Baseball’s History Of Cheating


Have you ever cheated? Of course you have. We cheat on school tests, on income tax returns and on partners. We do it to gain an advantage, to reap some monetary benefit and to experience pleasure. The level of cheating is usually in direct proportion to our fear of getting caught.


Now that we all agree on society’s general approach to honesty, let’s talk about baseball’s biggest story…electronic sign-stealing by the Houston Astros. There is no doubt that they did it, but it seems like every fan has a different take on the situation. Some say it is horrible and the punishment should be severe. Others say that cheating has always been part of the game and this is just an extension of that philosophy. Wherever you are on that landscape, let’s at least understand that there is a unique difference between cheating and breaking the rules. That difference is simple…did the indiscretion give the player an unfair advantage on the field? Albert Belle corking his bat was cheating, George Brett having too much pine tar on his bat was breaking the rules.


What follows are random thoughts on the current controversy. Feel free to break into small groups later and discuss the topics yourselves.


> As with most places in our day-to-day life, technology has run rampant and leadership must always be diligent in an attempt to stay ahead of the curve (pun intended). Rob Manfred has the unenviable task of monitoring this issue. He must address it in two ways…1) punishment to deter organizations and 2) rules to minimize opportunities. Was the punishment to Jeff Luhnow, A.J. Hinch and the team fair? A highly respected baseball website offered a poll to its readers and over 27,000 people voted…48.4% felt it was “too light”, 42.9% felt it was “on the mark” and 8.7% felt it was “too heavy”.


> With regard to minimizing opportunities, the logic seems to be that video equipment needs to be removed from any area close to the dugout. As a fan, I’ve always felt that the Manager challenge for replay review slows down the game while some unknown employee reviews the play and communicates the results to a coach, who then has to signal the Manager. Let the Manager make an instant decision (five or ten seconds) on the challenge and let the game move on. Or have a 5th umpire in the press box and let him fix obvious mistakes.


> Luhnow claims he didn’t have direct knowledge of the sign-stealing process. Sorry, you’re the boss and what happens on your watch is your responsibility.


> Hinch claims he wasn’t part of it but hesitated to pull the plug on the cheating. Sorry, if you get another job someday, bring ethics to the table.


> Alex Cora lost one of the best jobs in baseball, but evidence just might show that he was complicit in two separate cheating incidents.


> Some people seem to feel sorry for Carlos Beltran. Sorry, he was the ring-leader among the players and admitted it in his apology after losing the Mets job. The Mets are trying to change the culture in their organization and couldn’t have this man leading the players onto the field. If anything, they waited too long to pull the plug. Just for the record, Beltran earned over $200 Million as a player…his unemployment doesn’t create much sympathy.


> This is nothing new, as sign-stealing was the impetus for the what might be the most famous cheating scandal in the history of the game. The 1951 New York Giants had Herman Franks sit in an office behind the center field wall and use a telescope to watch the Catcher’s signs and then signal the pitch to the dugout. Arguably, the most famous Home Run in history was the one hit by Bobby Thomson when he knew Ralph Branca would throw a fastball.


> Should the new team name be the Houston Asterisks?


> Was Gaylord Perry’s spitball cheating, breaking the rules, or both?


> Was Joe Niekro’s emery board in his back pocket cheating, breaking the rules or both?


> Whitey Ford planted mud pies around the pitcher’s mound and used them to load the ball. Was that cheating, breaking the rules or both?


> When Maury Wills managed the Mariners, he had the groundskeepers make the batter’s box a foot longer…which was a foot closer to the Pitcher. Of course, when Wills was a player, the San Francisco Giants grounds crew would excessively water the area around 1st base, so Wills wouldn’t have the needed traction to steal 2nd base.


> How about steroids (PED’s), their use was obviously cheating but for a time, it wasn’t against the rules.


> ARod accomplished the baseball version of the trifecta…1) he cheated with PED’s…2) he broke rules such as trying to knock the ball loose from a defender’s glove…3) he broke “unwritten” rules by yelling at a fielder while the ball was in the air. If we still had encyclopedias, you’d find his picture under “Bush League”. JLo is dead to me.


> One of the most interesting outcomes of current political discourse is the attitude toward “whistleblowers”. Those individuals essentially expose corruption and illegal acts to the betterment of the population in general. In 2020, it seems like they’ve become the bad guys. Sorry, Mike Fiers has more intestinal fortitude than any most of us.


> Unless there’s evidence that one of the Astros had placed bets on home games while the system was in place, please don’t compare any of this to Pete Rose.


> Figuring out that a Pitcher is “tipping” his pitches is akin to a poker player seeing another player’s “tell”…neither are cheating. If you’re not acquainted with the poker reference, watch John Malkovich play the character “Teddy KGB” in “Rounders” (1990).


> How about “pitch framing”? Is that cheating or an art form? It will eventually be eliminated by technology.


> For as long as the game has been played, fielders have caught a ball on a short-hop (trapped) and then proudly showed it to the umpire as if they actually caught it on the fly. Cheating or breaking the rules?


> If some of the smug Astros (like Altuve & Bregman) start getting plunked in the ribs come April, are you OK with that? And if they bark at the Pitcher, should he respond by saying, “Oh, I thought you knew I was going to throw an inside fastball”.


OK, there are your talking points. Put some pine tar on your forearm, get a good grip on the baseball and have at it.



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