View Full Version : Cheating and the game

12-22-2008, 09:41 PM
I found this great article form the Seattle Times circa 1999

No Bat Or Ball Is Safe When `Doctor' Is In

Larry Stone

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

Gaylord Perry turned 61 Wednesday, and it's not known if he celebrated by spitting on his birthday candles. But it can be verified that Perry still embraces the same philosophy he carried throughout his slippery Hall of Fame career:

It ain't cheating if you don't get caught.

"Whatever you can get by with, absolutely," Perry said cheerfully from his North Carolina farm, interrupting the call to accept birthday greetings from his brother, Jim. "Not that I did anything illegal, mind you. In practice I used to do that stuff. I'll tell you this: If they make it legal today, I might make a comeback."

The art of cheating in baseball is much older than Perry, who merely took it to new extremes, and had fun with it to boot.

"The day before I'd pitch, I'd shake hands with guys with hands full of grease, just to get them thinking about it," he said.

The impulse to stretch the rules, in fact, is as old as the game itself, and as predictable as human nature.

The Orioles of the 1890s used to plant employees in the stands with hand mirrors to shine the sun into the eyes of opponents and hide extra balls in the outfield grass to use at opportune times.

Fast forward one century, and check out the news from Cleveland last week. The Red Sox have become convinced the Indians are using an outfield camera to steal signs, convincing umpire Tim Welke on Tuesday to force the Indians to cover the camera.

If true, the Indians are merely upholding a time-honored

tradition. Roger Bossard, a third-generation groundskeeper working for the White Sox, tells of how his grandfather, Emil, while serving as Indians' groundskeeper, used to sit in the outfield at old Cleveland Municipal Stadium in the 1930s, picking up signs with binoculars.

"There was a yellow light in the far corner of the scoreboard," Bossard said. "If the light was on, it was a fastball. At old Comiskey Park, there used to be a way of doing it in the scoreboard, too, but I don't want to reveal how. Obviously, we'd never do that now."

Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. From scuffed balls to corked bats, from tilting foul lines to hidden cameras, rest assured that it's all been done before - and will probably be done again.

Former major-league pitcher Lary Sorensen, who admits now that he scuffed baseballs with hidden sandpaper late in his career, summed it up this way: "If you ain't cheating, you ain't trying."

Players don't like to think of it as cheating at all, but merely using every tool available (including many found at the hardware store) to gain an advantage.

Former Mariner Manager Dick Williams, never accused of being the moral conscience of baseball, put it this way, "Anything short of murder is OK."

Tiger pitcher Brian Moehler didn't kill or maim anyone (except, perhaps, the baseball) in May when he was suspended 10 games after being caught with sandpaper taped to the thumb of his pitching hand - just the sixth pitcher to be nailed in the last half century.

The defense offered by Detroit Manager Larry Parrish speaks volumes about the pervasiveness of the crime.

"I'm not saying that Moe does or does not," Parrish said. "I'm just saying that in the major leagues, as long as I can remember, that has been a part of baseball. There's not a pitching staff in baseball that doesn't have guys who deface a ball occasionally, including Roger Clemens and Nolan Ryan."

The key, as Perry said, is not to get caught. During a 22-year career in which he blatantly used every gyration possible to insinuate he was illegally loading the ball, Perry was ejected for a spitball only once. That occurred at age 43, when umpire Dave Phillips caught him wet-handed while pitching for the Mariners.

"The umpires know it's going on most of the time, but they don't want any part of it," said former Giants manager Roger Craig, who in the late 1980s made it his life's mission (ultimately unsuccessful) to nail former Houston ace Mike Scott for scuffing.

"They don't want to start a big hassle."

The M's, truth be told, have a sad history of inept cheating. Pitcher Rick Honeycutt was suspended 10 games (the penalty prescribed in the rule book) in 1980 when he was caught with a thumbtack taped to a finger on his gloved hand.

The following year, Seattle Manager Maury Wills was caught by Yankee Manager Billy Martin instructing the Kingdome groundskeeper to put the batter's box a foot closer to the pitcher's mound. The idea was for the Mariner hitters to get to curveballs before they broke.

Wills said he was "shocked and dumbfounded" at the accusation, which must have been close to the reaction that Graig Nettles of the Yankees had in 1974 when his bat broke and six super balls flew out.

Or Dodger rookie Wilton Guerrero, when he broke a bat two years ago. Rather than run to first on the resulting ground ball, Guerrero frantically tried to pick up his bat fragments. Alas, too late - cork had flown everywhere, and Guerrero was suspended.

At least Guerrero admitted his infraction, saying he brought the corked bat from the Dominican Republic. The standard defense of most corked-bat victims, such as Houston's Billy Hatcher in 1987, Cleveland's Albert Belle in 1994 and the Reds' Chris Sabo in 1996, is that they used someone else's bat, and they had no idea it was corked.

When he was nabbed, Sabo hit a pop-up, prompting teammate Eddie Taubensee to ponder, "Let's see, Sabes popped to the shortstop with cork. Does that mean he would have popped to the pitcher without it?"

That speaks to a golden rule of cheating: With the risk involved, you better make sure it helps.

Perry got to the Hall of Fame with his wet pitches. After he retired, Hall of Famer Whitey Ford admitted that he, too, threw trick pitches, "but only when I needed an out."

In a New York Times article called, "Confessions of a Gunkball Artist," Ford told of how he would plant mud pies around the mound and load up the ball while tying his shoes. In one World Series game against the Dodgers in 1963, "I used enough mud that day to build a dam," he said.

Don Sutton was another Hall of Famer widely believed to benefit from illegal pitches, though he was never caught. One time, an umpire was checking his glove for foreign objects and found a note that said, "You're getting warm, but it's not here."

Norm Cash readily admitted that he used a corked bat throughout his career, but the Tiger first baseman had no explanation why his average dropped from .361 in 1961, when he won the batting title, to .243 in '62.

After his retirement, former Royal star Amos Otis admitted that he, too, used an altered bat for the majority of his career. "I had enough cork and super balls in there to blow away anything," Otis said. "Over my whole career, it probably meant about 193 home runs for me."

Otis hit 193 home runs in his career.

Baseball observers differ on whether cheating is as prevalent today as it used to be.

"I don't recall much of a problem with scuffed balls recently, and corked bats are a dead issue now," said Marty Springstead, the American League supervisor of umpires. "Awhile back, it was. These things come in cycles."

Says 83-year-old Hub Kittle, former pitching coach of the St. Louis Cardinals now instructing Mariner minor-league pitchers: "They don't want to do it anymore. We used to cheat because we had to get them out to keep our job. We dreamed about all the things we could do to get the hitters out."

Kittle has more than a half century's persective on the matter, having had the opportunity to get spitball tips from Burleigh Grimes. Grimes was the last legal practitioner of the spitter as one of 17 pitchers allowed to keep throwing the pitch after it was banned in 1920.

"I was the biggest cheater in the country," Kittle says with some pride, speaking of his long minor-league pitching career. "When I was with Bremerton, we'd go into Victoria, and they'd say, the bandit's pitching tonight.

"These young kids today, they don't know nothing," he added. "They're scared to death, scared to get caught. Well, a couple of them are bandits."

Perry believes that necessity is the mother of deception. Asked if he thought much ball-altering goes on in today's game, he replied, "I imagine it crosses their mind, especially if their ERA is 5 or 6, their contract is up for renewal, and they want to find a way to continue playing."

