Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The fine line between quaint and sinister

Every now and then I'll dive into the SI.com Vault for some particularly interesting story, usually on a slower news day. Like today.

This one "Tricks Of The Trade", from April 1981, is particularly awesome as it celebrates the nuances and the quaintness of cheating in baseball. Doctored balls, corked bats, etc. All in the name of "if you ain't cheating, you ain't trying". Pre-steriods. Interesting to read this thru today's lens, where stars like Bonds, McGwire, Palmiero, Clemens, etc. have been vilified for using the latest advances to gain an advantage, but taping a thumbtack to a bandaid or filling a bat with super-bounce balls was somehow part of the game.

A few of the best stories (emphasis mine):
Players are willing to reveal which pitchers throw a less-than-kosher cowhide, although they make it clear that nobody on their team would ever do such a thing. Nearly every sinkerball pitcher gets accused—one of the things that burned Honeycutt was that during his unbeaten string at the start of last season, he was constantly being suspected of loading up the ball, even though he was strictly legit. The names most frequently mentioned are those of Perry , Don Sutton , Tom Burgmeier, Pete Vuckovich , Tommy John , Dave Goltz, Jim Barr, Enrique Romo, Ferguson Jenkins , Bill Lee , Mike Torrez , Stan Bahnsen, Mike Caldwell , Paul Splittorff , Ross Grimsley , Bill Castro, Glenn Abbott, Bob Stanley and Doug Corbett, not to mention 99 and 44/100% of the Oakland staff. The A's, under the tutelage of Pitching Coach Art Fowler , are said to be fond of rubbing Ivory soap on the insides of their pant legs at the spot where their throwing hands touch their thighs. When the pants become wet with sweat, the soap just happens to come through to the other side for easy application. The only pitcher on the A's who wasn't accused last year was Dave Beard, who made all of 13 appearances. Apologies to any pitcher left off the above list.
Actually, Umpire
Doug Harvey nabbed Sutton, then with the Dodgers, in 1978 and threw him out of a game. But Sutton threatened to sue if he was suspended, so it was made clear that he was ejected not for doctoring a baseball, but for throwing a baseball that happened to be doctored. Otherwise, Sutton has always enjoyed his outlaw reputation. Once, an umpire went out to inspect Sutton 's glove and found a note inside which read, "You're getting warm, but it is not here."
Dave Duncan , the pitching coach of the Cleveland Indians, estimates that close to 50% of the pitchers in baseball do something to the ball. Former Twins Manager Gene Mauch , now in the Angels' front office, says, "More pitchers are doing it than at any time in the 40 years I've been associated with baseball." Honeycutt says, "Every day I heard a new rumor about another pitcher doing it. I figured it was O.K. for me to try, too."
The original accounts said that the bat was filled merely with cork. Well, such a legend has grown up around the incident that members of at least three other teams claim
Nettles hit the home run against them, and that it wasn't cork inside the bat, but from four to six Super Balls, incredibly lively little devils. Who can ever forget the sight of Tiger Catcher Bill Freehan chasing after the bat for evidence? The Tigers certainly knew a corked bat when they saw one, because their first baseman, Norm Cash , was particularly proud of his. Nettles claimed he didn't know where the bat came from—some fan had given it to him in Chicago "for good luck." The bat was stained a dark brown, so how could Nettles tell?

"Why that lying sonofagun," says Cash. "
I ought to know. I used a hollow bat my whole career." But, Norm, surely not in 1961, the year you hit .361 with 41 homers and 132 RBIs. "I'm afraid so," Cash says. "In fact, I owe my success to expansion pitching, a short rightfield fence and my hollow bats."
According to
Earl Weaver , the Orioles ' manager, the best way to cork a bat is to drill a hole 12 to 14 inches down into the barrel without splitting the wood and then pack the hole tight with ground-up cork, leaving a two-inch void at the top. The hole is then closed with a carefully shaped plug of plastic wood. Finally, sand over the top of the bat. "You can't spot a good job with a magnifying glass," says Weaver.

Remember kids, that stuff is quaint and using PED's to succeed is sinister. Let that be a lesson to ya. And never steal a base when you are up by 5 or more runs or bunt when a pitcher has a no-hitter going after the 7th inning.

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