Curiousity Corner: Baseball dealing with sticky situations

Baseball dealing with sticky situations


Curiosity Corner


Dr. Jerry D. Wilson

Emeritus Professor of Physics

Lander University


Question: Not long ago a pitcher for the New York Yankees was ejected from the game for having pine tar on his neck to put on the ball. However, when a pitcher is at bat, the pitcher uses a bat with pine tar on the handle for better grip. Next inning, when going back to the mound, does he have pine-tar hands? (Asked by Mr. Patton, Waterloo, S.C.)

Reply: Good question. This refers to a recent incident where New York Yankee pitcher Michael Pineda was suspended for 10 games for having a patch of pine tar visible on his neck that was being transferred to the ball. Baseball rules prohibit pitchers from using foreign substances. I remember the spitball controversy where pitchers used saliva or petroleum jelly on the ball to alter the wind resistance and weight on one side to give it uncommon movements. Yet, pitchers today are allowed to transfer saliva to the ball with the fingers. (Pitchers are always licking their fingers.)

The pine tar case is a bit confusing. Seems to be illegal, but a common practice. In an earlier game, the Red Sox let it go when it was evident that Pineda’s palm was coated with pine tar, rather than having it on his neck. It is generally acknowledged that pitchers use pine tar, but rarely receive complaints. It is said that hitters don’t really mind pitchers using it. Pine tar helps pitchers grip the baseball better, which should lead to better control and fewer wild pitches or beanballs (batter safety). Some believe that small amounts of pine tar should be made legally available to pitchers, much the same way as rosin. Because of the pine tar neck incident and pine tar’s loose use, the rules are to be evaluated.

Now, about pine tar on bats – pine tar for gripping can be used on bats, but this, too, led to a mess. In 1983, during a game between the Kansas City Royals and the Yankees, the Royals led 4-3 in the ninth inning. A Royals batter hit a two-run homer in the top of the ninth, taking the lead. However, the Yankee manager noticed a large area of pine tar on the bat and asked the umpire to inspect. It was determined that the pine tar on the bat’s handle exceeded that allowed according to the Major League Baseball rule book, which read that “a bat may not be covered by such a substance more than 18 inches from the tip of the handle.” Since Brett’s bat did not conform to the rules, he was out for hitting an illegally batted ball. (Call was appealed and overturned. Inning was replayed and Royals won.)

And for Mr. Patton’s question about a pitcher having pine tar on his hands from batting: I’m not sure. Some of my baseball readers will have to let me know. But if so, it would seem that this pine tar would be on the palms and there wouldn’t be that much. A pitcher would want specific spots of pine tar on his fingers, which could be obtained from his cache … even on the neck.


C.P.S. (Curious Postscript): When planning for a year, plant corn. When planning for a decade, plant trees. When planning for life, train and educate people. –Chinese Proverb


Curious about something? Send your questions to Dr. Jerry D. Wilson, College of Science and Mathematics, Lander University, Greenwood, SC 29649, or e-mail Selected questions will appear in the Curiosity Corner. For Curiosity Corner background, go to

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