Sun-Sentinel – Nov 3, 2005 – Harvey Fialkov – In a time when nearly everyone knows someone who cheats, whether it’s on their income taxes, golf score or spouses, it’s a wonder why baseball fans seem surprised that players are using steroids to gain a competitive advantage.
Long before bitter slugger Jose Canseco accused some of baseball’s superstars of using performance-enhancing drugs, ballplayers have been caught breaking the rules or at least stretching them to gain a competitive edge.
The underlying issue is what does baseball consider acceptable cheating, and is this win-at-all costs behavior just a sad reflection of society?
“Everyone cheats,” White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen told reporters earlier this season. “If you don’t get caught, you are a smart player. If you get caught, you are cheating. It has been part of the game for a long time.
“If you’re doing whatever you’re not supposed to do and you don’t get
caught, keep doing it.”
Guillen just led the White Sox to their first World Series championship since 1917. Coincidentally, it’s the same franchise that was forever sullied by the Black Sox scandal in which eight members of the White Sox allegedly were paid by gamblers to throw the 1919 World Series.
Say it ain’t so, Ozzie.
In Game 2 of the recently- completed ALCS, White Sox batter A.J. Pierzynski swung and missed a low pitch for strike three with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. Pierzynski took a step toward the dugout before racing to first base after Angels catcher Josh Paul flipped the ball toward the mound.
Umpire Doug Eddings, who seemingly called Pierzynski out on strikes, ruled that that the ball was trapped by Paul. Thus, Pierzynski was safe at first.
Replays appeared to show that Paul caught the ball on the fly, which made Joe Crede’s game-winning double a few moments later a bitter pill for the Angels and their fans to swallow.
“I didn’t fake them out,” Pierzynski said. “I was off balance. I took one
step to the dugout and realized he didn’t tag me, so I ran. There’s no
In Game 2 of the World Series, White Sox slugger Jermaine Dye was awarded first base when umpire Jeff Nelson incorrectly ruled that a pitch from Astros reliever Dan Wheeler hit Dye instead of his bat.
That set up Paul Konerko’s grand slam and a White Sox come-from-behind victory.
CHEATING STARTS EARLY
There’s a huge chalk line of distinction drawn between cheating and taking advantage when umpires make bad calls. But the concern is that cheating has already dripped down to the Little League level.
A coach of a T-ball team in a Pittsburgh suburb was charged this summer with paying off a 7-year-old player on his team to injure an autistic teammate so the latter wouldn’t be able to play in a big game.
It has been nearly five years since a scandal rocked the Little League World Series when it was discovered that the father of Danny Almonte, a left-handed pitching phenom for a Bronx All-Star team, had forged his birth certificate, saying his son was 12 instead of 14, or 2 years older than the limit.
Marlins reliever Todd Jones has admitted using pine tar on his glove to get a better grip on the ball when he pitched for the Rockies. He also has described the art of scuffing a baseball in a column for Sporting News.
“Tell your Little Leaguer you shouldn’t do it because you’re playing for
fun,” Jones said.
“When you’re playing for keeps in the big leagues, you’ve got to try and be creative as you can. It just depends on where you draw the line.”
The baseball rulebook specifically prohibits using foreign substances on
the ball (or glove) with a potential penalty of ejection and suspension.
Cheating was under scrutiny this season after Nationals manager Frank
Robinson correctly accused Angels reliever Brendan Donnelly of using pine tar. Donnelly was suspended for 10 games, but it was later reduced to eight.
“That’s the tightrope you walk if you’re going to cheat,” Robinson said.
JUST DON’T GET CAUGHT
So why shouldn’t pitchers and batters stock their locker with products from Home Depot and Walgreens when spit, Vaseline, shaving cream, pine tar and sandpaper have not only been accepted but rewarded for decades?
Hall of Fame pitcher Gaylord Perry won 314 games and wrote an autobiography entitled Me and the Spitter, as baseball’s hierarchy looked the other way.
“There’s an old saying, `If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying,’ so
you’re always looking for an edge,” said retired knuckleball pitcher Charlie Hough. “It’s not like it’s the end of the game.”
Marlins pitcher Brian Moehler was with the Tigers in 1999 when he was
caught with sandpaper taped to the thumb of his pitching hand while dazzling the Devil Rays through six innings. He was ejected and suspended for 10 games.
“I knew it was wrong,” Moehler said. “I was kind of persuaded into it, and obviously, I’d never do it again. It’s amazing that after it happened how many guys come up to you and say you should try it this way or that way.”
PAYING THE PRICE
Cheating has been part of the game for nearly a century, so why the sudden outcry, particularly concerning steroid use?
“Players used to fly in with their spikes high, and they fixed the World
Series, so I don’t think this is the most corrupt period in baseball, period,” said Randy Cohen, author of The Ethicist, a regular feature in the New York Times Magazine. “But the steroid issue, well, fans want the games to be played by human beings or otherwise there’d be giant monster robots on the field.
“There’s an ethical code in sports that everyone agrees to when they decide to play. Players have an obligation to obey the rules or the sport will cease to exist.”
Former Cubs favorite Sammy Sosa, now with the Orioles, tarnished his
pristine reputation when his bat popped its cork during a game two seasons ago.
“If you get caught, it’s just like committing a crime in the streets;
you’ve got to pay the price,” Marlins pinch hitter Lenny Harris said. “It’s
Astros manager Phil Garner still laughs when recalling the time 221-game winner Joe Niekro was frisked on the mound and an emery board fell out of his back pocket during a 1987 game.
“Corked bats do absolutely nothing but make the bat lighter. But I faced
[Don] Sutton, and you could see the mark on the ball where he [scuffed] it,” Garner said. “Yeah, it’s cheating.”
EVERYONE DOES IT
Late in the season, White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle claimed that the Texas Rangers were stealing signs electronically and then signaling them to hitters using a high-tech light system from center field at Ameriquest Field.
Former Marlins manager Jack McKeon believes stealing signs from the
opposition is within the rules, but not if you need a telescope from the
center-field bleachers as the Giants allegedly did to help them “steal” the 1951 NL pennant from the Dodgers.
“Everyone who says they haven’t cheated is crazy,” McKeon said. “You cheat in school or driving down the highway exceeding the speed limit or not wearing your seat belt.”
Other than the obvious financial carrots, what possesses wealthy, talented players to resort to cheating?
“It can help or hurt an athlete depending on how it is done and when,” said Dr. John F. Murray, a West Palm Beach sports performance psychologist.
“Reputation is also important in sports, so an athlete or a team who engages in unfair behavior too much can actually reduce their chances of winning over time as referees and officials will be less accepting, and opponents can gain a motivational advantage.”
Marlins broadcaster Tommy Hutton, who batted .248 during a 12-year
big-league career is fed up with the bandwagon-jumping critics of baseball shortcuts.
“When the pitching rubber got muddy, pitchers used to stand three inches in front it,” Hutton said. “Everyone knew [Perry] threw a spitter and that Sutton and Rick Rhoden scuffed the ball. Nothing was ever done about it.
“[Cheating] is done in every sport. In basketball you get an offensive foul by bringing the guy into you. All of a sudden we’re a society that’s all concerned about that stuff.”
SAY IT AIN’T SO? From top, Shoeless Joe Jackson went down in history as a cheater, while A.J. Pierzynski, at left with Scott Podsednik, will be remembered as a sly opportunist. Sammy Sosa and Jose Canseco saw their stars tarnished by scandalous behavior. File photos
Dr. John F. Murray is a sports psychologist and clinical psychologist providing sports psychology and counseling services based in Palm Beach, Florida.