First, let’s make one thing clear. I’m not defending New York Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda’s recent illegal use of pine tar during a game against the Boston Red Sox, where the substance sat on his neck in plain view. He broke a rule, and even if it’s a bad rule, it’s still a rule.
That being said, the prohibition of pine tar in Major League Baseball is an antiquated rule that should be changed. Pine tar offers no more an advantage to an athlete than wearing longer spikes when the ground is wet. Why do players wear those spikes? To get a better grip on the ground. Pine tar helps a pitcher maintain his grip on the ball—especially in cold weather. For that reason, and five others listed below, it’s my belief that the MLB should make pine tar legal for pitchers.
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1. Pine tar is a simple, natural substance that might be used to protect against blisters
Pine tar is just what it sounds like: a sticky, tar-like substance, derived from pine trees. It has been used as a wood preservative and water repellent for ages. It has even been used as an antiseptic for wounds. Ever seen a pitcher leave with a blister? These small but painful injuries happen all the time. Pine tar might prevent them and keep players in the game longer.
2. Pine tar is legal for batters
Yup, the players standing across from pitchers can already use the substance. In fact, they can spread 18 inches of it on their bats, which helps them keep a better grip on the otherwise slippery swing sticks. There are restrictions on how far up the barrel of the bat the pine tar can be spread (if you don’t know this rule, ask George Brett), the reason being that too much pine tar can make a baseball dirty and sticky. And a dirty, sticky ball will have an altered and unpredictable flight pattern. Back in the day, this was more likely to be a problem, since baseballs were a precious commodity and an individual ball was used for much longer during a game. But today the balls are chucked out like the hulls of sunflower seeds. According to FoxSports.com, enough baseballs get used in a game (about 100 per game) that a single ball won’t likely accumulate enough tar to affect its flight or action.
3. Baseball already allows other substances on the ball
Fun fact: Did you know that every single ball you see during a Major League Game has already been rubbed in mud? It’s true, and has been since 1938. The mud takes the sheen off balls and creates a better grip for pitchers. And those rosin bags you see pitchers using during games? The roisin itself is made from pine trees! It is a powdered form of pine that pitchers use to dry their hands and get a better grip on the ball. However, rosin requires more frequent application than pine tar, and the pitcher must walk off the mound every time he uses it. Pine tar is more durable and can be used for a full inning.
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4. Pine tar helps with weather changes
When temperatures drop, a person’s nerve conduction velocity and “excitability” slows. For a pitcher, this means you can’t feel things—like the ball in one’s fingertips—as well as you ordinarily could. When an athlete has to try and grip harder to maintain control of the ball, it actually increases the tension in the muscles up the arm and shoulder to the rotator cuff, putting him at greater risk of injury. Both David Cone and Mike Krukow, former pitchers turned broadcasters, recently admitted to using pine tar when they pitched, saying it was necessary to keep a firm grip. Pine tar would also help in the hot summer months, when a pitcher’s hands can be slick with sweat.
5. Pine does not guarantee a better pitching performance
If a pitcher overuses pine tar, it can impair his control because the ball will be too tacky. The pitcher’s hand will stick to the ball and he won’t be able to release it with the precision needed to throw strikes.
In the meantime, some suggestions for a better grip
Since MLB rule 8.02(b) is still alive and kicking, here are some other ways to keep your hands warm and get a better grip on the ball.
- Squeeze a rubber ball or racquetball. It’s a simple and helpful way to improve grip.
- Use those old-school grip trainers.
- Or try the VariGrip
- Dacige, or Chinese Iron Balls, can be spun around in the palm of the hand as a way to lower stress. They are also used to maintain dexterity, mobility and blood flow to the hands.
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