Said Sorensen: "I think it's still out there in a lot of different ways, shapes and form. And not just pitchers. I think a significant amount of corking goes on."

Pitchers are willing to take the risks of defacing a ball for the simple reason that a scuffed ball is so hard to hit.

While scratched balls dart to one side or the other, a spitball (or any wet ball, with Vaseline, slippery elm and K-Y jelly serving the same purpose as spit) has the spinless action of a knuckleball while dropping sharply like a sinker.

"I've always said, if you get a ball that's scuffed and know how to use it, you can make it sing `The Star-Spangled Banner' on the way to the plate," Sorensen said. "It only takes a piece of sandpaper the size of a fingernail, and one quick rub against the ball in the right spot. You can make the ball sink or sail, depending on where you put the scuff."

If the umpire comes out to check, the trick is to flick the sandpaper onto the ground and step on it. The Giants were convinced that Houston second baseman Billy Doran used to pick up Scott's sandpaper and hide it in his pocket when the pitcher was checked. Former Texas reliever Dale Mahorcic reportedly swallowed a piece of sandpaper as the umpire made his way to the mound.

One of the more comical sights of recent years was Twins pitcher Joe Niekro throwing down an emery board and a piece of sandpaper when the umpires made him empty his pockets in 1987. He got a 10-day suspension out of it.

Pitchers have been known to have accomplices. Yankee catcher Elston Howard was said to sharpen the buckles on his shin guard to scuff the ball for Ford and other Yankee pitchers. Sorensen refers to a Reds shortstop, presumably Dave Concepcion, who would scrape the ball on an eyelet in his glove while it was being thrown around the infield.

Tiger Hall of Famer Al Kaline has heard of first basemen putting tacks in their gloves to scuff the ball after a pickoff attempt, and third basemen loading Vaseline in the palms of their gloves to do the pitcher's dirty work.

Perry's method was supposedly to cover his Adam's apple with Vaseline, and apply the liquid while his glove was in front of his face, shielding the action. Kittle said he used to wait until the batter hit a pop fly, and while all eyes, including the umpires', were watching the flight of the ball, he'd spit into his glove for future application.

"If I had false teeth when I was pitching like I do now, I'd have the greatest spitball ever," Kittle said. "That Fixadent is the slipperiest stuff ever invented. All you'd have to do is rub your teeth with your finger."

The benefit of corking a bat is not from the substance itself, but from the effect of swinging a lighter bat. A 36-ounce bat with the whip of a 34-ouncer can greatly help a hitter, although how much is disputed.

"The primary intention is to lighten the bat, which it does, but it also reduces the mass," said Chuck Schupp, manager of professional sales and promotions for Hillerich and Bradsby, which manufactures Louisville Slugger bats.

"Mass is what helps drive the ball. We have done control tests on things like that, and found that for all the trouble they go to to do that, it doesn't really give you unbelievably different results."

Schupp has heard of cork, foam and super balls being used to alter bats, but he said he sees little evidence that the practice is in vogue.

"In all honesty, I don't see anyone talking about it or doing it this year," he said.

The usual procedure for altering a bat is to drill a one-inch diameter hole about eight inches into the head of the bat, and then fill the space with cork shavings, compressed by a dowel. When the hole is covered and sanded, the alterations can be concealed with stain or felt marker.

"Guys will half teasingly ask if they can get their bat with cork," Schupp said. "I tell them, `If you want that done, you've got to do that on your own.' "

The groundskeeper can be a rich avenue of bending baseball rules by tailoring a field to benefit the home team. Emil Bossard, for instance, used to move back the portable fences at Cleveland's Stadium 12 to 15 feet when the powerful Yankees came to town.

"There are 17 tricks of the trade, and I hate to say I'm third generation of the family that founded most of them," said his grandson, Roger Bossard, the White Sox groundskeeper.

Bossard won't reveal all the 17 tricks, but some are legendary, such as wetting the infield to slow down teams with speed, tilting the baselines so that bunts roll fair or foul, and cutting infield grass short or high depending on how fast you want grounders to travel.

"In 1971 or '72, when Chuck Tanner was our manager, we played Oakland during their dynasty," Bossard said. "Chuck said, `Make sure Billy North doesn't steal a base.' First time, Wilbur Wood walks North on four pitches. Everyone knows he's going to steal. He took a step and a half, but we had doctored the baseline, and he fell to his knees. Our catcher threw to first and tagged him out. Me and my dad had a big smile. But they still beat us by eight runs."

The Bossards, however, went well beyond those standard techniques, with such methods as freezing baseballs to limit their carry when the White Sox had weak-hitting teams.

"My dad (Gene Bossard) invented frozen baseballs in 1967," Bossard said. "He and Eddie Stanky (manager of the White Sox). We had three pitchers that year - Tommy John, Joel Horlen and Gary Peters - and that was our whole team. We had no offense.

"In the bowels of the old stadium my dad had an old room where the humidifier was constantly going. By leaving the balls in that room for 10 to 14 days, they became a quarter to a half ounce heavier."

Bossard calls it "tricks of the trade," rather than cheating. While Wills is the only person penalized for altering the batter's box, "I think the majority of teams probably hedge an inch or so for their clubs," he said. "I, of course, never do those things.

"A groundskeeper literally doesn't go out and do this on his own. He talks to the manager or general manager, whoever deems it necessary.

"Like the bases. Do people really know if the bases are 90 or 89 feet? I can tell you fabulous stories, earthshaking stories, about times the bases were 89 feet and what it's done for people . . . but I can't let that out."

The Mariners' groundskeeper at Safeco Field, Steve Peeler, is a protege of Bossard's, and has been well-versed in the 17 tricks.

"It's tricks of the trade until you get caught," Peeler said. "Then it's stupidity."

Gaylord Perry would approve of that sentiment.




3.02 No player shall intentionally discolor or damage the ball by rubbing it with soil, rosin, paraffin, licorice, sand-paper, emery-paper or other foreign substance.

6.06 A batter is out for illegal action when ... he uses or attempts to use a bat that, in the umpire's judgement, has been altered or tampered with in such a way to improve the distance factor or cause an unusual reaction on the baseball. This includes, bats that are filled, flat-surfaced, nailed, hollowed, grooved or covered with a substance such as a paraffin, wax, etc.

Source: Official Baseball Rules, 1998 edition


Cheat sheet

Here are baseball players who have been caught cheating:

1999: Brian Moehler, Tigers, suspended 10 days for having a small piece of sandpaper glued to his left thumb.

1997: Wilton Guerrero, Dodgers, suspended eight games and fined $1,000 for using a corked bat.

1996: Chris Sabo, Reds, suspended seven days for using a corked bat.

1994: Albert Belle, Indians, suspended seven days for using a corked bat.

1988: Jay Howell, Dodgers, suspended for final two games of National League Championship Series for having pine tar on his glove during Game 3 of NLCS.

1987: Billy Hatcher, Astros, suspended 10 games for using corked bat.

1987: Joe Niekro, Twins, suspended 10 days after being caught with an emery board and sandpaper in his pocket.

1987: Kevin Gross, Phillies, suspended 10 games for using sandpaper.

1983: George Brett, Royals, has homer against Yankees nullified for coating bat with pine tar beyond the 18-inch limit prescribed in rule book. The decision is overturned upon appeal.

1982: Gaylord Perry, Mariners, suspended 10 games for doctoring baseball.

1981: Maury Wills, Mariners manager, suspended two games for altering size of batter's box.

