“But I’ve gotta say, if it had been me and I thought that somebody else was getting a little bit of an edge, I’m not so sure I wouldn’t have done the same thing. I just don’t know … I’m glad I didn’t have to make that decision. You guys would be talking about me instead of them.”
“I don’t know what I would have done, so I can’t be holier than thou.”
– Bob Gibson at the 2013 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductee Weekend, Cooperstown
This weekend SHOULD have seen one of Baseball’s greatest ever power hitters and one the games greatest power pitchers inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. I say ‘SHOULD have’ because instead the only inductees who actually made it this year are no longer with us – player Deacon White, umpire Hank O’Day, and executive Jacob Ruppert, all of whom died in the 1930s.
Last week Ryan Braun accepted a suspension of 65 games (effectively the remainder of the 2013 season) for his part in the Biogenesis scandal that’s been sweeping the sport for the last few months. By all accounts we’ll be seeing further suspensions this week as MLB is allegedly going after several of the other names from the case, including the scalp of Alex Rodriguez. Braun’s suspension, after swearing outright that he’d never taken PEDs, has enraged many, from the press through to the fans and even through to the players themselves.
Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports made a couple of interesting comments on Twitter last week about Braun’s suspension –
I love that second one 🙂
I’m not going to use this post as a soapbox for a rant against the whole PED/steroid debacle that currently blights Baseball. There’s more than enough opinion out there already for me to bother throwing my two cents in, but I did want to look at the nature of cheating in Baseball and the fact that the very act of trying to get ‘an edge’ in the game has been going on for a lot longer than you’d probably imagine.
So whether it’s anything from gambling to ball tampering, corked bats to PEDs, there are dozens of stories out there highlighting Baseball’s more dubious and duplicitous side!
The ‘Black Sox’
If you’ve never seen John Sayle’s excellent ‘Eight Men Out’ then go do yourself a favour and find a copy! It’s a great film about a subject and sport that’s very close to our hearts!
The ‘Black Sox’ Scandal took place during the 1919 World Series when the Chicago White Sox lost the series to the Cincinnati Reds, and eight White Sox players were later accused of intentionally losing games in exchange for money from gamblers. The players were acquitted in court, but nevertheless, they were all banned for life from organized baseball, including one of Baseball’s greatest hitters ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson!
How did Preacher Roe pitch successfully until the age of 39 for the Brooklyn Dodgers? It was all thanks to what his teammates called his “Beech-Nut Curve.” Beech-Nut was a type of chewing gum, and in a 1955 article for Sports Illustrated Roe explained that the spit that this brand of gum produced was the best for affecting curve balls.
During his playing days everyone knew that Roe was doctoring the ball but no-one knew exactly how he was achieving it. He used to fool batters into thinking he had a substance secreted in the bill of his cap (despite the fact that there was never anything there) and so he could fake batters out that much easier whenever he ran his fingers over his cap.
Yankees legend and Hall of Fame pitcher Whitey Ford admitted that he used a variety of “techniques” to enhance his pitching. Sometimes he would scuff the ball with his wedding ring or belt buckle. Other times he would rub it a special substance of his own creation made of baby oil, turpentine, and pine tar – a substance his teammates christened ‘gunk’!
Peter Rose is perhaps one of the most well known ‘cheats’ to those outside of Baseball. Nicknamed ‘Charlie Hustle’, Rose was a switch hitter and is the all-time Major League leader in hits (4,256), games played (3,562), at-bats (14,053) and outs (10,328). He won three World Series rings, three batting titles, one Most Valuable Player Award, two Gold Gloves, the Rookie of the Year Award, and also made 17 All-Star appearances.
Despite this unparalleled level of success on the field and his passion for the game, Rose agreed to permanent ineligibility from baseball amidst accusations that he gambled on baseball games while playing for and managing the Cincinnati Reds, including claims that he bet on his own team.
The Bash Brothers
The A’s pairing of Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco was infamous in the late 80’s and early 90’s for the huge power output and home run hitting ability. Canseco became Baseball’s first 40-40 player while McGwire went on to break Roger Maris’ single season home run record in 1998.
Today they are synonymous with the origins of the “Steroid Era”! In 2005 Canseco went on to write the book Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits & How Baseball Got Big which was his personal account of steroid use in Major League Baseball. In the book he named several other players as being steroid users and he went on to become a pariah in the Baseball community.
In 2005 McGwire famously refused to answer questions under oath when called to testify in front of a congressional hearing on steroid usage in Baseball. His performance was ridiculed by the media at the time but he later admitted steroid use when he became the hitting coach for the Cardinals in 2010.
Albert ‘Joey’ Belle
The infamous Cleveland Indians corked bat incident took place on July 15, 1994 at Comiskey Park. In the first inning of the game between the Indians and the White Sox, Sox manager Gene Lamont was tipped off that Indians outfielder Albert Belle was using a corked baseball bat. The bat was confiscated by umpire Dave Phillips, and locked in the umpires’ dressing room.
The Indians knew that Belle’s bat was corked so they dispatched reliever Jason Grimsley to retrieve it. Grimsley took a bat belonging to Indians player Paul Sorrento and accessed the area above the false ceiling in the clubhouse, crawling across with a flashlight in his mouth until he reached the umpires’ room. He switched Belle’s bat with Sorrento’s and returned to the clubhouse.
The theft was later discovered and the AL threatened to get the FBI involved unless Belle’s original bat was produced. Complying with this request the bat was indeed found to be corked and Belle suspended for 10 games. It all came to nought though as the season ended early due to the 1994 players strike.
In his 2002 book, Indians shortstop Omar Vizquel confirmed that all of Belle’s bats were corked!
What can you say about Barry Bonds?
Holding many MLB records, including most career home runs (762), most home runs in a single season (73, set in 2001), most career walks (2,558), and most career intentional walks (688), Bonds led a controversial career, notably as a central figure in Baseball’s steroids scandal.
In 2007, he was indicted on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice for allegedly lying to the grand jury during the government’s investigation of BALCO, by testifying that he never knowingly took any illegal steroids. He was convicted on April 13, 2011 on the charge of obstruction of justice and despite his Baseball accomplishments, Bonds was not elected into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility (this year) on the ballot.
I truly hope that the PED issue is finally coming to an end. I might be somewhat naive to believe that this could be the case, but more stories are starting to appear all the time about players speaking out around the issue, about a desire to finally clean up the game! Matt Kemp was one of the first to stand up and come down hard on Ryan Braun’s suspension, and surely more will follow!!
What’s interesting to note is that the ‘level’ of cheating, and how acceptable it is as part of the game, does tend to vary somewhat. Pitchers such as Preacher Roe and Whitey Ford, who have openly admitted to tampering with the ball during games, are still hailed amongst the greatest pitchers to play the game and are still enshrined at Cooperstown.
Are we to say that the Pete Rose’s betting, which led to his lifetime ban from Baseball, is any more serious as the lies and cheating that have occurred during the steroid and PED era? Admittedly Rose didn’t do his own cause any favours in the years following his ban as he maintained for years that he never gambled on Baseball, despite finally coming clean in 2004.
On a personal level I don’t think that Rose’s ‘crime’ is in the same league as what’s happening with PEDs at the moment! However Pete Rose DID break the rules of Baseball and is currently paying the price for that infringement still to this day!
Baseball will move on from this, the same way that it has moved on from other scandals that have rocked the game in the past. But while the sport will prevail please spare a thought for the fans and collectors who are affected by these events, as each of them has their own story to tell too.