Yankees Are Paying for Pineda’s Child’s Play
At the Brooklyn middle school where I teach, there is a policy that forbids students from chewing gum. Now, I’ll admit, if you look carefully around my classroom on any given day, about ninety percent of my students are breaking that rule. Many of them say it helps them concentrate, and if they’re chewing quietly, it’s a battle I prefer not to pick. The only ones I tell to spit out their gum are the ones who are obnoxiously chomping it or snapping bubbles a mere few feet away from me.
My attitude towards my students’ gum chewing is similar to Major League Baseball’s attitude towards pitchers using pine tar. Sure, there’s a rule on the books that forbids it, but everyone knows that most pitchers use it regularly on cold days. Batters don’t mind because they say it keeps them safer; if the pitcher has a good grip, there’s a smaller chance of being hit by a pitch and risking injury.
The only time you’re going to get called out for using the foreign substance, be it pine tar or gum, is if you’re so blatant that it’s practically an insult to the other party’s intelligence.
Enter Michael Pineda. Two starts ago, Pineda sparkled against Boston, but the one thing that put a slight damper on his performance was a close-up of his palm slathered in a sticky substance that appeared to be pine tar. Red Sox manager John Farrell chose to look the other way, fully aware that violation of the rule is common practice. Farrell has had his fair share of similar accusations about his own pitchers.
Pineda must have thought very little of Farrell’s memory when he took the mound at Fenway Wednesday night. In the second inning, Farrell protested what appeared to be pine tar on Pineda’s neck, of all places, and Pineda was subsequently ejected. He received a ten-game suspension the following day.
So, if everyone is doing it, why was Pineda suspended? Why is he the only gum-chewer getting detention?
Well, it’s like what Don LaGreca and Michael Kay said on the latter’s eponymous radio show Thursday afternoon. He’s basically being punished for not being a good enough cheater. It’s an unwritten rule in the baseball circuit that pine tar use is accepted in a particular capacity. Want to try and overstep that line? Then pay the price. Pineda got away with it the first time; Farrell, leading a Red Sox team that hasn’t gotten off to a great start and might as well use whatever he can get to his advantage, wasn’t going to let the young pitcher rub his face in it a second time.
People seem to want to find others to blame for Pineda’s buffoonery. Let’s blame MLB for not enforcing the rules it sanctions. Who does Farrell think he is, calling Pineda out for doing something that everyone does? How could Joe Girardi let him walk on the field like that? Why hasn’t Larry Rothschild or CC Sabathia taught him the proper way to use pine tar, the way everyone else does?
But Pineda is a big boy. In fact, at 6’7” and 260 pounds, he’s a very big boy, and not exactly inconspicuous on the mound. Surely he heard all the hoopla surrounding the first pine tar incident; anyone who subscribes to ESPN certainly did. To say that he was misinformed or in some way ignorant of the rule is a poor excuse. Did he think no one would be meticulously inspecting him, not just on the mound but through the dozens of camera angles available to the opposing team? To paraphrase Kay, if you rob a convenience store and get away with it and then go back to rob the same store the following week (now with a heightened security system), you’re just asking for it.
The bottom line is that Pineda did something incredibly selfish and stupid, and his team is now paying for it. For at least one start, possibly two, he’ll need to be replaced, and Girardi is still reeling from realization that he needs to permanently replace Ivan Nova in the rotation. Vidal Nuno has been tapped to take Nova’s spot for now, which means David Phelps, who succeeded Pineda after his ejection Wednesday night, will probably make Pineda’s missed start or starts.
That means Phelps isn’t available in the bullpen, so the Yankees had to make some transactions to compensate. They signed Bruce Billings to a major league contract and selected him to the roster, and called up Shane Greene from Triple-A. Infielder Dean Anna, who’s spent some time spelling Jeter at short, was sent down.
In addition, since the bullpen was tapped for unexpected innings after Pineda’s ejection, extra pressure was on Sabathia to go long Thursday night.
Say what you will about the legitimacy of the rule at this point, but a rule in the books is still a rule in the books. Pineda should have known the scrutiny would have been on him to follow the rule after he already blatantly broke it once.
Didn’t anyone ever tell him to swallow the gum when the teacher is looking? Well, who knows. He obviously never learned how to cover up a hickey.
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