1980: Rick Honeycutt, Mariners, suspended 10 games for using thumbtack.

1944: Nelson Potter, Browns, suspended 10 games for using spitball.

George Anderson
12-22-2008, 10:13 PM
One of the best cheating rumors was in the 51' Playoffs the Giants had someone hidden in the scoreboard at the Polo Grounds . He was allegedly using binoculars to steal signs from the Dodger catcher.This was the game that Bobby Thompson hit his famous homerun.

12-22-2008, 10:14 PM
All very fun to read, good stuff.

12-22-2008, 10:18 PM
One of the best cheating rumors was in the 51' Playoffs the Giants had someone hidden in the scoreboard at the Polo Grounds . He was allegedly using binoculars to steal signs from the Dodger catcher.This was the game that Bobby Thompson hit his famous homerun.

That's a true story, confirmed by the Giants, their business offices were out there in the OF.


It's rare that somebody writes about baseball history and it hits the front pages. But two weeks ago, events nearly 50 years old did hit the front pages: first The Wall Street Journal, and then a few other great newspapers. The architect of all this? A talented, enterprising writer named Joshua Harris Prager, who turned some old, dusty rumors into a hard, cold fact: in the latter stages of the 1951 season, at the end of which they captured the National League pennant, the New York Giants employed a sophisticated system for stealing catcher's signs and relaying them to the batters.

The sign stealing began on July 20. From that point through the end of the season, the Giants played 28 games at their home ballpark, the horseshoe-shaped Polo Grounds, and won 23 of them. Over the same span, they went 29-13 on the road.

According to Prager, only about half the Giants hitters -- Bobby Thomson, among them -- did want the signs. If we figure 40 plate appearances per game, and half of those going to hitters getting the signs, we might (very roughly) estimate that approximately 560 plate appearances were conducted under questionable circumstances. That's a lot of plate appearances, and certainly leads to the question, "Does the sign stealing take anything away from the Giants' accomplishment?"

Before answering that question, it's worth noting that sign stealing, above and beyond the garden-variety, baserunner-on-second-peering-between-catcher's-legs version, has a long tradition, going back at least a century.

# In 1900, the Philadelphia Phillies went just 30-40 on the road, but played brilliantly at home, going 45-23 at Philadephia Park (later renamed Baker Bowl).

As it turned out, the Phillies almost certainly employed an elaborate sign-stealing scheme, with the help of two part-time players.

Utility man Petie "What's the Use" Chiles often coached third base, where (as researcher Joe Ditmarr reports) "he had an unusual twitch in his legs at times and often stood in one position, right in the middle of a perpetual wet spot, in the corner of the coach's box."

Backup catcher Morgan Murphy rarely played, and when he wasn't in the lineup he was also absent from the bench and field area.

On September 17, with the Cincinnati Reds in town for a doubleheader, Chiles and Murphy were exposed. According to Ditmarr,

In the third inning of the first game, Tommy Corcoran, the Reds shortstop and captain, began frantically scratching with his spikes in the third base coaching area. Acting like a demonic chicken searching for grain ... Just below the surface Corcoran struck the lid of a small metal box. Opening the box exposed an "electric buzzer device" with protruding wires. It was thought that Chiles' cohort, Murphy, was stationed in the clubhouse behind the center field wall with some sort of pirate spyglass with which to steal the catcher's signs. Murphy, it was then assumed, would relay the information to Chiles' feet and he would verbally signal the batter as to whether the next pitch was to be a fastball or curve.

Not much came of Corcoran's discovery. But 12 days later in Pittsburgh, the Cincinnati shortstop sniffed out another scheme, this time in Pittsburgh. It was reported that the Pirates and Phillies knew of each other's chicanery, and had even agreed to not spy on each other. Of course, there's little honor among thieves, so we can imagine that both clubs were on the lookout for truce violations.

After the season, Philadelphia baseball writer Charles Dryden confirmed the details of the Phillies' sign-stealing scheme. Also after the season, Petie Chiles was arrested in Texas for involvement in a con-artist scheme and sentenced to two years of hard labor. In 1902, eight months before his scheduled release, Chiles escaped from custody. He was arrested for assault in 1903, reportedly played semi-pro baseball that same year, and that's the last we know of him. When and where he died remains a mystery.

# In 1940, the Tigers edged the Indians by one game to capture the American League pennant, after a three-and-a-half-month duel. In the process, the Tigers beat Bob Feller -- who finished the season 27-11 and was generally considered the AL's best pitcher -- six times. There were rumors that the Tigers had sign-stealing spies in the center-field bleachers, and Feller echoed these rumors in 1990 when I asked him about it. "Yeah, they had a guy with binoculars out there," he said, "and he'd signal to the hitter what I was going to throw. Cost us the pennant."

# In 2000, rumors abounded that the Blue Jays had rigged up a sign-stealing system in SkyDome. I asked two men very close to the team about this, and one of them snorted, "These guys? There aren't five of 'em smart enough to use a system if there was one."

These incidents are just a small sampling. In his piece, Prager also mentioned schemes from the early 1960s (Milwaukee's County Stadium) and the 1980s (Chicago's old Comiskey Park), and of course there must have been many more attempts, if not successes.

A few points about the Giants in 1951:

# Everybody knows that after July 19, the Giants went 52-18 and surged to the National League pennant. And now everybody knows that, over that same span, they employed a sophisticated system for stealing signs. But how many people know how effective that system actually was?

Dave Smith of Retrosheet has the game data for each game of the Giants' 1951 season, so he checked the "before and after" numbers. The results are, to say the least, surprising.

Home OPS Road OPS
Thru July 19 814 725
After July 19 761 758

Yes, the Giants actually hit worse at the Polo Grounds after they started cheating. As Smith points out, the real improvement came in their road hitting, and especially the pitching. Before July 19, the Giants pitchers posted a 3.47 ERA at home, 4.49 on the road. After July 19, they lowered those figures to 2.90 and 2.93. So the pitching improvement is the real story of the Giants' second-half comeback.

Of course, this doesn't mean that stealing the signs didn't help them. Perhaps without cheating, their home OPS decline would have been more severe. And of course, had the Giants won just one fewer game, there would have been no pennant, because there would have been no playoff series with the Dodgers.

So let's make no mistake -- the Giants did cheat. True, it wasn't until 1961 that a rule was instituted banning the use of mechanical devices for spying on the opposition, which means that manager Leo Durocher and the rest of the club didn't do anything violating the letter of the law.

But the Giants cheated, and they knew it. I've got a lot of baseball books in my basement, and a fair number of them were written by men who knew what was going on in 1951.

Giants center fielder Willie Mays has done a couple of autobiographies, including a fine 1966 book with Charles Einstein. There's no mention of sign stealing.

Giants shortstop Alvin Dark dictated a book, "When in Doubt, Fire the Manager." Not only is there no mention of sign stealing, but Dark says of the Giants' comeback, "It couldn't be pinned to any precise moment, yet suddenly we were a different team."

And then there's Leo Durocher. Understand, Durocher was not one to shy away from controversial statements. Spend just a few minutes leafing through Durocher's book -- the wonderful "Nice Guys Finish Last" -- and you'll read about Giants owner Horace Stoneham's alcoholism and Ernie Banks' single-minded devotion to his public image. Yet there's no mention of sign stealing in "Nice Guys Finish Last." In fact, Durocher claims that he told Thomson to expect a fastball, both on the first pitch (that Thomson took for a strike) and the second (that he hit over the fence).

