We have all seen a darkish type of substance attached to the bats of players when they play baseball. Have you ever wondered what that could be? Baseball bats don’t come in those darkish type substances. So what exactly is that?
Today we will be going through what pine tar is and why baseball players apply it on their bats to enhance their grip and swings to boost their performance in the game.
What is Pine Tar?
Pine tar is a sticky substance made out of pine wood. In earlier times, the purpose of pine tar was as a sealant and adhesive. But over time, people have found out that it can be used for other purposes as well and it has gained prominence in the world of baseball.
Usage of Pine Tar in Baseball
The use of pine tar in the baseball game itself was to improve the grip and control over the baseball bat while hitting the ball. It provides a tacky surface that helps players maintain a firm hold on the bat, especially in humid or wet conditions.
Over the decades upon finding that using pine tar in baseball bats gives an added advantage to the performance of the player in the game, it has also become controversial and later on got banned which we will be elaborating further in the article.
The Purpose of Pine Tar in Baseball
Pine tar serves players playing the diamond in various ways such as:
- Tackiness: Pine tar is a tacky and sticky substance that allows it to adhere to the player’s gloves and hands. When applied to the bat handle, it creates a surface that gives better friction to the bat. This tackiness helps players maintain a firm grip on the bat, even when their hands become sweaty or wet during the game.
- Control and accuracy: During a swing made by the player during hitting the ball, pine tar secures a firm grip for the player. This gives the player to focus on the swing mechanics and make solid contact with the ball.
- Safety: It is very common in baseball games that the baseball bat slips from the player’s hand after making a swing and there have been several injuries ranging from minor to major just because the bat has slipped. As discussed in the previous point, pine tar secures a firm grip which reduces the risks of slipping the bat after making the swing.
Potential Dangers of Not Using Pine Tar
We have gathered three dangerous issues that can potentially happen in the game if pine tar is not used.
- Injuries to players on the diamond: When the bat is slipped after making a swing, the projection of the bat flying is very uncertain as it endangers other players on the field, including the catcher, infielders, and even the umpire.
- Safety hazards for spectators: A flying bat can also pose a danger to spectators, especially those sitting close to the field. A slip can send the bat into the stands, potentially causing harm to fans.
- Lack of control: Losing control of the bat due to slippage can affect the batter’s swing mechanics and reduce their ability to make solid contact with the ball. This can lead to less effective hits or even missed swings which ultimately affects the performance of the player and the team as a whole in the game.
Player Performance Using Pine Tar
The speed of the bat, control over it and power of it have been a great interest of discussion for baseball sport enthusiasts. But there are no specific studies on these. There is no need to be upset, there are some anecdotal pieces of evidence and general observations out there for you to curb your enthusiasm.
The primary advantage of pine tar is its ability to improve grip on the bat. A secure grip can lead to better control and prevent the bat from slipping out of a player’s hands during a swing. This, in turn, can contribute to increased bat speed and power generation, as the player can swing with more confidence and aggression.
Pine tar’s sticky texture can provide batters with a sense of confidence and comfort at the plate. When players feel that they have a firm grip on the bat, they can focus more on their swing mechanics and timing, leading to improved performance.
Subjective Player Preference
Some players have expressed their preference for using pine tar, suggesting that it helps them feel more connected to the bat and in control of their swings. This subjective feedback from players supports the notion that pine tar may have positive effects on performance.
The 1983 Incident of Baseball
It was a fine day in Yankee Stadium on July 24, 1983, where Kansas City Royals and the New York Yankees were playing. George Brett who was batting for the Royals, hit a home run against pitcher Goose Gossage. The home run got nullified by the umpires because Billy Martin who was the manager of the Yankees at that time, has made acclaim and protested that Brett had used excessive pine tar on his bat.
The rule for using pine tar in the baseball bat was the player could only apply pin tar on the bat up to 18 inches from the handle. But Brett’s bat had the pine tar applied extending the barrel of his baseball bat.
After reviewing the bat, the umpires declared Brett’s home run an out due to the violation. This led to a heated argument and protest from the Royals, and eventually, the ruling was overturned by the American League president, allowing the home run to count.
Why Did Pine Tar Become Illegal in Baseball?
As discussed earlier in the 1983 incident of baseball, the noisy disturbance after the incident delayed the game for nearly 10 whole minutes. The umpires discussed with both the team managers and reviewed the rulebook. Eventually, The American League president, Lee MacPhail was called upon to make a final ruling on this specific matter.
Lee MacPhail has overturned the decisions of the umpires and allowed Brett’s home run and ordered the game to be resumed from that point, with the Royals leading 5-4. Later on, the Royals won that game.
To this day this game has been the most controversial and iconic game of all time in the history of baseball highlighting the nuances of the rules and their interpretation. This incident then led to a revision of the rules regarding the use of pine tar, specifying the limited area of application on the bat to prevent similar controversies in the future.
