NORMAN — Cheating, for want of a better word, has been ingrained in baseball long before the current unpleasantness involving the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez and the 12 other players who were suspended Monday by Major League Baseball.
Not only has a certain amount of cheating been tolerated, it is often praised for its cleverness.
There have been pitchers — most notably Gaylord Perry — who have illegally used saliva and other slippery things to make their “spitballs” to the plate do gyrations that Archimedes could never have imagined. Perry called his autobiography “Me and the Spitter.” He got elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991.
Fellow Hall of Famer Don Sutton (inducted in 1998) took great joy in challenging umpires to catch him putting a foreign substance on the ball. According to a story by the Los Angeles Times’ Mike Penner, umpires would search Sutton right there on the mound. Once, the umpires found a note in Sutton’s glove: “You’re getting warm,” it read, “but it’s not here.”
Sutton objected to the very idea that petroleum jelly was a foreign substance.
“Vaseline,” Sutton said, “is made here right in the USA.”
Yankees catcher Elston Howard used to scrape the ball on a sharp part of his shin guard before throwing the ball back to pitcher Whitey Ford, who could make a scuffed ball do wondrous things on its way to the plate.
“If you ain’t cheating,” Penner quoted former California Angels outfielder Chili Davis as saying, “you ain’t trying.”
In 2010, a pitch narrowly missed Yankee Derek Jeter and hit his bat, but Jeter grabbed his left elbow as if he had been shot, and was awarded first base by the umpire. Jeter was mostly praised for his cleverness, but his charade wasn’t appreciated by the opposing manager, who was thrown out of the game while arguing the call.
Grounds crews have been known to make the home team’s base paths a swamp to prevent a visiting team with fast runners from stealing bases. Sign-stealing is regarded as an art in the game. Players have put cork in their bats to hit the ball farther.
But the difference between shenanigans to fool an umpire and the use of performance-enhancing drugs is like the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony. Many fans, though, can’t tell the difference. San Francisco Giants followers knew Barry Bonds was using steroids, yet they cheered him wildly for his ill-gotten home runs.
Alex Rodriguez certainly can add some pop to a moribund lineup, and it’s tempting for Yankees fans to look the other way and cheer him on while he appeals his suspension.
But if we cheered a cheater, we would just be cheating ourselves.
— The Daily Star, Oneoita, N.Y.