Chuck Hernandez was a pitching coach in pro ball for more than 25 years, including 10 seasons - two with the Rays - as a major-league pitching coach. Now an assistant coach at USF, the former Tampa Catholic standout shared his thoughts with Tampa Bay Times staff writer Greg Auman concerning Tuesday's ejection of Joel Peralta for having pine tar on his glove and why it's in baseball's interest to let pitchers use the substance.
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It's all about the grip on the ball. There's never been any study that showed pine tar affects the flight of the ball or any movement, the way substances like Vaseline or saliva back in the day, when spitball guys were throwing pitches that were moving funny kinds of ways and everybody was wondering what was going on. Pine tar has never been known to do any of that. More than anything, it's for them to feel the ball, to feel like they have a good grip of the baseball. ...
It's in every bag in the big leagues. We have it everywhere. If you get rid of it, there are going to be hitters getting plunked left and right. When you have adverse weather games, extremely hot, cold, windy, humidity's crazy, sometimes as a pitcher you can't feel the ball. When you can't feel the ball, that's no good for the guy (at bat).
This has been going on throughout the history of the game. If you open up a bag of bullpen balls ... there's a lot of stuff there for grip. I don't see Vaseline in there, I don't see spitters in there, stuff like that, because that would be frowned upon. But anything - guys will use sunscreen lotion, shampoo, shaving cream, anything on their hands to get a better feel on the ball.
I lived through one (similar incident). In the World Series in '06 (when he was the Tigers' pitching coach) Kenny (Rogers) had it on his hands. You have to remember, Kenny was 40 years old. He had beaten up that arm. Veteran pitchers, when you pitch a lot, your fingers don't have the same feel as when you're 18 years old in your fingertips. Kenny was a sinkerball pitcher. He never used it to move or doctor the ball. He did it so he could have a grip on it and felt like he wasn't going to hit somebody in the back of the neck with the ball. ...
Kenny's from Plant City, I'm from Tampa. It's like 30 degrees and 20 mph wind. We're both freezing out there. I didn't even notice it while he was warming up, didn't see it. First inning, our clubhouse manager came down, said, "Chuck, they're all over it on TV (because of additional cameras for the World Series)." ... Tony (La Russa, the opposing manager) handled it very classy. He sent a message through the grapevine: Tell Kenny to clean it up, clean it off. It was never made a big issue. Of course, they beat us. If we beat them, it probably would have turned out to be a bigger issue.
(Tuesday night) I was kind of laughing. I was like, "C'mon, man." I was at a place where it had no volume, so I didn't know what was going on. They looked at his glove, threw him out. I said, "They must have found some Vaseline or jelly or something." When I heard it was pine tar, I was like, "What?" ... Everybody uses something. To me, it's about the safety of the ball. You read the rule, it says no foreign substance on the ball. Well, why is that rosin bag sitting there? A lot of times, the rosin doesn't work.
In my opinion, it's for safety of hitters, which is a good thing. The ball doesn't slip . ... The umpires know it's used. Every once in a while, they'll throw a ball over to the side, and they'll wink over at the coach, like, "Hey, a little bit less. We can't leave spots all over the ball." ...
I would never think twice if the other pitcher on the other team has pine tar. It just wouldn't bother me. ... I don't see anything in pine tar that creates an unfair advantage for a pitcher. You make a big deal of it, and all the sudden guys are going to start, as we call it in the business, pitching naked. You'll have another problem because you'll have guys getting hit in the back of the neck. We have so many unwritten rules as it is. Hit by pitches, you don't always know. More balls would get away from pitchers, and now you're going to be fighting. We're going to have more beanball brawls than ever. It's going to have different kinds of repercussions later.