Pine tar is still used to this day but is banned if it is used more than 18 inches from the handle to enhance the grip of the players hitting the ball. But, the application of pine tar is strictly monitored by the umpires and any violation can result in penalties, such as the removal of the bat from the game or ejection of the player.
The Role of Umpires During Enforcing The Rule
The umpires were a pivotal part of this time. Their responsibility was to monitor and ensure compliance with the rules and regulations set forth by the league. Specifically, regarding foreign substances, umpires were tasked to identify any violations and take appropriate actions to address them.
Pre Game Inspections
Umpires conducted pre-game inspections of equipment, including bats, to check for any visible signs of excessive pine tar or other prohibited substances. This initial inspection helped set the standard and ensured that players were aware of the rules and regulations.
In Game Monitoring
Umpires remained vigilant during the game to identify any potential violations. They observed the behavior of the players and assessed the appearance and condition of bats and balls. If they suspected a violation, they had the authority to inspect the equipment and take necessary actions based on their findings.
Umpires also responded to complaints or concerns raised by players, coaches, or managers regarding suspected violations. If a player or team suspected that an opponent was using an illegal substance, they could bring it to the attention of the umpires, who would then investigate the matter.
Challenges for Umpires
There were quite a few challenges that the umpires had to face while enforcing the ban on the usage of pine tar in baseball games.
Determining the presence and extent of foreign substances was subjective. Different umpires interpreted differently and had their threshold of what the excessive amount was. This subjectivity led to inconsistencies in enforcement because what one umpire deemed acceptable was viewed differently by another.
Umpires had a limited amount of time to conduct inspections and make decisions during the game. The need for quick judgments increased the possibility of errors or overlooking subtle violations.
The Justification for The Ban of Pine Tar in Baseball
There are mainly two reasons why excessive usage of pine tar is banned in baseball.
- Competitive advantage: Usine pine tar gives an advantage to the players as it gives a firm grip to the player to make solid shots with great power and accuracy giving a smooth swing. But there is a limit to using pine tar on the bat which is 18 inches from the handle. Allowing unlimited use of pine tar could create disparities between players who prefer its benefits and those who opt for a different approach to grip enhancement.
- Safety concerns: As we know baseball bats splinter in many cases and if excessive pine tar is applied to the bat and the bat splinters then the pieces of the bat might stick to the ball creating potential projectiles that can be hazardous to players on the field, including pitchers, fielders, and even umpires. These projectiles can travel at high speeds and cause injuries to players or spectators near the field.
Alternative Gripping Methods
There are other ways than using pine tar for gripping purposes such as rosin, sunscreen, resin, or grip sticks.
Rosin has been approved by the MLB for use as an alternative to pine tar for enhancing the grip on baseball. It has a slightly sticky texture and is applied by the players in their hands or gloves. Unlike pine tar, which is limited in its application to the bat handle, rosin is not restricted and can be applied anywhere.
Players often use rosin bags, which contain powdered rosin, to apply it to their hands or gloves. When rosin is applied to the hand and rubbed between the palms or the fingertips, it creates a tacky surface that helps the player maintain a secure grip on the bat.
Now you might be wondering how sunscreen helps in maintaining a firm grip on a baseball bat. Well, it certainly does, some players use sunscreen, particularly the sunblock lotions, to increase grip on the bat. The sunscreen’s oily texture provides a temporary tackiness that helps in grip.
In some cases, the use of sunscreen as a grip enhancer may be subject to scrutiny and interpretation by umpires, as it can raise concerns regarding the ball coming in contact with the sunscreen.
Resin can be in powder or in the form of block which is another substance used by the players for grip enhancement. It is commonly used by pitchers to improve their grip on the ball. The resin creates a tacky surface when applied to the hands, helping pitchers maintain control and prevent slippage. But in some cases, the use of resin is restricted for pitchers and is not allowed for batters.
Grip sticks which are also known as sticky sticks or pine tar sticks are commercially available products designed to give a tacky grip. These sticks contain a sticky substance, similar to pine tar, which can be rubbed on the bat handle for enhanced grip.
And to conclude our article today, the use of pine tar in baseball is illegal due to a few reasons. The first reason is that it gives the players a much more firm grip over the bat which leads to solid shots with smooth swings. This is an added advantage that the player gets and favors the whole team while the opposition remains ideal.
The second reason is that it can be very dangerous for the players on the diamond and the spectators both of whom are near the batter because the bat might slip if excessive amounts of pine tar is applied on the bat.
But over time, a few legal alternatives have come around such as rosin, sunscreen, resin, or grip sticks. Usage of these substances is also closely monitored by umpires so that the players do not use them more than they should.