Giants right fielder Monte Irvin did a book in 1996 called "Nice Guys Finish First." There's no mention of sign stealing.

Nearly every other Giant has been quoted in various books -- I've got one called "The Miracle at Coogan's Bluff," and another called "The Home Run Heard 'Round the World" -- and none of them includes a mention, an inkling, even the tiniest hint of any chicanery. Now, I certainly don't blame any of the Giants for failing to volunteer such information. After all, when finally confronted with pointed questions by Josh Prager, they all 'fessed up. But earlier, not one player wanted to be the one to spill the beans. Personally, I have no ill feelings for any of the Giants, any more than I have ill feelings for Gaylord Perry or Whitey Ford. Baseball's always been like Wall Street or tax time: It ain't cheatin' if you don't get caught.

In answer to the question, "Does the sign stealing take anything away from the Giants' accomplishment?" I would direct you to the Giants themselves. Clearly, they believed that it did. Knowing that, you can decide for yourself.

P.S. One thing bothered me about Josh Prager's article ... If the Giants won the National League pennant thanks to chicanery in 1951, then what about 1952? And '53 and '54 and '55 (Durocher was gone in '56)? Prager told me that according to Giants pitcher Al Corwin, they did not steal signs in 1952 (when they finished in second place, six games behind Brooklyn) or 1953 (fifth place), but they did cheat in 1954, when they won both the National League pennant and the World Series.

George Anderson
12-22-2008, 10:34 PM
I wouldn't put it past Durocher if it was indeed his idea. His past is shady beyond a doubt.

In fact I found this about Durocher that I didn't know about on Wilkipedia.

Babe Ruth, whom Durocher disliked intensely after Ruth accused Leo of stealing his watch, nicknamed him "The All-American Out[

Caveat Emperor
12-23-2008, 12:23 AM
Stories like these are what make me love baseball. Great find WOY, thanks for sharing.

12-23-2008, 08:37 AM
Why wasn't Sammy Sosa suspended when he got caught (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/baseball/news/2003/06/03/sosa_ejected_ap/) in 2003?

Chip R
12-23-2008, 11:40 AM
Why wasn't Sammy Sosa suspended when he got caught (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/baseball/news/2003/06/03/sosa_ejected_ap/) in 2003?

I think he was but this article is from 1999.

12-23-2008, 11:43 AM
I think he was but this article is from 1999.

eight game suspension and MLB checked 75 of his bats.

Always Red
12-23-2008, 12:03 PM
What type of cheating is acceptable to us? None? All? Whatever a player can get away with?

PEDS are generally considered the worst form of cheating, so I think there will be little if any argument there.

What about spitballs, or other foreign substance? Scratching the ball to make it dance? Stealing signals? Man in the scoreboard? The batter looking to see what signs the catcher is putting down (if said catcher sees him doing this, it usually results in a high, hard one)? Corking bats? You could go on and on...

Where is the line drawn between verboten cheating that results in banishment from the game (PEDS, betting on the game), and the cheating that results in a wink and a laugh?

Gaylord Perry made himself a Hall of Famer by cheating- giving himself an unfair advantage over hitters, outside the rules of the game. Most fans and media are OK with it. I'm looking for where that fine line is....if it even exists.

Chip R
12-23-2008, 01:05 PM
Gaylord Perry made himself a Hall of Famer by cheating- giving himself an unfair advantage over hitters, outside the rules of the game. Most fans are OK with it. I'm looking for where that fine line is....

It's a fair question. I think people are not bothered as much with pitchers cheating as they are with batters cheating. I think there are two reasons for that. The first being that for a long time now, batters have had the advantage over pitchers. People didn't come out to watch Babe Ruth catch fly balls. The fans' sense of justice is that throwing the occassional spitball or scuffball sort of balances things out.

The second reason I believe is that when a pitcher throws a spitball or scuffball, it acts the same way as a splitter or forkball or sinker or even a good change up does. It doesn't disappear a foot before it reaches the plate and reappear in the catcher's glove. It doesn't have some magic solvent on it that makes wood bats miss it like in It Happens Every Spring. When a batter cheats, he's trying to do something he wouldn't normally be able to do - hit the ball harder/farther. That's a big reason people were so up in arms about steroids. The hitters were doing something unnatural with their bodies to make them more powerful. When you cork a bat you are doing something unnatural to it to get an advantage. Even if you throw a spitball or a scuffball, there's no guarantee - much like a sinker or splitter - that it's going to break how you want it. It's more human. And throwing a spitball isn't a means to success by itself. Not even relief pitchers are successful throwing only one pitch.

Always Red
12-23-2008, 01:57 PM
The first being that for a long time now, batters have had the advantage over pitchers.

Chip, how do batters have the advantage over pitchers, when 70% of the time he is failing in his work and heading back to the bench, unless he walks, gets a hit or reaches on an error.

IMO, lowering the mound in 1969 from 15 to 10 inches gave more of an advantage to hitters than anything else.

If the hitters know that pitchers are trying to cheat them (scuffing, lubing, etc) then it's only natural they respond in kind.

I think it needs to be evenly enforced, across the board, rather than letting pitchers get away with more cheating. The men charged with running this game need to either crack down severely on all forms of cheating, or just let it all go, creating an even playing field for every cheater. Anything else is just confusing.

Gaylord Perry was an especially good cheater. He was only finally caught doctoring the ball in his 40's, and admitted to his cheating PRIOR to his eventual election into the Hall. His admission probably cost him earlier entrance into the Hall- he made it on his 3rd try.

Perry is also on record as saying the steroid guys also will get in someday.


Chip R
12-23-2008, 03:25 PM
Chip, how do batters have the advantage over pitchers, when 70% of the time he is failing in his work and heading back to the bench, unless he walks, gets a hit or reaches on an error.

IMO, lowering the mound in 1969 from 15 to 10 inches gave more of an advantage to hitters than anything else.

If the hitters know that pitchers are trying to cheat them (scuffing, lubing, etc) then it's only natural they respond in kind.

I think it needs to be evenly enforced, across the board, rather than letting pitchers get away with more cheating. The men charged with running this game need to either crack down severely on all forms of cheating, or just let it all go, creating an even playing field for every cheater. Anything else is just confusing.

Gaylord Perry was an especially good cheater. He was only finally caught doctoring the ball in his 40's, and admitted to his cheating PRIOR to his eventual election into the Hall. His admission probably cost him earlier entrance into the Hall- he made it on his 3rd try.

Perry is also on record as saying the steroid guys also will get in someday.


Perhaps saying batters have the advantage is incorrect. However, baseball has tried to tip the balance of power towards the pitchers - especially over the last generation.

I believe there's a big difference between a pitcher doctoring a ball and a batter corking his bat.

Reds Nd2
12-23-2008, 08:04 PM
That's a big reason people were so up in arms about steroids. The hitters were doing something unnatural with their bodies to make them more powerful.

Isn't the list of players suspended for steroids, while on a Major League roster, pretty evenly split between pitchers and hitters though?

12-23-2008, 08:10 PM
What type of cheating is acceptable to us? None? All? Whatever a player can get away with?

I think when you really dig down deep into it, it's a pretty clear answer: Health and PR

Shooting yourself up in the rear end with PEDs and scuffing a baseball are both forms of cheating. The problem is the average person laughs when a pitcher scuffs a ball or a hitter corks a bat. That same average person then cries out in horror if a player cheats in a way that harms his own body and/or creates an unhealthy precedent for kids.

