ENOUGH WITH THE PEARL-CLUTCHING

10 examples of how baseball cheating is just the tip of the iceberg

Cheating in sports is nothing new. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

Is anybody surprised that baseball is full of lowdown, dirty cheaters? Even more than you ever expected. Cheating and baseball go together, like peanut butter and jelly, rock and roll, cousins in Kentucky.

It used to be that pitchers merely gobbed on the baseball to make it dart and dive, Ty Cobb sharpened his spikes to put fear in fielders trying to tag him out, batters loaded their bats with cork and Super Balls, it was enough for shortstops to come within 10 feet of touching second base on double plays, and pitchers scooting up from the rubber before releasing the ball.

Cheating is part of baseball lore. It's tradition. It's practically cute.

Now, of course, baseball has become a halfway house, and I'm not talking about stadium attendance, which has been decreasing in recent years. Baseball is home to 21st century skulduggery, matching the KGB and CIA for inventive espionage.

Apparently the only difference between the 2017 (2018-19?) Astros and practically every other team is the Astros got caught. Not really punished, at least not the actual sign robbers, but the manager and general manager were suspended and later fired, the team lost draft picks and Astros owner Jim Crane was fined the coins under the cushions of his living room couch.

Now the latest, certainly won't be the last, baseball scandal has pitchers lathering up the ball with Gorilla Glue or rosin and Hawaiian Tropic for that "savage" slider.

There's a saying, "If you're not cheating, you're not trying," which has become such a stable in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations that nobody's quite sure who said it first. Some say it was Cubs first baseman Mark Grace (also the originator of "slump buster"), others insist it was pro wrestler Eddie Guerrero. I'd go with "Latino Heat" Guerrero since he was "guilty" of "accidentally" pinning his "girlfriend" Chyna to steal the Intercontinental Championship from her while the "impartial" referee "didn't see" his "strategy."

Of course baseball isn't alone as a school for scoundrels. Pro basketball has had its share of scandals, from a referee manipulating point spreads to pay off gambling debts, to officials allegedly freezing an envelope in the fishbowl to guarantee the New York Knicks first crack at drafting Patrick Ewing. For cheating in the NFL, just see "New England Patriots."

This made me think: is there any sport where it's impossible to cheat? I'm not talking about athletes using performance enhancing drugs, I'm pretty confident everybody does it, and I'm not convinced steroids are a bad thing if used intelligently in small amounts. Plus steroids can carry an athlete only so far. Sure, the juice was able to help Ivan Drago kill Apollo Creed, but not even steroids couldn't stop the Italian Stallion from dropping Drago in the 15th round.

Horse racing: Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit has flunked so many drug tests that the horse may be sentenced to a halfway stable.

Cricket: In 2018, television cameras caught Australian national team bowler (pitcher) Cameron Bancroft roughing up the ball with sandpaper during a match against South Africa. Although he had nothing to do with the cheating, Australia's coach resigned. Bancroft, who was suspended, said other bowlers tamper with the bowl, too. The scandal is now referred to Down Under as "Sandpaper Gate."

Tennis: College players and amateurs often call their own lines in tournaments. Sometimes, a player will call an out ball in, and vice-versa. It happens, even veteran pros like Roger Federer can't clearly see where the ball bounces. But when a player makes a mistake on purpose, it's called "hooking." Also, there's a (stupid) rule that outlaws players from receiving signals from coaches in the stands at Grand Slam events. Remember when Serena Williams was caught receiving coaching, was hit with a code violation and raised holy hell at the 2018 U.S. Open - only to have her coach later admit that he was guilty? Didn't they just arrest a Russian player for accepting a bribe to throw a doubles match at the French Open?

Little League baseball: Teams have been expelled from the Williamsport World Series for playing kids who live outside their district or are older than the age restriction. Also, there's a company that will take your child's metal bat, remove the cap and scrape (shave) the inside so the bat is lighter than legal. Also, the company will "roll" the bat on a device that looks like the grill used for movie theater hot dogs to make the bat harder and stronger.

Golf: Some of the most famous players on the PGA Tour have accused one successful pro of improving his ball's lie ("building sandcastles in bunkers"). To its credit, golf may be the cleanest pro sport – there's a code of fair play and honesty that most players honor.

Marathon: The course is 26.2 miles, the distance that Greek soldier Pheidippides ran from the Battle of Marathon to Athens on Sept. 12, 490 B.C. to tell the townspeople that Greece beat the Persians. 1980 Rosie Ruiz knew a shortcut.

Boxing: Sonny Liston was accused of having his trainers smear eye-irritant liniment on his boxing gloves during his fight against Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay) in 1964. Other trainers, according to boxing lore, were not opposed to slipping a horseshoe or concrete powder in their boxer's gloves.

Last one – jai alai: Tales of game fixing are rife in the Florida betting sport. True story, at the start of my journalism career, this long slow climb to the middle, I used to attend jai alai at the Melbourne fronton on a regular basis. I always sat toward the front, down on the left, for the best view of the action. I got to know the players pretty well. One day, one of the players waved his cesta at me and mouthed some words I didn't understand. I figured, this is it, he's supposed to win that game. He's clueing me in. What a pal! So I loaded up on him. He finished out of the money. The next day, I caught him in the parking lot and said, "What happened, why'd you tell me to bet on you?" He said, "No, I was telling you that we're having a picnic Sunday afternoon and you're invited." Most expensive hot dogs I ever ate.

Conclusion: All sports are fixed. Everybody cheats. Deal with it.

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