Yankees

Keidel: Pinhead Pineda Needs To Get A Grip

A Rather Harmless Vice In Eyes Of Baseball Turned Into Fiasco For The Yankees
The Yankees’ Michael Pineda pitches against the Boston Red Sox during the first inning on April 23, 2014 at Fenway Park. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

The Yankees’ Michael Pineda pitches against the Boston Red Sox during the first inning on April 23, 2014 at Fenway Park. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

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By Jason Keidel
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Not even I can defend this.

Last week I wrote a pyrotechnic piece on Boston’s hypocrisy. For a long time the Red Sox have whined about the Yankees’ juiced-up rosters that won World Series in the ’90s, while ignoring the fact that they won two titles on the backs of behemoths who saw the business end of a syringe more than once.

Then they griped about Michael Pineda, whose wrists were coated in the brown, opaque balm that everyone knew was pine tar. The Red Sox didn’t protest, so no measures were taken. Umpires are judges, not cops, so they only act on the whims of the managers.

Later we learned that the Red Sox acted out of self-preservation as much as anything, because it seems baseball teams and players have an implicit agreement that most pitchers dip into the stuff with some frequency.

But not only did Pineda do it again, he did it against Boston, in Boston, on national television.

There’s a streak of masochism to it. No baseball game is more surgically dissected than Yankees-Red Sox. There are thousands of fans, hundreds of cameras, and dozens of reporters at every game, looking for an angle or story to break on the white-hot rivalry.

The sequence seemed in slow motion. John Farrell ambled out to home plate, whispered to the umpire, who strolled out to the mound, and had Pineda pirouette until they found the brown glob smeared across his tan neck. The ump clearly mouthed “That’s pine tar” and gave him a subdued hook, to the euphoria of fans in Fenway.

There could be no more orgasmic theater than that for Red Sox fans, watching a Yankee be banished to the corner, dunce cap in tow, the beer-soaked crowd shouting their vulgar salutations. He earned every octave as he did every game of his 10-game suspension, as announced by MLB on Thursday.

And then there was Pineda after the game, obscenely tall and rather fragile, his back literally against the wall, a bouquet of iPhones under his chin, murmuring into the microphones in his brittle English.

Joe Girardi didn’t make a big deal of it and, frankly, neither did any pundit who played pro baseball for a few years. But it wasn’t for the Yankees to decide how this would be adjudicated in public. You can’t defend Pineda’s stupidity.

Joe Madden spent 20 minutes on ESPN talking about the proliferation of pine tar in MLB, regarding it as freely as sunflower seeds.

The network’s longtime baseball guru, Tim Kurkjian, said a small army of catchers even lather their shin guards with pine tar. In the event their pitchers can’t get a firm grip on the ball, they swipe a swath from their pads, rub the ball with the brown sauce, then toss it to the mound.

Barry Larkin said he had no problem with it. Doug Glanville went so far as to say batters encourage it because a bad handle on the ball means a ball to the batter’s dome. Even Al Leiter, who was calling the game Wednesday night, was unmoved by the surreal scenario.

Every media roundtable has been an identical echo chamber. Use the pine tar; don’t abuse the pine tar. The universal analogy seems to be speed limits. Drive up to 65; just don’t zip by the cop going 90 in a school zone.

Of course, the self-righteous folks, the ones who didn’t get caught, will coat the incident in apple-pie pieties. How dare he do that?!?! Kids are watching! Please. Every team in every sport has a player who sees the rules through a rather liberal lens. Some get caught; most don’t.

No pitcher has been tossed since one of Madden’s hurlers got busted in 2012. And since it’s obvious that most pitchers dabble in dirt we can only assume that we have a gentleman’s agreement that you can swipe something sticky to get a tight handle on the baseball. Just don’t mummify yourself in the substance.

Pineda hurt himself and his team. Just as he was establishing himself as a starting-staff mainstay after two years in injury exile, he pulls this. He will be suspended. He will be humiliated. He will be heckled all year. He has given his foes endless fodder, a veritable SNL sketch at his expense.

Pineda doesn’t just have a hard time getting a grip on a baseball. He needs to get a grip, period.

Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel

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