If you are a baseball fan, you must, at some point have wondered what that sticky brown substance on bat handles of your favourite baseball players is. This substance is known as pine tar, and as the name suggests, it is a product of pine trees generated by specifically distilling the stump and roots. Historically made exclusively for the marine, they used it to preserve boat wood on their shipping vessels and over time, its use has evolved to being an ingredient for making soaps, shampoo and treatment of certain skin conditions.
Significance to Baseball
The main reason pine tar is popular in the world of baseball due to its adhesive properties. Players apply it on the handle of their bats (sometimes-on helmets and hands) to get the best grip and prevent slippage. Batters also enjoy improved performance through graceful swings and powerful hits due to enhanced grip.
Pine tar comes in two easy to apply forms: pine tar stick (also called the chalk) and liquid form. Based on preferences, you can use it either on the handle of the bat or mid-bat if you do not like the handle of your bat being too sticky.
Irrespective of the type of bat pine tar you use, there are basic guidelines to its application as follows:
- Using a clean rag, wipe off any existing dirt or debris as these get stuck on the tar therefore negatively impacting the stickiness and overall appearance of the bat
- If you are using a pine tar stick, uncap it and rub it up and down the bat while gently turning it to ensure it is well coated
- If you are using liquid pine tar, use an applicator to scoop the thick substance and evenly apply it on a clean rag. Take the bat and roll it on the cloth to spread pine tar on the barrel
- Ensure the pine tar application complies with the 18-inch limitation rule as stipulated by the Official Guidelines of Major League Baseball. These guidelines specify that the pine tar should not cover more than 18 inches of the bat handle failure to which the umpire (the person in charge of reinforcing the rules of the game) has the power to remove that bat from the competition
- For the super smooth bat handles, you may be required to apply a second layer of the pine tar after 24 hours following the first application to ensure it sticks perfectly
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Is Bat Pine Tar Legal?
This is a controversial question and issue that has rocked the baseball world for ages. To enable us comprehensively address this question, we shall revisit the typical players involved in any baseball match namely the pitcher (player who throws the ball) and the batter (player who hits the ball that the pitcher throws).
Therefore, to answer our question, bat pine tar is:
Legal for batters:
According to the Major League Baseball (MLB) Official Baseball Rules, 1.10(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 content that extends past the 18-inch limitation shall cause the bat to be removed from the game. The batter may use the bat later in the game only if the excess substance is removed. If no objections are raised before 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.
In non-technical language, the umpire will remove any bat with pine tar covering more than 18 inches from the game. However, this only applies before the game starts, after the game has begun, the rule is rendered null and void. The league made this later modification as a result of the infamous George Brett incident narrated here https://insidepitchonline.com/pine-tar-how-much-is-too-much/
Illegal for pitchers:
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.”
A violation of this rule leads to immediate ejection from the team. An example is the Michael Pineda story here https://time.com/76468/yankees-pitcher-michael-pineda-suspended-for-pine-tar-incident/.
In conclusion, the use of pine tar for baseball players remains a sore subject, especially regarding the rules that players consider flexible for batters and punitive for pitchers.
As columnist Buster Olney aptly articulated: “It is time for MLB to identify a substance they will approve for pitchers so that they can improve their grip on the baseball, something that can be for them, what pine tar is to hitters.”