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Pitchers' guide to cheating: How to do it right

Jeff Passan
Yahoo Sports
Red Sox fall 4-1 as Pineda, Ellsbury lead Yanks
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New York Yankees starting pitcher Michael Pineda delivers a pitch during the first inning of a baseball game against the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium in New York, Thursday, April 10, 2014. Pineda pitched for the first four innings with a dark substance on the lower palm of his pitching hand, but it was gone by the fifth. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Kids these days. It's just shameful. They have no respect, no sense of history, no appreciation for their forbearers. Used to be pitchers in Major League Baseball treated cheating like an art form. Nowadays they're happy to act like finger-painting kindergarteners in a smock.

Look at New York Yankees starter Michael Pineda on Thursday, with the giant mess of gloop on his hand – his pitching hand! – that he said, with a straight face, was "dirt." Note to cheaters: There is this thing called a high-definition camera. It shoots moving pictures at 1,080 pixels per square inch. Dirt is not viscous.

It is a fairly well-known fact, by this point, that teams do not care if pitchers apply a foreign substance to a ball so long as it's for purposes of grip, which hitters reason keeps them safer. MLB doesn't seem to mind, either, rarely meting out discipline even though Rule 8.02(a)(4) says pitchers cannot "apply a foreign substance of any kind to the ball." Whether it was pine tar or a sunscreen-and-rosin combination that oozed on Pineda's right palm, the Boston Red Sox thought so little of it that they shrugged it off. Which, considering their recent history with pitchers caught using foreign substances, was exactly how they should've handled it.

Still, this should be a matter of pride. So long as baseball continues to pay no mind to those flouting its rules, there ought at least be a common understanding that cheating deserves effort. Blatantly rubbing greasy hair. Tapping an arm with two fingers like a junkie in need of a stick-'em fix. Exposing a gooey green substance that looks like a booger inside your glove during the World Series. No, no and no.

C'mon, Josh Zeid. The Houston reliever covered both of his arms with sunscreen during a recent game, which would've been all well and good had the game not been inside the domed Rogers Centre.

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The Red Sox didn't complain about the substance on Michael Pineda's hand. (AP)

Cheating has gotten so pathetic that it's time for a set of rules to help out those who require assistance in artifice. A handful of veteran pitchers were kind enough to open up their bags of tricks for Yahoo Sports.

Consider this The Pitcher's Guide to Cheating.

1. Pine tar

One of the great beauties of pine tar is that it's actually by-the-book legal, so pitchers are given great liberties to use it. Of course, that doesn't mean they should bathe a visible body part in it.

The proper way to use pine tar: Take a small dab and put it somewhere surreptitious, like underneath the bill of a cap, inside a belt buckle or, best of all, the little flaps that fold over baseball shoes' laces and provide a perfect canvas for a dime-sized grip assist.

Do not be: The guy whose hat turns a different color because of all the pine tar on the brim. Here's looking at you, Craig Kimbrel.

2. BullFrog

Every bullpen bag includes a bottle of BullFrog sunscreen, major leaguers' go-to substance that, when mixed with rosin, turns tacky enough to replace brick mortar. Some teams keep a bottle on the bench.

The proper way to use BullFrog: A light spray on the skin in warm weather. A pump or two to the neck otherwise. A couple hits of the rosin bag on the mound to allow the homebrew to do its job.

Do not be: The guy who uses it in a dome or the guy who looks like an oil slick is emanating from his arm. Here's looking at you on both accounts, Clay Buchholz.

3. Press-on nails

A longtime veteran learned this one from a Hall of Fame pitcher who wasn't known for his cheating. Scuffing the ball with regular ol' fingernails takes too much effort. Fake ones, on the other hand, work like magic.

The proper way to use press-on nails: Buy a packet. (The Lee brand used to be favored in clubhouses.) Use a nail file or some other such apparatus to shave the nail into a point. Put it on a glove-hand finger. When you get a new ball, take your glove off and rub the ball. Scuff it. Shove the nailed finger back into the glove. If anyone asks – and they won't, but just in case – snap the nail or try to bite off the point.

Do not be: The guy who gets colored ones.

4. Sugarless gum

"You think all these pitchers chew gum because they like it?" one pitcher asked. Of course not! As counterintuitive as it may seem – sugar, after all, is sticky – some pitchers fancy the sugarless variety of bubble gum as an alternative to the aforementioned alternaglues.

The proper way to use sugarless gum: Chew it. Work up a little saliva. Lick your fingers. (Which is supposed to be illegal, but, well, baseball doesn't care.) Enjoy the adhesive.

