouldn't send the commissioner's office scrambling to rewrite 8.02.

"I don't think this is something that is in need of a rule change," Farrell said. "It seemingly has worked fine for a number of years."

Farrell's stance is not surprising when you consider that two of Boston's best pitchers, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, were accused of using illegal substances last year.

In Lester's case, there appeared to be some glowing green goo on his glove during the World Series, and given the stage, it generated plenty of attention. But the neon green gunk was explained away as rosin, the Fall Classic continued and everyone moved on.

This shouldn't be much different. After the Pineda circus, CC Sabathia took the mound on a Fenway night just as cold and windy and pitched six strong innings, striking out eight.

Sabathia didn't get the full-body scan during the TV broadcast that Pineda was treated to, so it's not as though every start now will become a CSI episode. And Sabathia had no interest in joining the national debate afterward. "I don't make the rules," he said. "I just play."

No pitcher wants this extra scrutiny. The job is difficult enough. But would adding an approved substance for pitchers -- some other kind of legal sticky stuff for cold weather -- solve the problem? It might help, but it certainly wouldn't kill the conversation. Some pitchers will choose to stay with their preferred substance and keep it hidden the way they always have.

Plus, pine tar already is legal everywhere else on the field, and pitchers don't seem to have a problem getting their hands on some. Whether it's applying the stuff to their own bat in the National League or having catchers load up their shin guards with it, there are plenty of ways to remain on the right side of the law.

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Joe Girardi, a former catcher, knows that as well as anybody. He played dumb when Pineda first got caught on camera April 10 with pine tar applied to his pitching hand, but even he refused to make a fuss when Pineda was ejected Wednesday for the obvious placement on his neck.

As for possible alterations to 8.02, Girardi was more open-minded than Farrell, but he didn't campaign for it after the Pineda suspension.

"If they feel it needs to be addressed, they'll address it," Girardi said. "I'm sure it's been brought up before by people in baseball. Obviously, when you get some of the northeastern cities and some of the Midwest, there's some really tough conditions. So I wouldn't be against coming up with an idea."

As far as rule changes go, the commissioner's office has had plenty on its plate less than a month into this season.

On Friday, after an uproar over the new interpretation of the "catch-and-transfer" rule, MLB announced it will revert to the old way of enforcing it. The home-plate collision guidelines also are being re-examined and expanded replay appears to be a work in progress.

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Bud Selig, in speaking to a meeting of The Associated Press Sports Editors on Friday, said MLB will review the use of pine tar after the season. So there won't be any adjustments made before then.

"The way the rule has been enforced, as with lots of rules in baseball, is that when there's a complaint, we do something about it," MLB COO Rob Manfred told Newsday's Steven Marcus. "That's what happened [with Pineda]. I don't think this particular incident is that different from other incidents we had in the past."

There really haven't been that many. Before Pineda, the last two pine tar-related suspensions were Joel Peralta in 2012 and Brendan Donnelly in 2005. With April coming to a close and warmer temperatures presumably on the way, MLB likely has seen the last of this sticky mess until next year.

But when he comes back May 5, we'll be watching Pineda closely anyway.

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