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What Is Pine Tar? Sticky Stuff in Spotlight After Yankee Ejected

Pine tar is the latest buzz word in baseball after New York Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda was found with the sticky substance smeared on his neck during Wednesday night’s game.

Pineda was ejected and faces a suspension after appearing to pull the stunt for the second time this month. Pitchers aren’t allowed to use pine tar, which is considered an unfair advantage for gripping the ball.

The use of the goo in baseball goes back to at least the 1950s, but it is prized in other industries as well.

So what exactly is pine tar?

It’s made by distilling pine wood at a high temperature in a closed container. Under those conditions, the wood breaks down quickly and turns into charcoal and tar, which can be further distilled.

The method was made popular in Scandinavia, where shipbuilders found the tar to be a good sealant and water repellent for wood. The cash crop earned the nickname Stockholm tar.

“The aroma produces reactions that are as strong as the scent; few people are ambivalent about its distinctive smell,” according to a report on pine tar on the San Francisco Maritime National Park Association’s website.

The dark goo was similarly used in America, and also added to soaps, shampoos, veterinary medicines and in tree limb treatments.

Cosmetologists tout pine tar soap for combating skin conditions, such as rosacea and eczema.

Veterinarians also use pine tar as an antiseptic and to keep horse and cattle hooves pliable.

Major League Baseball does allow pine tar, but only on bats for better gripping. Rules say the pine tar can’t reach more than 18 inches from the bottom.

The substance figured most famously in a 1983 game between the Yankees and Kansas City Royals. The Yankees complained Royals hitter George Brett had too much pine tar on his bat, sending Brett into a rage.

— Erik Ortiz

Image: Chris Davis
Baltimore Orioles' Chris Davis puts pine tar on his bat during batting practice at the baseball team's spring training facility in Sarasota, Fla., on Feb. 13, 2014. Gene J. Puskar / AP