Pine tar is a very tacky, sticky substance that is produced by the high temperature carbonization of pine wood. Before its use in baseball, it was primarily used by mariners as a sealant for their vessels. Now, it is probably most commonly associated with use by baseball players in addition to batting gloves, baseball bat wraps and accessories. In this article, we will discuss everything you need to know about pine tar use in baseball.
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What is Pine Tar in Baseball?
In baseball, pine tar is the brownish-black, extremely tacky substance that is most commonly used by hitters looking to improve their grip on the handle of their bat. The tacky, sticky nature of the pine tar allows hitters to have a more “relaxed” grip on their bat, which can help in making better contact with the ball and getting more pop on contact.
It is not always only used on the handle the bat that players elect to put pine tar on. Some players have even been seen to put a healthy amount of pine tar on their helmet rather, or in addition to their bat handle. This is so they can continuously apply pine tar to their batting gloves (or bare hands) by simply touching their helmet.
Pine Tar Rules in Baseball
Using pine tar in baseball is both legal and illegal depending on how it is used. For batters, it is legal, with some exceptions. For pitchers, it is completely illegal. For a more in-depth description of the rules for batters and pitchers, we have included MLB’s official rules below.
Pine Tar Rules for Batters
According to Rule 3.02(c), “The bat handle, for not more than 18 inches from its end, may be covered or treated with any material or substance to improve the grip. Any such material or substance that extends past the 18-inch limitation shall cause the bat to be removed from the game.”
NOTE: “If the umpire discovers that the bat does not conform to (c) above until a time during or after which the bat has been used in play, it shall not be grounds for declaring the batter out or ejected from the game.”
Rule 3.02(c) Comment: "If pine tar extends past the 18-inch limitation, then the umpire, on his own initiative or if alerted by the opposing team, shall order the batter to use a different bat. The batter may use the bat later in the game only if the excess substance is removed. If no objections are raised prior to a bat"s use, then a violation of Rule 3.02(c) (Rule 1.10(c)) on that play does not nullify any action or play on the field, and no protests of such play shall be allowed.
Pine Tar for Pitchers
According to Rule 3.01 (3.02), "No player shall intentionally discolor or damage the ball by rubbing it with soil, rosin, paraffin, licorice, sand-paper, emery-paper or other foreign substances (such as pine tar)."
According to Rule 8.02(b), "The pitcher may not attach anything to either hand, any finger, or either wrist. The umpire shall determine if such attachment is indeed a foreign substance (i.e., pine tar), but in no case may the pitcher be allowed to pitch with such attachment to his hand, finger or wrist."
How to Use Pine Tar on a Bat
When applying pine tar to a bat, you can either use a jar of liquid pine tar or a stick of pine tar. Sticks of pine tar are much more commonly used by the public and are much more accessible than a jar of liquid pine tar. For that reason, we will only be discussing how to apply a stick of pine tar to a bat. Remember; keep the pine tar within the 18-inch limitation area!
1. Wipe away any debris from the bat
You will want a clean surface when applying a coating of pine tar, this will make it easier to put apply and will make it much stickier.
2. Uncap the stick and expose a few inches of pine tar
A lot of pine tar sticks will have a paper wrapper around the pine tar itself. Peel this down a few inches to expose the top of the pine tar for easy application.
3. Apply pine tar to bat
With the 18-inch rule in mind, apply your desired amount of pine tar to the handle of the bat by rubbing the stick of pine tar up and down the handle, turning the bat as you for an even coating. Re-apply pine tar as needed.
The Pine Tar Incident (George Brett)
Probably the most well-known incident involving the MLB’s pine tar rule 1.10(c) occurred on July 24th, 1983 after George Brett of the Kansas City Royals hit a go ahead two-run home run in the ninth inning of a game against the New York Yankees. Yankees manager Billy Martin requested that the home plate umpire inspect the bat that Brett used due to Brett using an excessive amount of pine tar on his bat previously in the season.
Upon measuring the bat against the 17-inch home plate, the umpire confirmed that there was indeed pine tar that exceeded the 18-inch limitation and in turn, ruled Brett out for using an illegal bat. This resulted in him being the final out of the game, as the home run no longer counted. The Royals protested the ruling and the call was eventually reversed and Brett’s home run was restored. Twenty-five days after the ruling was overturned, the game was resumed in the top of the ninth inning with the Royals up 5-4 over the Yankees.
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This incident ultimately resulted in an amendment to the MLB Rule 1.10(c), which was done to ensure that any challenges of the rule must be voiced prior to an incident occurring.