Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Venerable, Honorable Tradition of Cheating in Baseball

Well, Alex Rodriguez has admitted to using some sort of banned substance while playing for the Texas Rangers, and I can't help but feel like it's time to chronicle just a few of the ways in which cheating in sports, and in baseball in particular, has a long and highly respectable history.

Now, I'm not a baseball historian, or anything like that, but I'll never forget the time that Rick Junkins had me scuff up the seams of some new baseballs before a high-school game, so he'd have a better curveball. And who hasn't heard of spitballs, Vaseline balls, and foreign-substance balls of varying descriptions?

George Brett famously used pine tar on his bat in a fashion contrary to the rules; but what most people seemed upset about is that Billy Martin waited until Brett had hit a homer before he asked that the bat be disqualified. Few people blamed Brett for using illegally-doctored equipment.

Sammy Sosa (and a handful of others) have used corked bats, and these are only the ones who were caught.  And trickery is enshrined in the game in all sorts of ways: pretending to throw the ball, then tagging someone out; trying to get a home run called a ground-rule double; letting the ump call the runner out even when you know you missed the tag.

True baseball purists, I have always believed, ought to believe in the value, even the necessity, of cheating as part of the game.  Players should take their punishment if they get caught--because it is cheating, after all--but until they're caught, it's part of the game.  A scrupulously honest game would probably be unwatchable, and hardly worth talking about.

But, supposedly, the banned substances A-Rod admits to using involve a whole other kind of cheating that cannot be tolerated, understood, and accepted like the other kinds are.  How about that.  

1 comment:

Jim said...

Twenty years from now, we'll wonder why everybody made such a big fuss over this. I have to admit, I'm fairly libertarian on this subject. These athletes get to decide whether they take these risks.

Racehorses, on the other hand, do not.