You Don't Actually Care That Much About Cheating In Baseball

You Don't Actually Care That Much About Cheating In Baseball

The Houston Astros’ biggest mistake was getting caught too soon after winning the World Series in 2017.
The Houston Astros’ biggest mistake was getting caught too soon after winning the World Series in 2017.
Image: AP Photo

Sorry to break this to you, but cheating is as much a part of baseball as Babe Ruth, hot dogs, and obnoxious drunk guys in Philly.

Earlier this month, more evidence that Pete Rose used corked bats emerged from Montreal. That came years after a Deadspin article shed light on the matter of his bats used to break Ty Cobb’s hit record in 1985. But the story out of Montreal suggested that Rose had been using corked bats almost his whole career.

Rose is already banned from baseball for life, as he should be, for gambling on the team he managed, so there’s no sense in punishing him further. But no one really wants to, anyway.

Because cheating has always been a part of baseball and no one really cares that much about it.

I can prove it.

If you want to suspend the Astros or take away their pennants and title, what about the 1951 New York Giants? The Bobby Thomson, “Shot Heard ‘Round the World,” “The Giants win the pennant!” team. A Wall Street Journal investigation in 2001 revealed that the Giants were basically the Astros of their day, using what was then state-of-the-art technology — a telescope and an electronic buzzer — to relay signals to their hitters.

Little did Ralph Branca suspect, but Bobby Thomson probably knew what was coming when he hit the famous “Shot Heard ‘Round the World.”
Little did Ralph Branca suspect, but Bobby Thomson probably knew what was coming when he hit the famous “Shot Heard ‘Round the World.”
Image: AP Photo

“Every hitter knew what was coming,” Giants reliever Al Gettel said. “Made a big difference.”

The Giants trailed their hated rivals, the Brooklyn Dodgers, by 13½ games at one point before completing the comeback on Oct. 3 on Thomson’s homer, one of the most iconic moments in American sports history.

Should that be wiped away? Should the Giants be punished, have their pennant disqualified? Should Monte Irvin and Willie Mays be kicked out of the Hall of Fame?

Of course not. No one wants that.

It’s clear by the slaps on the wrist that the Astros and Boston Red Sox have gotten from Rob Manfred that the commissioner is no more interested in punishing teams for sign stealing than they were in the past. It’s not cycling, it’s not the Olympics. If baseball really wanted to eliminate sign stealing, it could easily do so. Equip pitchers, catchers, managers, and coaches with headsets to communicate the way the NFL does.

There are plenty of other cheaters in baseball history, including some of the most popular and revered players in the game. Here’s a look at some of them.

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John McGraw helped inject cheating into baseball’s DNA 

John McGraw helped inject cheating into baseball’s DNA 

As a player and manager, John McGraw helped create the culture of cheating in baseball.
As a player and manager, John McGraw helped create the culture of cheating in baseball.
Image: AP Photo

John McGraw helped inject cheating into baseball’s DNA 

McGraw, best known as the Hall of Fame manager of the New York Giants, played for the legendary Baltimore Orioles of the 19th century, when baseball was filled with ruffians and scoundrels. The diminutive third baseman was known to grab runners, hold them by their belts or trip them, and for spiking fielders as a baserunner. After his playing days, “Little Napoleon” essentially invented baseball orthodoxy, influencing every manager who followed him for the next 115 years. In many ways, baseball inherited its cheating culture from McGraw.

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The Pine Tar Incident — Brett breaks rules, is declared innocent

The Pine Tar Incident — Brett breaks rules, is declared innocent

George Brett is surrounded by a sea of reporters at Yankee Stadium for the resumption of the Pine Tar game.
George Brett is surrounded by a sea of reporters at Yankee Stadium for the resumption of the Pine Tar game.
Image: AP Photo


The Pine Tar Incident — Brett breaks rules, is declared innocent

By the rulebook, the umpires got it right the first time in the Pine Tar Incident when Royals all-time great George Brett was called out after homering off Goose Gossage at Yankee Stadium on July 24, 1983. The bat used by the Hall of Fame third baseman had pine tar applied beyond the limits allowed by the rulebook, thus making it an illegal bat. Rule 1.10(c) of the Major League Baseball rule book at the time read that “a bat may not be covered by such a substance more than 18 inches from the tip of the handle.” According to Rule 6.06, any batter who hit an illegally batted ball was to be automatically called out. Days later, American League President Lee MacPhail ruled that Brett didn’t violate the spirit of the rulebook and upheld the Royals’ protest, reversing the call. The game continued a month later from that point and featured Don Mattingly, a lefty, playing second base, and pitcher Ron Guidry in center field.