12-24-2008, 09:33 AM
I think he was but this article is from 1999.

What was I thinking? woy even said that in the post. :redface:

12-27-2008, 10:27 AM
More on the subject.


April 13, 1981

Tricks Of The Trade
Loaded bats, phantom DPs and balls doctored with everything from flour to fly-line cleaner may be illegit, but they're as much a part of the grand old game as, well, the spitter
Steve Wolf

Kansas City, Sept. 30, 1980. Bill Kunkel, working the night watch out of bunco, apprehends Rick Honeycutt (male Caucasian, 26, 6'1", 190 pounds) for battery with intent to doctor a baseball. The facts: Kunkel, an American League umpire, catches Honeycutt, a Seattle pitcher, using a thumbtack taped with a Band-Aid to the forefinger of his right (non-throwing) hand to carve up baseballs he is pitching to the Royals. Let's return to the scene of the crime.

"It was the third inning." Kunkel recalls. "I wasn't looking for anything in particular, but Willie Wilson had complained about some of the pitches. I saw the Band-Aid on his finger and asked him what happened. When I grabbed his hand I got stuck. I was shocked."

The pitcher's testimony: "I thought the thumbtack trick up all by myself. Pretty smart, huh? Look, I was desperate at that point in the season [he was 6-0 on May 8, 10-17 on Sept. 30]. I figured, 'What did I have to lose?' Well, as soon as I see Kunkel coming out to the mound. I tried to get rid of the tack. But I had done too good a job of taping it on I felt like I was being pulled over for speeding.

"All I wanted to do after that was plead my case. I wanted to tell everybody that I was really sorry, that what I did was stupid and that I'd never do it again. I never wanted this to happen, and I didn't know the consequences. Besides, I'd only scratched three balls that night, and none of them did anything. But before I could say a word, Kunkel told me, 'You're gone.' "

"I'm glad we caught him," says Kunkel, himself a former American League pitcher. "But I'm sad somebody would do something like that."

The surprise in the Honeycutt case is not that "somebody would do something like that," but rather that somebody would actually get caught doing something like that.

Birds do it. A's do it. Even educated Jays do it. Mets do it. Mess ball in glove.

Baseball players also plug bats with cork, cheat on the double play, con runners, bilk umpires and steal signs. There are a thousand tricks of the trade, and they're all done in the name of gamesmanship. They run from the illegal to the immoral to the unethical to the clever. As long as the other team isn't doing them, they're just part of baseball.


The granddaddy of all the tricks is the spitball. It has come a long way from that day in 1902 when, during a pregame warmup, an outfielder in the Eastern League named George Hildebrand tried to make fun of a rookie pitcher who went to his fingertips before he threw the ball. Hildebrand loaded up a ball with a generous helping of saliva and threw it to the catcher. "The ball took such a peculiar shot that the three of us couldn't help but notice." Hildebrand once recalled. Like Newton and Goodyear before him, Hildebrand had made a remarkable discovery quite by accident. Word of it got around, and in 1908 Ed Walsh won 39 games with a spitball. The spitter was outlawed in 1920 for sanitary reasons, and Babe Ruth went from 29 homers to 54. However, pitchers already in the major leagues who registered as spitballers could still throw the pitch, so the last legal spitter was delivered in 1934, by Burleigh Grimes, whose drooler got him into the Hall of Fame.

That wasn't the end of it, however. Thanks to the research of such pioneers as Lew Burdette, Whitey Ford, Don Drysdale and Gaylord Perry, the spitball has given way to the mudball, the shineball, the shampoo ball, the pine tar ball, the sandpaper ball, the petroleum jelly ball, the belt buckle ball and the puffball.

Players are willing to reveal which pitchers throw a less-than-kosher cowhide, although they make it clear that nobody on their team would ever do such a thing. Nearly every sinkerball pitcher gets accused—one of the things that burned Honeycutt was that during his unbeaten string at the start of last season, he was constantly being suspected of loading up the ball, even though he was strictly legit. The names most frequently mentioned are those of Perry, Don Sutton, Tom Burgmeier, Pete Vuckovich, Tommy John, Dave Goltz, Jim Barr, Enrique Romo, Ferguson Jenkins, Bill Lee, Mike Torrez, Stan Bahnsen, Mike Caldwell, Paul Splittorff, Ross Grimsley, Bill Castro, Glenn Abbott, Bob Stanley and Doug Corbett, not to mention 99 and 44/100% of the Oakland staff. The A's, under the tutelage of Pitching Coach Art Fowler, are said to be fond of rubbing Ivory soap on the insides of their pant legs at the spot where their throwing hands touch their thighs. When the pants become wet with sweat, the soap just happens to come through to the other side for easy application. The only pitcher on the A's who wasn't accused last year was Dave Beard, who made all of 13 appearances. Apologies to any pitcher left off the above list.

By scuffing, soaping, greasing, etc., a pitcher is able to grip the ball conventionally and throw it with the force of a fastball but achieve exaggerated movement. None of the pitchers has probably ever heard of Dr. Hermann Schlichting, a former southpaw for the Engineering University of Braunschweig, West Germany, but in his 1951 classic. Boundary Layer Theory, Schlichting explained the magic behind the spitball as follows: "Integrating the pressure distribution and the shearing stress over the surface of the sphere, we obtain the total drag

D = 6πµ R U∞.

This is the very well known Stokes equation for the drag of a sphere."

Got that? In other words, by messing with the baseball, the pitcher creates a kind of a drag (The Buckinghams, 1966) that changes the flow lines around the ball, making them asymmetric. Even the slightest change will give the ball a more pronounced wiggle, producing a funkier pitch than can be thrown without tampering with the ball. For instance, a sinkerball pitcher will most often throw from the side or three-quarters with topspin on the ball. A normal sinkerball drops three or four inches. By scuffing the ball, usually on the topside just behind the horseshoe of the seam, a pitcher can make it drop by as much as half a foot. A fastball pitcher who comes over the top, putting backspin on the ball, can make his pitch take an extra hop by scuffing the underside.

The spitball is often the last refuge of the marginal pitcher, who is either losing his stuff or didn't have all that much to begin with. When erstwhile Oriole Ross Grimsley, in 1975, got in a jam one day, his pitching coach, George Bamberger, went out to the mound and said, "If you can cheat, I wouldn't wait one pitch longer." This wasn't idle talk, because Bamberger is said to have taught his pitchers in Baltimore and Milwaukee "the Staten Island sinker," which is named after Bambi's home borough.

Of course, the mahatma of the debase-ball is Perry. Over the years he has progressed from Slippery Elm (pronounced ELL-um) lozenges, all the better for keeping a ready supply of saliva; to K-Y jelly, ideal for lubing a greaseball; to Pillsbury flour, which he mixes with resin to produce the puffball—a dry rather than wet pitch that the batter has to locate amid a cloud of dust. Billy Martin, then managing the Tigers, once brought a bloodhound to the ball park just to sniff out the Indians' ball bag when Perry was pitching. Ralph Houk suspected Perry of supplanting spit with a fly-line cleaner favored by fishermen because it's clear and dries quickly. Such attention no doubt pleases Perry, who believes that a batter's anxiety over the prospect of being thrown a spitball can serve as useful a purpose as the spitter itself.

