Why Do Baseball Players Use Pine Tar?

If you love watching baseball games, then you would’ve noticed some players use a sticky, brown substance on their bats, helmets, hands, or hats. Have you ever wondered what that substance actually is? Well, it’s pine tar. Now you must be wondering, well, why do baseball players use pine tar?

Pine tar is used by baseball players to improve their grip on the bat, and under the MLB regulation, up to 18 inches of tar can be spread on the bat. Since pine tar is a messy substance, it often sticks to the player’s hands or helmets.

What is Pine Tar?

Pine Tar is a type of wood tar obtained from pine trees, hence the name. This dark, sticky, brown substance is produced under heat and pressure that is applied directly to the pine wood, which then rapidly decomposes to produce pine tar.

Since ancient times, pine tar has been used on wood surfaces to form a protective barrier, especially against water. The protective barrier does not trap moisture or allow UV exposure, preventing molds and preventing the wood from rotting. Pine tar also acts as an insect and rodent repellant.

Why Do Baseball Players Use Pine Tar?

Pine tar is often used by baseball players to improve their grip on the bat. Pine tar is also applied on the player’s hats or helmets so they can continuously apply the tar on their hands or the bat during the game. There are multiple reasons why baseball players use pine tar.

  • With pine tar on their hands or the bat, players do not have to use much strength to grip onto the bat. This allows batters to make better contact with the ball, increasing their chances of a home run.
  • Pine tar is relatively easy to apply and tremendously increases the player’s grip on the bat. Baseball bats are smooth and slippery, so players often need to keep a hold of them. Pine tar reduces the slippage of the bat, providing smoother gameplay.
  • It has become a long-standing tradition amongst baseball players not to wash their helmets. This tradition started with a superstition when many famous players were seen with pine tar on their helmets.

How To Apply Pine Tar On A Bat

Pine tar can either come as a jar of liquid or a stick. A stick of pine tar is more comfortable to use and easily accessible. Here are the steps you need to follow to apply a pine tar stick to your baseball bat.

  1. Wipe away any dirt or debris from the bat with a rag. This makes it easier to apply the tar.
  2. Uncap the pine tar stick and expose it a few inches.
  3. Apply the pine tar to the bat, keeping in mind the 18-inch rule. Just rub the pine tar stick up and down the handle of the bat, making sure the coating is even.

How To Remove Pine Tar From Bats

When using pine tar, you should also know how to remove the tar from your bat. Leaving the tar on the bat can damage the wood and so here are the steps you need to follow to remove pine tar from bats.

  1. First, using hot water, rub a wet washcloth on the handle of the bat. Only rub the washcloth in one direction, from the tip to the bottom.
  2. Use rubbing alcohol on a cloth and rub the handle of the bat, using the same motion as in step 1. The alcohol is helpful in dissolving the pine tar.
  3. Use a dry rag to completely dry the bat, as leaving it as is may damage your bat.

The Pine Tar Incident (1983)

Perhaps the most well-known incident involving pine tar was the incident on July 24th, 1983. George Brett of the Kansas City Royals hit a go-ahead two-run home run in the ninth inning of the game against the New York Yankees. However, the New York Yankees manager, Billy Martin, requested that Brett’s bat be inspected due to an excessive amount of pine tar.

Upon measuring, the umpire confirmed that Brett had exceeded the 18-inch limitation set by the MLB, resulting in Brett being ruled out for using an illegal bat, making Brett the final out of the game, and his home run was no longer counted. The Royals immediately started protesting mid-game, leading to Brett’s home run being restored and the game postponed.

The game was resumed 25 days later, and the Royals won over the Yankees 5-4. This issue ultimately led to an amendment to the MLB pine tar rule 1.10(c) and still causes much debate among baseball fans.

Our Final Thoughts

We hope we were able to answer the question of why baseball players use pine tar. When using pine tar, be mindful of the 18-inch rule and make sure to thoroughly clean off the tar from your bat, hands, and clothes.

Whether players wash their helmets or not, pine tar still plays an important role in baseball and has an enriched history from being used by sailors on boats to protect from the salt water to now being a part of a game loved by millions.

Although messy, pine tar does have its advantages when used correctly. A batter hit depends on his grip on the bat. The difference between a steady grip and a loose grip may very well be a deciding feature of an inning, and so batters must make use of every opportunity they can.

Although it does have certain advantages, using pine tar is not compulsory and should be avoided in a casual game between friends or family. As you will not have much to lose even if you lost a game of baseball amongst your peers, dealing with pine tar can be annoying and messy, and so should be avoided.

However, if you really want to win no matter what, we don’t see anything wrong with using pine tar to your advantage.

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