I’ve been watching baseball games for more than 30 years. But I ran across something I never realized before. So I thought I’d share with you.
So I was watching a San Francisco Giants game recently when someone asked me “What is up with all that gunk on Pablo Sandoval’s helmet?”
My response: “Aw, it’s just something baseball guys do.”
Friend: “Is there any purpose to it?”
Me: “Is there any purpose to baseball players spitting every 30 seconds?”
Friend: “Well, it’s disgusting. They should make a rule against it.”
I shrugged the suggestion off. I mean, Pablo’s not the first nor the only player to encase his batting helmet in gunk.
I can remember Craig Biggio doing it in the 1990s and early 2000s.
And Vladimir Guerrero was another culprit.
And, of course, Manny Ramirez.
It just seemed like an age-old tradition.
But last week while watching game, one of the TV commentators talked about the gunk on the helmets, and gave a perfectly logical explanation that never dawned on me before.
It’s pine tar, that sticky substance that is normally on a rag on the on-deck circle for batters to apply to the handle of their bat for a better grip.
Well, some hitters will also rub that pine tar rag on their helmets as they head to the plate. Why? Well, if you’re in the middle of a particularly long at-bat and you want a little more stick to your grip, you don’t have to walk back to the on deck circle to grab the pine tar rag — and the umps probably wouldn’t let you — you just have to adjust your helmet and get a little more pine tar.
But some players have taken this practice to the new level. Take a look at this image of the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp.
I was watching Kemp last week, and I saw that stain on his shoulder. I couldn’t remember Kemp making a diving play in the outfielder or sliding on the basepaths to get that stain. And even if he had, how could the only stain be on his shoulder.
Then I realized that Kemp, instead of rubbing his batting helmet in pine tar, he rubs the rag on his shoulder for his extra supply when he is at the plate.
Of course, there is an inherent danger to carrying all this pine tar on your body. What if you helmet flies off your head as you’re racing down to first base. The pitcher could pick the helmet up for the hitter and hand it back to him. Looks like a nice gesture until you realize that the pitcher has some sticky pine tar on his pitching hand and is now able to snap off some wicked sliders or curveballs.
Something to think about.
And, of course, whenever you play around with pine tar, it’s always a good idea to be careful.
You don’t want to end up like this guy.