Pete Rose says that if he were a pitcher, "I'd try to get every edge I could." But Honeycutt has had second, third and home thoughts about what he did: "I hadn't been in any trouble since the last time I was sent to the principal's office. But there I was, sitting in the tunnel after they threw me out. All the other guys were coming up to me, making jokes—the whole season was a joke. Then it hit me. What are they going to do to me? Is the commissioner going to ban me from baseball forever? What an ordeal.

"Crime never pays."

No, it doesn't. Honeycutt was fined $250 and suspended for 10 days, the last five of the 1980 season and the first five of this season. The last pitcher to be suspended for throwing a doctored baseball was Nels Potter of the St. Louis Browns; he was caught by Umpire Cal Hubbard and told to take a walk for 10 days in 1944, which was, perhaps coincidentally, the year Potter had his best season, with 19 wins.

With all the slicing and dicing going on, it seems strange that it took umpires 36 years to catch another pitcher in the act. Actually, Umpire Doug Harvey nabbed Sutton, then with the Dodgers, in 1978 and threw him out of a game. But Sutton threatened to sue if he was suspended, so it was made clear that he was ejected not for doctoring a baseball, but for throwing a baseball that happened to be doctored. Otherwise, Sutton has always enjoyed his outlaw reputation. Once, an umpire went out to inspect Sutton's glove and found a note inside which read, "You're getting warm, but it is not here."

Dave Duncan, the pitching coach of the Cleveland Indians, estimates that close to 50% of the pitchers in baseball do something to the ball. Former Twins Manager Gene Mauch, now in the Angels' front office, says, "More pitchers are doing it than at any time in the 40 years I've been associated with baseball." Honeycutt says, "Every day I heard a new rumor about another pitcher doing it. I figured it was O.K. for me to try, too."

Dick Butler, the supervisor of umpires for the American League, doesn't see any more slippery dealings than normal among pitchers, even though both leagues sent out bulletins last year warning umpires to be on the alert for spitters and scuffers. "There's just more attention paid to it," he says. "Maybe nobody complained before. The umpires don't want to see the rules broken, but it's a lot easier to sit in the stands and say someone is doctoring the ball than to find evidence of it down on the field. If the balls have marks on them, all in the same spot, beyond the normal wear and tear a baseball gets, then the umpire can do something." That something is this: if an umpire discovers a scuffed ball, he can hold the pitcher responsible—because the pitcher was the person who threw it—and issue a warning. If the umpire detects another similarly scuffed ball, the pitcher can be ejected and suspended for 10 days.

Ray Miller, the Orioles' pitching coach, has a unique collection of abused baseballs, selections from which he occasionally sends to the American League office. His most prized relics are a series of scuffed balls handcrafted by Mike Marshall. Not only was Marshall a doctor of physiological psychology, but a doctor of baseballs as well.

"It's getting ridiculous," says Miller, who maintains that the Orioles only throw them on the sidelines. "I suggested last year that the umpires make it an automatic balk on the pitcher every time they find a scuffed ball. That way, if a relief pitcher comes in with the bases loaded, needing a ground ball, he won't be so quick to scuff the ball."

Tiger Manager Sparky Anderson has a different idea. "Myself, I'd like to see it legalized."

"Great," says Miller. "I can now conceive of the day when a pitcher will come out to the mound wearing a utility belt, complete with files, chisels, hammer, nails and hacksaw."


"I don't begrudge the pitchers," says Yankee Third Baseman Graig Nettles. "But until the umpires have the guts to stop them from marking the ball, I see nothing wrong with using a corked bat."

Of course, Nettles wouldn't use one. Not since Sept. 7, 1974 he wouldn't. That date will live forever in baseball infamy because in the fifth inning of the second game of a doubleheader in Detroit, Nettles hit a bloop single to left and the end of his bat fell off. His single was disallowed, but not his second-inning home run with the same bat. That homer, by the way, produced the game's only run.

The original accounts said that the bat was filled merely with cork. Well, such a legend has grown up around the incident that members of at least three other teams claim Nettles hit the home run against them, and that it wasn't cork inside the bat, but from four to six Super Balls, incredibly lively little devils. Who can ever forget the sight of Tiger Catcher Bill Freehan chasing after the bat for evidence? The Tigers certainly knew a corked bat when they saw one, because their first baseman, Norm Cash, was particularly proud of his. Nettles claimed he didn't know where the bat came from—some fan had given it to him in Chicago "for good luck." The bat was stained a dark brown, so how could Nettles tell?

"Why that lying sonofagun," says Cash. "I ought to know. I used a hollow bat my whole career." But, Norm, surely not in 1961, the year you hit .361 with 41 homers and 132 RBIs. "I'm afraid so," Cash says. "In fact, I owe my success to expansion pitching, a short rightfield fence and my hollow bats."

How do you cork a bat? Well, Cash's method was to bore a hole about eight inches deep and half an inch wide into the meat end of the bat. He left most of the hole empty, plugging only the top two inches of it with cork, sawdust and glue. Cash, who now works outside Detroit for NORPADIC, a manufacturer's representative, says it took him about half an hour to doctor a bat.

According to Earl Weaver, the Orioles' manager, the best way to cork a bat is to drill a hole 12 to 14 inches down into the barrel without splitting the wood and then pack the hole tight with ground-up cork, leaving a two-inch void at the top. The hole is then closed with a carefully shaped plug of plastic wood. Finally, sand over the top of the bat. "You can't spot a good job with a magnifying glass," says Weaver.

What does hollowing the wood from a bat do? According to Cash, it makes the bat lighter, so that a batter is getting the mass of a 36-ounce bat with the whip of a 34-ounce bat. And, of course, it stands lo reason that a bat with a cork center will be livelier than a bat with a wood center. Players say they can get an extra 20 to 50 feet with corked bats.

There are other things a hitter can do to coddle his bat. Oldtimers used to put nails in them. Some even honed one side of the bat to make it flat and thus increase the hitting surface. Other bats are grooved and the grooves filled with wax. Nettles remembers a player in the minors who used to fill his bat with mercury, on the assumption that the force of the mercury traveling to the barrel head increased the power of the bat. Unfortunately, the player couldn't hit, mercury or not.

Weaver says he used a corked bat when he played for New Orleans in 1955 and tied his career-high in homers with six. "I cried when they found us out." he says. But would his Orioles pull something like this? You bet, says Bamberger. In 1979 he publicly accused Ken Singleton and Rick Dempsey of using corked bats against the Brewers. Weaver, on the other hand, thinks that Cecil Cooper of the Brewers wields a doctored bat. Weaver became convinced after Cooper, who stands 6'2" and weighs 190 pounds, hit a ball out of the park one-handed. "No way a guy his size can do that with a legal bat," said Weaver. "It's a standing joke between us," says Cooper. "Earl always comes over and looks in our bat rack before the game."

The Phillies and Royals are also suspect—perhaps because they were the most successful teams in baseball last year. Then again, maybe they were the most successful teams in baseball because they used corked bats. A couple of years ago one Phillie player—an All-Star—was overheard at the batting cage telling a bat company representative, "I'll take one of the super-cork models." He was probably just kidding.

John Mayberry, now with the Blue Jays, recalls that a corked bat was available when he played for Kansas City. Reportedly, an undercover craftsman used to service the bats in the Kansas City clubhouse, charging only $1 apiece to cover the cost of cork. Hal McRae, the Royals' designated hitter, is sometimes accused of using a bat that floats, but the one time he was checked—the bat was cut in six pieces—he was clean. Some of the other names bandied about are Mike Schmidt. Davey Lopes, George Foster, Tony Armas, Bobby Grich, Darrell Porter, Buck Martinez, Jose Cardenal and Vic Correll. "I'm sure it goes on." says Rose, who also says he has used one in practice but never in a game. "I always thought that if I got caught, every one of those damn hits I got, people would think I cheated."

