What Is Pine Tar? And Why Do Baseball Players Use It?

The batter, catcher and umpire await the pitch.

If you keep up with baseball, you know that pine tar has been in the news. Umpires are checking pitchers for pine tar, as well as other foreign substances, what seems like every inning now to give batters a fighting chance at the plate. But before we get too ahead of ourselves…

What is pine tar?

Pine tar is a brownish-black substance that is very tacky and is used to improve grip. It is used by pitchers and batters to control the ball and the bat, respectively. The MLB has declared pine tar an illegal substance for use by pitchers, and it can only be applied on certain areas of the bat.

If you’re still wondering what pine tar is, don’t worry, we’re going to break it down for you throughout this article.

What Is Pine Tar and Is It Illegal in Baseball?

Pine tar is a tacky substance, usually a deep brown, used by baseball players to improve their grip. Both batters and pitchers use pine tar, and it is not considered an illegal substance in the major leagues. However, there are rules and limitations to its use, which are covered later on.

What has made it such a topic is its cases of illegal use, but the substance itself is legal on bats to a certain extent. Pine tar and similar substances have been in the game for a long time, and it has garnered a reputation for being a way to cheat, especially for pitchers. Recently, the MLB has cracked down on foreign substance use.

Why Do Pitchers Use Pine Tar in Baseball?

Pitchers use pine tar to help grip the ball, which gives them more control. This can help them change their pitch type easier and allows them to put different spins on the ball. Pitchers can really impact the game by using pine tar. However, there is a large debate in the MLB currently about the use of such substances.

How Do Pitchers Use Pine Tar?

The batter shows bunt during the incoming pitch.

Pitchers like to use substances like pine tar to increase their grip in the case of inclement weather, sweat, or in general. The rules do not allow the use of pine tar to mar or discolor the baseball if it is used. Pitchers are also not allowed any type of foreign substance in the first place, but that rule has been largely ‘don’t-ask-don’t-tell’ in implementation.

Why Do Batters Use Pine Tar in Baseball?

Batters use pine tar on their bats and batting gloves/bare hands to help them have a more relaxed grip on the bat. This allows batters to better control the direction and strength of a hit ball. Batters may also use a little on their batting gloves to get more of a feel for their bat.

Why Can Batters Use Pine Tar on Their Bats?

There is a rather practical reason as to why batters can use pine tar. It improves the grip on the bat, making it less likely for a stray bat to injure a defensive player. It also gives them more control of their swing, allowing them to direct the ball’s direction. It can be very helpful with runners on base, as it gives the batter some more control.

Batters can put pine tar on their gloves, helmets, and bats. However, it is restricted to only be put on the handles of the bats, and cannot be put on the barrel of the bat in any manner. This is the infraction that George Brett was charged with, as his pine tar was deemed to exceed the league limitations. Concerning the rules today, they have been amended since the game in 1983 to avoid it happening again.

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MLB Rules Concerning Pine Tar

Major League Baseball (MLB) has ruled that pine tar is acceptable, but there are limitations for both the pitchers and batters in its usage. There has been a very heated debate concerning these rules as of late, proponents on both sides voicing their opinions.

It should be noted that these rules include all types of substances, including sticky rosins, paraffin, and other foreign substances.


If pitchers elect to use pine tar, it cannot damage or discolor the ball (Rule 3.01). Also, according to Rule 8.02, there is no foreign substance allowed to be attached to either hand, wrist or any finger. Especially in the current world of baseball, there is a lot of debate on the use of these foreign substances for pitchers.

In 2014, New York Yankees’ pitcher Michael Pineda was ejected (and ultimately suspended for ten games) for having pine tar on his neck. Before pitching, Pineda would rub his fingers on his neck to get some pine tar on them to increase his control. And Pineda is not the only pitcher to have ever used pine tar, and it is often placed under the brim of caps of pitchers.

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Rule 3.02 states that pine tar can be used on the bat only, extending no more than 18” from the butt of the bat up the handle. In the case of George Brett, this is the reason he was ruled out. The pine tar on his bat was deemed to be over the 18” mark of the handle, making the bat illegal for play, leading to the nullification of his home run.

Since that incident, the rule has been amended to prevent the same situation from happening. Umpires now cannot eject or declare a batter out if pine tar is discovered after the illegal bat was already used in play.

It is up to the umpire or the opposing team to call attention to pine tar that exceeds the 18” mark. These suspicions must be voiced before the bat is used in play, which will then require the batter to switch bats. If a bat isn’t called out before it’s used, the play stands and the batter or the hitting team is not penalized in any manner.

What Other Substances Do Pitchers Use for Increased Grip?

There is considerable debate about what pitchers can use to grip the ball. And pitchers admittedly do need something in terms of helping them grip the baseball. Imagine trying to throw a 95+ mph fastball with sweaty hands, and do it accurately.

Pitchers are not as aggressive with pine tar use as batters are, with some preferring to have a little less tack when pitching. Pitchers tend to use a combination of rosin and sunscreen for an increased grip of the baseball.

Other pitchers like to keep a little moisture on their hands when pitching, so they don’t actively try to stop sweating. Given that the majority of the season happens in the summer months, sweat is a legitimate reason some pitchers turn to substances like pine tar.

Why Is MLB Cracking Down on Foreign Substances?

The MLB has recently begun cracking down on foreign substances for pitchers, as it can give them a huge advantage and result in significantly fewer balls put into play. Also, if you watch a lot of baseball, you might have noticed an added commercial break in the middle and end of each inning.

For live games, it may just seem like extra time to warm up for the defensive players. But what is really happening is that the umpire is checking the pitcher’s hands, glove, belt and hat for any foreign substances like pine tar.

However, pitchers are still allowed to use some substances to help prevent themselves from hitting batters, making the use of substances a double-edged sword. Currently, there is a bag of rosin at the mound that pitchers can use to help control their grip and keep their hands dry, but they are not allowed anything else.

In the future, there will likely be some amendments made to the current rules, and pitchers will likely have similar regulations as batters in terms of substance use (i.e. only rosin, only on the hands, etc.).

Pine tar has been long used and long debated in the major leagues, and it still continues today. A large part is the objectivity of viewing foreign substances like pine tar as cheating. There has to be some give and take, and player safety is also a factor. And with the case of George Brett, rules can be amended, so who knows how long any one rule will last.

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Steven G.

My name is Steven and I love everything sports! I created this website to share my passion with all of you. Enjoy!

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