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Amid a growing debate over whether pitchers should be openly allowed to use pine tar to get a better grip on baseballs, MLB executive vice president Joe Torre said he has concerns about the substance being legalized for pitchers because of potential safety issues.
Torre slapped Michael Pineda with a 10-game suspension Thursday after the New York Yankees' starter was ejected in the second inning of a game against Boston for having a noticeable smear of pine tar on his neck. Pineda said he applied the substance after he had trouble gripping the ball on a cold, windy night at Fenway Park. He subsequently apologized and accepted his punishment without an appeal.
Since the Pineda suspension, David Cone and Mike Krukow are among the pitchers-turned-broadcasters who have said they routinely used pine tar during their playing careers. While pine tar is permitted for hitters, pitchers are governed by Rule 8.02(b), which says they're subject to immediate ejection for using any kind of foreign substance on the mound.
Although some observers contend that pine tar enhances hitter safety because it gives pitchers more control of the ball, Torre fears the possible ramifications of a rule change.
"I can understand the fact you don't want the ball slipping out of a pitcher's hand because someone can get hurt," Torre told ESPN.com Saturday. "But there's also the aspect that the ball may stick on your fingers longer and you may be able to make it sink or cut more or whatever. And it may act in a dangerous way with guys who don't know what they're doing with it.
"As far as legalizing a foreign substance, my only concern is the probability that if you use it excessively, you'll have the ball act in a way that could be dangerous. If you just open it up and say, 'Yeah, you can go ahead and use this,' it's tough to be responsible for the outcome because you don't know what that's going to be."
In an interview with The Associated Press sports editors, commissioner Bud Selig said MLB will wait until after the season to study the issue of pine tar and a possible rules change for pitchers. In the meantime, baseball has refrained from issuing any directives to clubs, and will leave it to umpires to take action if they see that a pitcher's ball is acting suspiciously or an opposing manager or hitter levies a complaint.
Torre said that MLB might also take a look at baseballs in Japan, which have a more "tacky" surface and appear to be easier to grip without pitchers having to apply pine tar or other substances.
Torre said he does not expect the Pineda episode to have a carry-over effect in the 12 games remaining between Boston and New York this season. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said he was "embarrassed" over the organizational breakdown that allowed the incident to take place, and manager Joe Girardi said he was unaware that Pineda had taken the mound with pine tar on his neck.
Torre agreed with many observers who said that Boston manager John Farrell was forced to bring Pineda's transgression to the attention of home plate umpire Gerry Davis because the offense was so blatant. Torre said ejection was the "only recourse" under the circumstances.
"I can tell you, from the manager's perspective, it's uncomfortable to go out there and do that," Torre said. "It's a nightmare for me knowing what the rivalry is between the Yankees and the Red Sox. Having something like this happen early in the season, I hate to even believe this will be a tit-for-tat thing. I hope it's not going to be that."
Torre also said he expects Pineda to be the focus of heightened scrutiny when he returns from his suspension -- and not necessarily from MLB or the umpires.
"I have a feeling the next time Pineda is pitching, they'll undress him on the mound with all those cameras," Torre said. "I feel sorry for the kid, but he created this himself and he'll have to deal with it. With the technology today, they can pick up a lot of things that years ago you never considered."