1 January 2022
The most critical element of battle in baseball is the confrontation between a pitcher and a batsman. In the final analysis, the outcome of any baseball game is determined by which team can out-pitch or out-bat the other.
One of the ways pitchers can maximize their pitching is by using a substance known as rosin, but how legal is it?
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Major League Baseball players have been allowed to use rosin throughout the United States’ history. It is widely favored by others to increase their grip on baseball as they make their pitches. Aside from potentially helping them get batters out, enhanced grips allow for greater precision or accuracy in pitches, which helps avoid potential injury to batters from wayward throws.
In this piece, we’ll be taking a look at the often-controversial use of rosin in Major League Baseball. We’ll find out its history, why players like it so much, and why some think it doesn’t have a place in modern baseball.
Let’s get right to it.
What is Rosin?
Rosin is a white, chalk-like substance derived from the sap or resin tapped from fir trees. These are typically longleaf pines of the eastern Gulf states or the South Atlantic or conifers and pines in the far east.
Once this resin is collected, it is heated in large stills that cause it to separate into fluid rosin and turpentine. Fluid rosin may then be purified and further converted into powder form, which baseball pitchers like to apply onto the palms of their hands for increased grip.
Baseball players, gymnasts, weightlifters, and other athletes who rely on a good grip for their performance all use rosin in their professional activities. Pitchers, in particular, will not only use it to keep their hands dry but mitigate any potential trouble that might be caused by excess sweating along their forearms.
History of Rosin Use in Baseball
The rosin bag has been a common fixture in baseball throughout history. From 1887, you would typically find a canvas bag of rosin powder located behind the pitcher’s mound. 1919 to 1937 saw it banned from the game, but it saw a resurgence that has been maintained ever since.
Rosin Legality in Baseball
Some of the confusion among the general population that makes them stand so vehemently against the use of rosin in the sport is its conflation with a similar yet completely different substance – pine tar. Rosin is dried pine tar, but the similarities in their characteristics and effects on the game ends here.
Pine tar in its liquid form can be a very effective agent to help make baseball bats grip better in the hands of batters, although they are only allowed to apply it on the first 18 inches of their bats. On the other hand, Pitchers are expressly forbidden from making use of pine tar on the baseball they intend to throw or on their own hands.
The reason for this restriction is that sticky substances such as pine tar, vaseline, sandpaper, wax, and maple syrup will make the balls ‘sticky’, allowing for much higher spin rates when the pitchers release the ball towards the batters facing them.
Cheating and the Use of `Sticky’ Substances in Baseball
If you’ve played baseball, you’ll know that an increased spin rate will have major consequences on the game, as it will affect the batter’s ability to anticipate the ball’s motion and so make contact with it when they swing.
A doctored ball will allow the pitcher to make the ball’s flight unpredictable, and faster, or make sharper dips and swerves as it approaches the batter’s mound.
The rules regulating the use of sticky substances in Major League Baseball have been tightened up to discourage any breaches, with the MLB announcing early in 2021 that anyone found in violation of the no foreign substance policy would be immediately ejected from the game and face a ten-game suspension.
Recent cases of egregious doctoring/cheating by professional baseball players such as the Yankees’ Mike Pineda in 2014 further damaged the game’s already somewhat tarnished reputation after the steroid abuse of players such as Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa. This has made the governing authorities keen to stamp out potential scandals of this nature in the future.
The MLB has been roundly accused of being fine with cheating in general, only taking action when the evident results start getting out of hand. An example of this is their late reaction to the two steroid cases we mentioned above – only when long-standing records started falling by the wayside at the hands of these athletes did they feel compelled to take reactive measures.
While being a long-standing one, the rosin debate is one of the milder issues of contention in the world of baseball. For the most part, players on both sides of the argument acknowledge that pitchers should have a good grip on baseball for the safety of everyone involved.
The major point against rosin and its use in baseball is the opportunity it gives to cheaters who might use the opportunity to combine their rosin with `sticky’ substances illegally.