MLB Should Re-Evaluate Pitchers and Foreign Substances

Brewers pitcher Will Smith was clearly breaking the rules on Thursday. So why was he so angry and shocked when he was ejected?

We saw a situation like this last year with the New York Yankees’ Michael Pineda:

A pitcher will blatantly sport some extra curricular substance on his person, yet appear dazed and confused – maybe even infuriated – when the opposing team decides to point the gook out to the umpires, resulting in an ejection.

Maybe it’s pine tar, maybe it’s Vaseline or some kind of bug spray. Hurlers with longer locks are always a safe bet to use hair gel or spray. What it definitely is not is sunscreen and rosin, which was the best excuse Brewers reliever Will Smith could come up with after Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez outed him on Thursday for a substance shinier than a brand-new penny.

Forget that Smith, like Pineda, was dumb enough to leave the stuff in plain sight – his arm was glistening in the Atlanta moonlight. No, how about how irate he was? How about how he was cursing and yelling and pointing at Gonzalez and umpire Jim Joyce like they were at fault? How about how teammate Matt Garza and manager Craig Counsell were as equally livid, even though their guy had obviously done something wrong.

“Everybody does it,” Counsell said after the game.

He is right. Everybody does do it, and that was why Smith was so upset. Whatever you want to to call it, whether it be doctoring the ball, trying for a better grip or just plain old cheating, everybody in the game, more or less, does do it. Going back in time some accused or caught perpetrators include Smith, Pineda, Whitey Ford, Jay Howell, Kenny Rogers, Cliff Lee, Joel Peralta and every pitcher to wear a Boston Red Sox uniform in the last five years.

All kidding aside, this is not meant to say the things Gaylord Perry used to do to make a ball dance are okay or to suggest that pitchers should carry an emery board out to the mound with them like Joe Niekro once did. However, in the wake of Smith being issued an eight-game suspension, it is a good time to ask whether or not Major League Baseball is right about this issue.

Simply put, they are not. While the idea of pitchers having open season on foreign substances is ludicrous, the league should take a look at permitting regulated use of such things, especially pine tar. As Smith and Pineda both said following their incidents, their idea was to get better grip on the baseball. Whether hitters want to admit it or not, that is good for everyone.

Luckily, there are indeed hitters who admit it!

“You want the pitchers to do it to get a better grip so we don’t get it in the head,” Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said on Thursday.

10 September 2014:  Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman (5) in action against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. where the Atlanta Braves defeated the Washington Nationals, 6-2.

Even Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman admitted he’d rather opposing pitchers use pine tar than hit him.

Red Sox outfielder Shane Victorino and second baseman Dustin Pedroia said much of the same last year when Pineda used pine tar twice in a matter of days against their team. With a guy throwing in the mid-90s on cold, rainy nights, they were more concerned about safety. That, and they probably did not want the Yankees looking into any of their own teammates.

Look, Major League Baseball should do their due diligence and give some thought to reclassifying pine tar as an illegal substance for pitchers. A guy should not be allowed to use it whenever they please, but if the situation makes sense and there is a chance to promote someone’s  health, the game should be all for it.

In the meantime, pitchers like Smith and Pineda need to stop being so careless with where they put things – they might want to check out Jeff Passan’s “Pitchers’ guide to cheating: How to do it right.

With just minimal effort, no one is going to bother them.

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