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Spitballs — Gaylord Perry got to the Hall of Fame by cheating

Spitballs — Gaylord Perry got to the Hall of Fame by cheating

Gaylord Perry didn’t even hide the fact that he threw a spitball, he used his mound antics to distract hitters.
Gaylord Perry didn’t even hide the fact that he threw a spitball, he used his mound antics to distract hitters.
Image: AP Photo

Spitballs — Gaylord Perry got to the Hall of Fame by cheating

The righthander made a career out of throwing a spitball, even writing a biography called “Me and the Spitter.” Perry made a series of gestures while on the mound — wiping his brow, touching his hat, dabbing his jersey — to fake out hitters and get them to think about how he was doctoring the ball. Despite this, he was only caught once in his career — in 1982, after he had notched his 300th victory while pitching for the Seattle Mariners. Perry won Cy Young Awards in both leagues and the BBWAA saw fit to elect the beloved cheater to the Hall of Fame in 1991.

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Joe Niekro and others doctored the ball

Joe Niekro and others doctored the ball

Joe Niekro was applying more than his knuckles to the baseball when he got caught in 1987.
Joe Niekro was applying more than his knuckles to the baseball when he got caught in 1987.
Image: AP Photo

Joe Niekro and others doctored the ball

Perry is far from the only pitcher who used a foreign substance or doctored baseballs. Whitey Ford applied mud to balls and had catcher Elston Howard scuff balls to get an edge. Joe Niekro, who won 221 games in his career, is one of the few who have been caught red-handed. During a game in 1987, the knuckleballer (and the younger brother of Hall of Famer Phil Niekro) tried to fling an emery board away when asked to empty his pockets by umpire Tim Tschida. He was suspended for 10 games. Hall of Famer Don Sutton is another pitcher who messed with the ball, famously responding to claims he used foreign substances on the ball, “Not at all. Vaseline is manufactured right here in the United States.

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‘We Are Family’: Stargell, Schmidt and the era of greenies

‘We Are Family’: Stargell, Schmidt and the era of greenies

No one batted an eye when Willie Stargell was named as a “greenies” distributor in a 1985 drug case.
No one batted an eye when Willie Stargell was named as a “greenies” distributor in a 1985 drug case.
Image: AP Photo

‘We Are Family’: Stargell, Schmidt and the era of greenies

Before weightlifting and steroid use were rampant in baseball, the PED of choice was amphetamines, or “greenies.” Willie Stargell, the famed clubhouse leader of the “We Are Family” Pittsburgh Pirates, was a beloved figure in baseball. When Dale Berra and Dave Parker testified during the Pittsburgh drug trial of 1985, they pointed to Stargell passing out “greenies.” Somehow his reputation survived and he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1988. Another Hall of Famer, Mike Schmidt, wrote about how commonplace the drugs were in his book, “Clearing the Bases,” and admitted to using them on occasion in an interview with the New York Times.

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The steroid era: Big Mac was hardly alone in juicing

The steroid era: Big Mac was hardly alone in juicing

Mark McGwire, like many others, was juicing when he hit 70 home runs in 1998.
Mark McGwire, like many others, was juicing when he hit 70 home runs in 1998.
Image: AP Photo

The steroid era: Big Mac was hardly alone in juicing

Baseball has had a ton of PED users, and generally turned a blind eye to it, most notably when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa chased Roger Maris’ home run record in 1998. After years of suspicion, McGwire finally confessed to using in 2010. Although he hasn’t gotten into the Hall of Fame, he has been welcomed back into the game as a coach for the Cardinals, Dodgers, and Padres from 2010-18. David Ortiz tested positive for steroids, as did more than 100 others in the Mitchell Report. There are Hall of Famers who admitted to using greenies, and it’s possible steroid users have already been elected as well. It’s likely one day even Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens will get in. Under a policy instituted in 2005, 111 players have been suspended for using PEDs.

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Sammy Sosa, the most famous of the bat corkers

Sammy Sosa, the most famous of the bat corkers

Sammy Sosa got caught with a corked bat when it flew apart during a game in 2003.
Sammy Sosa got caught with a corked bat when it flew apart during a game in 2003.
Image: AP Photo

Sammy Sosa, the most famous of the bat corkers

Sosa arguably went even further than McGwire, and took a hit to his reputation when he was caught using a corked bat five years after their assault on Roger Maris’ record. An examination of 76 of his other bats found no other corked lumber, but he was still suspended for eight games. Norm Cash admitted to using a corked bat in 1961, when he won the American League batting title. Amos Otis famously talked about corking his bats after his retirement. Other players who have been caught doctoring bats include Graig Nettles, Billy Hatcher, and Albert Belle, but if recent allegations that Rose corked his bats for most of his career are to be believed, it’s likely that dozens of players have done it.

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