The one current player who has admitted to swinging a bogus bat is Andre Thornton, a first baseman/designated hitter for Cleveland and a very religious man. After the 1978 season, Thornton made his confession: "I was approached to use a corked bat. I used it two weeks. It gave me a tremendous emotional problem. I hit one home run with it. But I couldn't find peace with that, even though a lot of players use them. I just couldn't use something illegal and live with myself. It was a dark bat, and no one would ever have known.

"I felt so much joy when I discarded that bat, you can't imagine. My flesh told me to go ahead and use it. All men face such decisions, in any walk of life. Do you cheat? Or do you rise above it?"

So guess what most baseball players would answer.


Thornton is so honest that he's probably the only first baseman not mentioned by players when they discuss who cheats while tagging the bag, i.e., pulls his foot off before the fielder's throw arrives. This is intended to make the umpire believe that the throw got to first before it really did. The list is long, but the best at the cha-cha are Cooper, Jim Spencer, Willie Montanez Rod Carew, Eddie Murray, Keith Hernandez and the old guard of Rose, Willie Stargell, Tony Perez, Carl Yastrzemski and Lee May. Rose has been playing the position for only two years, but he picked up the knack about two minutes after he became a first baseman. He says Willie McCovey was the best he has ever seen. "He was so good at it," says Rose, "that I was hesitant to try and bunt for base hits on him, because you could be safe by a step and a half and he'd still make you look out." Old-timers say that nobody could compare to Gil Hodges of the Dodgers and Joe Ad-cock of the Braves for cheating on the bag. Darrell Johnson, the former Seattle and Boston manager and now a coach with the Rangers, says all first basemen do it. "But like Orson Welles says, they only do it when it's time."

"We don't cheat as much as second basemen do on the double play," says former Second Baseman Rose. Bump Wills. Willie Randolph, Jim Morrison, Frank White, Davey Lopes, Mike Tyson, Joe Morgan and Rich Dauer are considered the best—or worst, depending on one's point of view—second basemen at studiously avoiding the bag on the pivot. The phantom double play is sometimes a matter of survival, which is why the umpires rarely acknowledge it, but there are other times when it's just plain cheating. The second baseman hopes to cover up for all manner of faux pas—bad throws from the shortstop, bad timing on his own pivot and the like.

When asked last season what percentage of the time he cheats on the DP, Phil-lie Infielder Ramon Aviles said, "All the time. Last Sunday I participated in four double plays. I cheated on three of them. What happens is that when I play second base, I'll put my left foot on top of the bag as I'm waiting for the throw. When the ump sees my foot on top of the bag, he figures I'm there the whole time. But by the time I catch the ball, I'm not there."

Bobby Grich, the Angels' second baseman, is sometimes cited for cheating on the double play, but he says it ain't so. "I'm a former football player, so I like contact. Besides, I'm bigger than most second basemen. The guy, though, who gets away with it more than anyone is Randolph. He was even doing it during infield practice at the All-Star Game. He straddles the bag. I don't know why he does it that way, but he does it often."

The shortstops most frequently accused of ignoring the bag are Fred Patek, Tim Foli, Larry Bowa, Dave Concepcion and Rick Burleson. "Guys like Phil Garner say I cheat," says Concepcion. "I no cheat. I'm just quick." Retired Umpire Hank Soar says. "Burleson is a master at cheating on the bag. So you have to call it on him to make him stop. I did one time in something like a 15-2 game, and he told me, 'I'll get your job for this.' "

Grich is a wizard at many infield tricks. Three or four times a year on flyballs he will fake fielding a grounder to the detriment of the runner going from first to second on a steal or hit-and-run. "If the runner's not watching the ball." says Grich, "he'll get confused. I learned that trick when I was a 9-year-old bat boy on my father's softball team. I love stuff like that. It breaks up the monotony of the game and. after 14 years in pro ball, sometimes I need it." Grich is also adept at positioning his feet to block a runner from getting back to the bag. "It's just as much mine as his," he says. Grich is very good at sneaking up behind runners on pickoff plays, and he has faked more than a few runners into sliding into second when they should have been wheeling on to third.

The pièce de résistance of all infield tricks is the hidden ball. "I've never pulled it off, although I try a couple of times every year," says Grich. "The third base coach or somebody will usually yell and spoil it. I don't know how Gene Michael did it with the Yankees, but he worked it successfully four or five times a year. He's not about to tell me how. now that he's manager of the team. But that's the one remaining goal of my career—to pull off a hidden-ball trick."

Some first basemen arc good at it, Spencer and Mayberry among them. With Ron LeFlore, then of the Tigers, on first, Spencer, a Yankee, once instructed his pitcher to throw over eight times in a row. LeFlore didn't even notice that the eighth time Spencer kept the ball, and when LeFlore stepped off, Spencer had him. Mayberry uses a different approach. "Big John is so nice and easygoing," says Grich, "you don't suspect anything when he asks you to take your foot off the bag to kick the dust away—until he tags you."

Grich was exaggerating, but he wasn't far from the truth. Mayberry once nailed a Minnesota rookie by asking him to step off the base for a minute so Mayberry could use the bag as a prop while tying his shoe. Mayberry took his glove off—with the ball in it—hee, hee!—and while lacing up, he tagged the rook.

But you don't have to be an experienced hand to pull it off. Kansas City's young shortstop, Tim Ireland, did it to Cincinnati 10-year veteran Larry Biittner in a spring training game this year, killing a Reds rally in the 11th. After receiving a relay throw from the outfield, Ireland kept the ball in his glove instead of returning it to the pitcher. A few moments later he simply sneaked up behind Biittner, who was leading off second, and tagged him out to end the inning. "It's just a logical thought process," said Ireland. "You play all your life and see guys off base. No big deal."

Then there is the Goodrich Blimp School of Trickery. Last year in a game between the White Sox and the Yankees, Chicago rookie Outfielder Rusty Kuntz was on first when Alan Bannister hit a ground ball just inside the first-base line. Yankee First Baseman Bob Watson scooped up the ball and touched first. In the meantime, Shortstop Fred Stanley signaled to Kuntz, who had left with the pitch, to hold up because the ball was foul. As Kuntz casually walked back to first he was tagged out to complete the double play. "I couldn't even be mad at Stanley." said Kuntz. "It was brilliant." Kuntz was soon sent down to the minors for more seasoning. Chris Speier of the Expos tried the same thing on the Cubs' Mick Kelleher a few years ago, and Kelleher didn't think it was brilliant. "I thought it was bush," he said.

Catchers have their own bag of tricks. They'll try to coax strikes from the umpire by ever-so-smoothly pulling their gloves into the strike zone as they catch a pitch that's a bit off the plate. Gary Carter is highly, or lowly, regarded for his deftness at this, as are Jim Sundberg, John Stearns, Bob Boone, Steve Yeager, Joe Ferguson, Barry Foote, Johnny Bench and Rick Dempsey. Art Kusnyer, a former catcher and the bullpen coach of the White Sox, reveals how it's done. "Jerking the glove sideways or pulling it down won't work. The ump won't fall for it. But if I caught a pitch on the corner with the palm facing out, I'd flick my wrist and turn the glove in, so it would be perpendicular to the pitcher. It was just an illusion, but it helped sometimes."

