Written by Joe Kleinsasser Wednesday, 30 May 2007 07:47
Doctored baseballs, corked bats, performance-enhancing drugs, questionable groundskeepers tactics, stealing signs with binoculars all have a part in the inglorious history of America’s pastime: baseball.
As San Francisco slugger Barry Bonds approaches the all-time home-run record set by Hank Aaron, inquiring minds want to know what he shot into himself, when he shot it and whether he knew what he shot into himself if he indeed shot something into himself.
Is that clear?
If Bonds is indeed guilty of using illegal performance-enhancing drugs or steroids as many suspect, he is far from alone. However, thanks to the all-time home-run chase, he certainly is the best known.
The arguments about steroids are becoming old and stale. No one can deny that Bonds is a great athlete with great hand/eye coordination.
And no one should deny that, with or without steroids, Bonds is a great home-run hitter. But does anyone believe for an instant that there aren’t some short-term benefits when using illegal substances?
A few years down the road, there may be some health issues, but these athletes aren’t thinking a few years down the road. When it comes to fame and fortune, many professional athletes have tunnel vision.
Whatever the reason, baseball has an inglorious history when it comes to cheating. It begins in Little League baseball, where a few coaches have fudged the ages of players in an effort to win a championship.
In every sport, athletes do whatever they can get away with on and off the field. To some extent, what players get away with in a game is considered part of the game. If you get caught, you pay the consequences.
The chemistry experiments allegedly conducted by Mr. Bonds exist on a different part of the Richter (or commissioner Bud Selig) Scale than the deeds I am about to describe. On the other hand, your mother probably taught you that a lie is a lie is a lie, etc.
Exhibit A: When scoreboards used to be updated by hand, it was not uncommon for the scoreboard operator to use binoculars to steal the catcher’s signs. Those signals were relayed to someone on the offensive team, who would relay them to the hitter and the hitter suddenly knew what pitch to expect.
Exhibit B: In his tell-all book “Ball Four,” Jim Bouton wrote that Hall of Fame Yankees pitcher Whitey Ford used the diamond in his wedding ring to scuff up the baseball when he was on the mound. A talented pitcher can make a doctored ball do all kinds of unnatural things.
One alternative was having catcher Elston Howard put a nice slice in the baseball with a buckle on his shin guard. Ford also planted mud pies around the mound and used them to load the ball.
He confessed that when pitching against the Dodgers in the 1963 World Series, “I used enough mud to build a dam.”
He also threw a “gunk ball,” which combined a mixture of baby oil, turpentine and resin. He kept the “gunk” in a roll-on dispenser, which, as the story goes, Yogi Berra once mistook for deodorant, gluing his arms to his sides.
Another Hall of Fame pitcher, Gaylord Perry, compiled his 314-265 record with the help of a Vaseline ball. Perry would stand on the mound, touching his cap, sleeve and other parts of his uniform, either loading up the ball or trying to convince batters he was doing so.
In 1982, he was one of the very few pitchers to be suspended for doctoring the ball.
Gene Tennace, Perry’s catcher with the Padres, said the ball was sometimes so loaded he couldn’t throw it back to the mound. Indians president Gabe Paul defended Perry, saying, “Gaylord is a very honorable man. He only calls for the spitter when he needs it.”
Whether players are doing things illegally or unethically, the goal is the same: to gain a competitive advantage. The question that should be asked is whether there is a cheating line that one can’t cross, because the Hall of Fame already includes plenty of rule breakers.