Do not be: The guy who mixes gum and chewing tobacco. That's just an insult to the gum – and can ruin its efficacy.

5. Teammates

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Clay Buchholz came under scrutiny last season for his use of sunscreen. (Getty Images)

Those who focus solely on the pitcher are missing all of the great games within the game. The most generous teammates – fine, the wiliest – understand how much even a little can do for their pitcher's well-being. So cheating turns into a family affair.

The proper way to use teammates: A nod. A silent signal. Anything, really, to let them know you want the ball scuffed. A sneaky catcher can be your best friend. Every time an umpire hands him a ball, he can bring it down by his shin guard when seemingly preparing to throw and give it a little scrape. That scrape can do wonders. Infielders have tricks up their sleeve (or on their glove) as well. One veteran is considered the godfather of the secretive scuff.

Do not be: The guy who gives away all his secrets to teammates. They're going to play somewhere else someday. And they'll tell their new teams everything.

6. Dirt

One pitcher recalled the shenanigans he used to pull in the minor leagues, when two-umpire crews meant one stationed behind home plate and the other behind second base. He would kick around some dirt to obscure the mound, then move up about a foot from its base to make the distance to the batter's box 59 feet, 6 inches.

The proper way to use dirt: Study the umpiring crew. Make sure they're focused on either the baserunners or batter at home plate, like they're taught. Kick at the dirt without being obvious. Give yourself an extra few inches, not a foot, which with four-umpire crews is begging to be caught – and which they will enforce, unlike so many of the ball-doctoring tips.

Do not be: The guy who goes to the well too often. Save it for high-leverage situations. TV cameras will catch you without requisite discretion.

7. Mud

Pitchers swear some ballparks have two different buckets of balls: one with balls sufficiently rubbed down with Lena Blackburne Baseball Rubbing Mud (for the home team) and another with half-rubbed balls that still contain some of the slick sheen that infuriates pitchers (for the road team). This may or may not have happened to John Smoltz in Cincinnati, which is one of the teams pitchers complain uses such tactics.

The proper way to use mud: Inform the equipment manager, clubhouse attendant or whoever is in charge of rubbing the dozens of balls to give half a Swedish massage and half a mediocre shoulder rub. Separate into two buckets. Slip the ball boy a $50 and tell him to time his ball delivery to umpires accordingly.

Do not be: The guy who makes a joke about rubbing balls.

8. Buckles

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Rosin isn't the only substance pitchers use to help them get a grip. (USA Today)

Now, this may be the ultimate in scuffing. Some baseball gloves come with buckles that tighten it just so. Pitchers will sharpen the metal buckle into a veritable shiv used to nick up a ball and get extra movement from it. Same goes for their belt buckle. It's so shady it's perfect.

The proper way to use buckles: Scuffing, pitchers believe, takes some know-how. Here is the knowledge, from one pitcher: "You need just a little scuff. Not a lot at all. A nick works. You don't want to throw a four-seamer with it. It's great for a sinker or a breaking ball. If you're throwing a sinker, [scuff] it on the horseshow. Do it on the side you want the run to. If you want the ball to run right, scuff right. So, right-handed sinker, scuff right. Scuff left for a slider. Don't let your fingers tough the scuff. It would mess with your release."

Do not be: The guy who custom orders a glove with five buckles.

9. Hair gel

Anyone who uses a modern hair product understands: The stuff ranges from sticky to wallpaper paste. It's a no-brainer to at least test it out with rosin and see which brand births the best substance.

The proper way to use hair gel: Judiciously. Remember, baseball players wear caps, and anybody who has combined a cap and gel understands the result is the sort of hat head that actually hurts. Just a small glob spread on the back of your hair will do the trick. Adjust your cap every so often, and when pulling it down in back, stealthily run your fingers through the gelled-up hair.

Do not be: The guy who looks like he used Soul Glo. Here's looking at you again, Clay Buchholz. Step up your cheating game, son.

10. Sandpaper

Ah, the old standby. It's still around. One pitcher knew of a teammate who used it last season. Its cousins include the spitball (the magic loogie?), Vaseline, emery boards, thumbtacks and other such old-school, Gaylord Perry-endorsed classics.

The proper way to use sandpaper: Either attach a tiny circle of sandpaper to a similarly brown-colored glove or, for the riskier sorts, do so on a non-pitching-hand fingertip. Scuff the ball not with gashes as much as a few sanded passes to throw off its weighted balance and cause it to dip and twist in mysterious ways.

Do not be: The guy who gets caught. And that goes for the rest of these rules, too.

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