As someone who writes about baseball in some capacity, I feel inclined to be convicted in my opinions about the game and the events that occur within the confines of a baseball stadium. When Michael Pineda got suspended for ten games using pine tar on Thursday, my opinions on it were muddied and clouded. I didn't feel it was some miscarriage of justice, but it also didn't feel fair considering how commonplace the practice of using substances to help grip a baseball apparently has been. Everything about the situation seemed to be colored gray.
One of the first things that Pineda's ejection and subsequent suspension made my mind jump to was Baseball's institution of replay this year. We are now, at first blush, in an age of adherence to the rules. The human element and "judgement calls" are no longer accepted as long as there is a way to enforce uniformity of the "laws" of baseball. Pineda's folly is a throwback to another age. He is breaking a rule that is often ignored, yet was determined, by an umpire's judgement call, to be breaking the rule in a fashion that was unacceptable. I wonder how long a gentleman's agreement of allowing foreign substances can stand when the average fan no longer accepts for Baseball's rules to not be enforced in nothing but the most predictable and repeatable manner. If a manager opts to break that "gentleman's agreement" and try to get a pitcher ejected on a cold day in the playoffs who had material on his glove, cap, belt, etc., maybe then MLB will be forced to decide that Rule 8.02 be enforced 100 percent of the time with no exceptions.
As usual, what happens going forward all depends on the fans. The players and coaches would likely rather keep the status quo: police themselves and only bring umpires and the league into the matter in really egregious cases of baseball doctoring/using foreign substances. But if fans (with a little help from the media) can work themselves into enough of a froth over the situation like they did with PEDs and replay maybe some changes will be made. Or maybe they'll just forget all about it. It's hard to say. We fans can be an odd group of creatures.
In a lot of ways, this whole situation is a reminder of how removed fans are from the game. The players, umpires and coaches will embrace these unwritten rules as long as there is no outside pressure. They'll play the game in the manner that they feel is best. Fans lamented the competitive imbalances that the "PED Era" represented, but it wasn't an upswell of resistance from players that weren't using that ended it. It was a culture that was clearly accepted by a majority.of the people who make a career out of the sport. That sort of acceptance of their own codes has also allowed pitchers to break Rule 8.02 without their opponents crying foul.
Like I noted initially, I really don't know how I feel about the whole situation. I don't pity Pineda because he really should know better than do pull such a stunt again, especially against the same team. But I don't think a player should just be suspended for doing something silly. Should a player really be punished not for breaking a rule, but not doing it in a certain manner? Or punished for a second offense when he was never censured for committing the first one? All I can say for sure is I honestly have no idea what will happen the next time a player gets caught with a foreign substance. There are so many variables in play now that it's all fresh in the minds of the fans and media. When the rules are ignored and left open for interpretation, this is the situation you find yourself in. For now, it's up to the players and coaches to make the determinations.
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