Astute reader Lance Elroy wrote to point me to a bit of footage where, in the sixth inning, you can – maybe – see Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek putting pine tar on his fingers. It’s during Manny’s at-bat, the 2nd 3-2 pitch: (“good rip by Manny Ramirez…”) there’s a shot of Varitek in the dugout, and it looks like watching the dugout camera to make sure it’s not on, rubbing his hands…? He certainly looks fishy, but I’m not convinced he was up to anything nefarious: he might be getting ready to be put in with Wakefield out (which he was) — you can see during Drew’s at-bat Varitek’s putting his batting gear on, and he’s on-deck with Crisp up. It seems unlikely that Varitek was tarring his hands that early in the inning, and any advantage is deadened by his at-bat preparations.
It wouldn’t be a new trick, though. Catchers assisting their pitchers in ball-doctoring is a long and time-honored tradition. The pitcher’s under a lot of scrutiny, while their catchers are far freer to scuff or put something on a ball for the pitcher to make use of.
But was he trying to get pine tar onto the ball for Lester’s sake? Even if he was intending to go out on the field with tarred hands, there’s another, more prosaic explanation: Varitek’s not particularly good at throwing out runners (this year, he threw out 24% of opposing runners, putting him in the lower half of AL catchers). Pine tar on the fingers would give him a better grip on the ball making the difficult transfer to through, and help him get the throw off faster.
You’re not supposed to do it. But if you can get away with it and gain an advantage, why not?