Yankees’ pitcher Michael Pineda got busted by the Red Sox yesterday for having a big smear of pine tar on his neck. The ump came out, fingered Pineda’s neck and threw him out of the game. Pineda now faces a mandatory 10-game suspension (two starts) for using a foreign substance on the baseball.
Reportedly, using pine tar is mainly a method to help the pitcher get a better grip on the ball in cold, dry weather when rosin doesn’t work well for that purpose. Hitters say they don’t really have a problem with pine tar, at least so long as it’s applied discretely, since it doesn’t really alter the flight of the ball and may make it less likely that they’ll get hit by a pitch that gets away from the pitcher.
I think these kinds of episodes add a little spice to the game. A player tries to get away with a little something to give him an edge, and sometimes he gets caught and punished. This particular episode will be a subtext in all the remaining Yankee-Red Sox games this year, and the Sox will have to worry that the Yankees will be doing everything they can to catch one of their pitchers (for example, Clay Buchholz, who has been accused of using foreign substances in the past) doing something he shouldn’t.
In my mind, it’s extremely easy to differentiate this kind of cheating from the use of performance enhancing drugs. The reason that performance enhancing drug cheating is different is mainly because use of PEDs is really unhealthy. No one ever got liver damage, heart problems, or an increased risk of cancer by applying a foreign substance to a baseball.
Futher, more than the adverse health effects that PEDs cause to the adult athletes who elect to take them, failing to sternly punish PED use by professional athletes promotes PED use by teenage athletes hoping to get an edge so they can become professionals themselves one day. Of course, some athletes, professional and otherwise, will use PEDs to get an edge no matter what the consequences. However, professional sports don’t need to be promoting their use and abuse by turning a blind eye on their athletes using them.
In another piece of Yankee news, espn.com has a screaming headline that Masahiro Tanaka says it isn’t impossible he could go 24-0 in MLB like he did in Japan last year. Reading the story and Tanaka’s actual statements, the headline seems way overblown.
Tanaka’s actual statements aren’t extreme at all. He says the chances of him going 24-0 in MLB are not zero (they aren’t: there is at least an absolutely minute possibility that Tanaka could do it), that he tries his best to win every game he pitches (what major league pitcher doesn’t?), and that he refuses to think it’s impossible in order to keep his mental edge.
As a practical matter, the odds of Tanaka going 24-0 in the MLB are extremely small, but certainly not impossible. The record for consecutive wins by a major league pitcher is 24 (in 27 starts) by Carl Hubbell between the 1936 and 1937 seasons.
As a final note, Tanaka is sometimes reported to have a 30 game winning streak going between the end of the 2012 season and this season. That’s true in terms of his regular season wins. However, Tanaka lost the most important game of his 2013 season, Game Six of the Japan Series, by a 4-2 score, although he had won Game 2 and came back to save Game 7, giving his team, the Rakuten Golden Eagles its first Japan Series title.
24 consecutive wins is something I don’t think we’ll see again for a long time, either in MLB or in Japan’s NPB.