Catchers also have no qualms about doctoring the ball for their pitchers. Birdie Tebbetts used to wear thumbtacks in his shin guards for those very special occasions, and the late Elston Howard would help Ford, when the heat was on, by putting mud in the ball's seams or scratching it on his shin guards. Kusnyer claims that he could scuff a ball simply by scooping up a low pitch and slamming it off the ground quickly so that the umpire wouldn't notice. "I've also loaded up for pitchers," says Kusnyer. "A little K-Y jelly on the forearm just above the wrist."

Catchers also chatter to throw a batter's concentration off. Thurman Munson was very good at this, as was Ray Fosse. "Thurman would talk a little rough at times," says Fosse. "My psych was praise. Brooks Robinson, I remember, came, to bat once, and I said, 'Here's my idol, the greatest third baseman in the history of baseball. I love your style. You're poetry in motion.' He turned around and threatened me."

"When you're talking to the catcher or the first baseman, it's hard to concentrate on the third-base coach," says Al Oliver of the Rangers. "But then, you don't want to seem antisocial."

Outfielders don't get as many opportunities for trickery as infielders and catchers do, but they do the best with what comes their way. Sometimes an outfielder will try to freeze a base runner by pretending he's about to catch a fly ball even though he knows he can't reach it. One of the cagiest outfielders is Milwaukee's Gorman Thomas, who says, "I've worked that maybe 10 times. I was taught by the master, Ken Berry. The reason I learned my lesson so well is that he put a decoy on me when he was with the Angels. I was on first base and a bloop was hit to center. I froze, and he caught me by 85 feet." Berry is also legendary for carrying an extra ball in his back pocket. When Berry was with the White Sox, the story goes, he once leaped for a home run that made it into the first row of outfield seats. Berry didn't catch the ball, but he did pull the second ball out of his pocket and hold it up. The umpire ruled it a catch. Cub outfielders have been instructed to pretend they've lost the ball in the Wrigley Field vines. That way, sure triples become ground-rule doubles.

Most outfielders say that short-hopping a ball so that it looks as if it was caught is more an accident than an art form, but Coach Joe Nossek of the Indians actually tells his charges to hold up the ball after shoestringing it on the off chance that the umpire might be fooled. "Sometimes it's justice," says Nossek. "You get enough of those to make up for the catches that they mistakenly rule as traps."


Nossek is also the acknowledged master of that most arcane of baseball skills, sign-stealing. "Nossek probably knows our signs better than we do," said Bill Mazeroski, a Mariners coach last summer. "Sign-stealing is really a misnomer," says Nossek. "It's nothing more than educated guessing. You watch the opposing third-base coach, and then check out the manager, and things start falling into place. For instance, if you've been watching a team the first two games of a series and it hasn't tried anything in the way of stealing or the hit-and-run, and then you suddenly pick up a whole new series of signs, well, you just assume the runner's going, and you call a pitchout. If I'm right on 50 percent of my pitchouts, I-figure I'm doing pretty good. I'd trade a ball for an out anytime.

"I learned an awful lot from Gene Mauch when I coached under him at Minnesota. Plus, I picked up a lot of tips from other players. I'd trade tidbits of information. In general, a team's signs will follow the same pattern throughout the season. Eventually, you build up a pretty good book." Nossek is also good at anagrams and crossword puzzles.

There are more nefarious ways of stealing signs. When Martin was managing the Rangers, he was suspected of relying on electronics. He's said to have had a closed-circuit camera installed just beyond the centerfield fence in Arlington Stadium. The camera was hooked up to a television set in Martin's office, and a player, usually Jim Fregosi, would decipher the catcher's signs. When Fregosi had the code broken, he'd relay his findings to Martin via walkie-talkie. Martin would then be able to tell the batter what was coming by whistling or yelling a prearranged phrase.

But some batters don't want to know what's coming. Norm Sherry, a coach with the Expos, remembers a game against the Cubs in 1978. "Larry Cox was catching, and he was putting his signs down so low that I could see every one from the third-base box," Sherry says. "I told the guys, 'I've got all his signs.' Nobody wanted them."

Some clubs have trick plays. The White Sox will sometimes switch cutoff men on balls hit to the outfield to confuse base runners. First Baseman Mike Squires will move toward the mound as if he's going to cut off the throw, then circle behind the runner and take the throw at the bag. Sometimes they catch the runner in a rundown between first and second. Conversely, the Expos use a base-running ploy called the Sleeper Rabbit, thought up years ago by George Moriarty, third baseman on the Ty Cobb Tigers. With runners on second and third, the man on second takes his time walking back to second after the first pitch. By doing it a second time, he hopes to induce the catcher to throw to second. But just as the catcher releases the ball, the runners break for home and third. The Orioles have a special base-running ploy of their own known as "the famed play." The purpose is to score a run from third by having a runner at first draw a throw from the pitcher. The play, which is practiced during spring training in secret, has been used successfully in recent years against Cleveland, Chicago and Boston.

For some tricks, there is an equal and opposite re-trick. Carew, among others, doesn't like to be fenced in by the batter's box. He erases the back line of the box, so he can plant his rear foot pretty much wherever he wants. But then, some pitchers don't even bother to touch the rubber. One member of the Cub staff says he digs a deep hole in front of it and pushes off from there while in the stretch. "It gives an extra foot to my fastball." he says.

Occasionally, a pitcher will try to cheat on his pickoff move, but that's one trick umpires are always on the lookout for. "The important thing is to be consistent." says Pitcher Dave Roberts of the New York Mets. "or else the umpire will call you for a balk." Roberts suggests that a pitcher with a particularly good pickoff move confer with the umpires before the game or even in spring training, just to let them know what to expect. Pirate Reliever Enrique Romo has a very good pickoff move to first, but he's always being called for balks because he doesn't communicate with the umpires. When called for a balk, he gets angry, and the umpires only get angrier.

Chicanery isn't confined to players, coaches and managers. Sometimes, the home-team groundkeeper gets in on the dirty dealing. In Kansas City, George Toma makes the batter's box extra large because the Royals like to stand well back. In the early '70s, when the Tigers were very slow afoot, the Detroit ground crew would water down the base paths, particularly the takeoff area next to first, to neutralize the speed of opposing teams. By the same token, fast teams keep hard, fast tracks. Clubs that still play on living fields and have a lot of sinkerball pitchers keep the grass high to slow down ground balls. Good bunting teams keep the foul lines tilted inward. Artificial turf has taken much of the fun out of groundkeeping.

Baseball has come some way from the days when the turn-of-the-century Baltimore Orioles would grab hold of runners' belts to delay their departure from a base or take a shortcut between first and third when the umpire—and there was only one on the base paths at that time—had his back turned. But the rule of thumb still is: if you can get away with it, do it. The fiercest competitor of all, Ty Cobb, once coached in a high school all-star game in Chicago opposite Babe Ruth. Cobb, who had the West team, delivered an impassioned speech to his players about fair play and sportsmanship. Then the players took the field for a workout. Cobb stood behind the catcher and watched his throws. "Very good," said Cobb. "But here's a little trick for you. Just before the pitcher throws, grab a handful of dirt, and after he throws, flip-the dirt up into the batter's eyes."

12-31-2008, 09:31 AM
I like the quote from Gaylord Perry's daughter when someone asked her about her dad throwing a spitter and she replied, "It's a hard slider." Wasn't she around five years old at the time?