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Cheating is part of baseball and not worth banishing a player to the ...Hall of Shame

When the president of the American League asks you to come

to his office for "a visit,'' it's like being called to the high school

principal's office. You expect the worst. Such was the case back in the mid

1980s, when George Frazier was a modestly successful middle reliever with a

reputation for throwing pitches that had what former major-league outfielder

and current MLB Radio analyst Billy Sample likes to call "a strange

gravitational pull."

"One time, [AL president] Bobby Brown called me into his office in New

York, and when I got there, the room was full of umpires," recalled Frazier,

now a TV and radio analyst for the Colorado Rockies. "He looked right at me and

said, 'Now George, I want you to tell me the truth. Have you ever put a

foreign substance on the baseball?' I just looked him right in the eye and

said, 'No, sir. Everything I use is made right here in the United States.'

Everyone laughed and I never did get any discipline."

Frazier was telling Brown the truth. Sort of. The one-time Yankee, who lost

three games in the 1981 World Series, freely admits that late in his career,

he used K-Y Jelly, Vaseline and even shampoo that made his hair greasy.

"Why wouldn't a pitcher try something? In those days, we heard all the

rumors about the Angels, the A's and the White Sox using corked bats," Frazier

said in a lengthy phone interview from Denver. "Ballplayers are like bank

robbers. How do they get caught? They like to run their mouths. They like to

brag about what they can get away with. So guys get traded and I heard plenty

of them say they were using corked bats or they knew guys who were using them.

I looked at it as an edge for me when I needed it. Not every pitch. No matter

what Gaylord [Perry, the Hall of Famer and acknowledged master of the doctored

baseball] says, you can't throw something like that on every pitch. It's too


Nowhere was cheating more obvious than on June 3, when Cubs slugger Sammy

Sosa shattered a bat against the Devil Rays and was embarrassed to discover

that it was one from his corked collection. Sosa received an eight-game

suspension after saying he accidentally took a bat from the group he uses only

for home-run competitions and batting practice. While there was some moral

indignation about the Sosa incident and questions were raised about how many of

the slugger's 500-plus home runs were aided by a corked bat, there was little

shock or awe around Baseball Nation.

That's because the national pastime has a long, well-documented history of

cheating that is part workshop (corked bats and spray- painted gloves), part

chemistry lab (foreign substances applied to bodies and gloves), part spy-like

intrigue (elaborate sign-stealing systems) and all part of the game's popular

folklore. Even as baseball's notable achievements are celebrated this weekend

at Cooperstown with the annual induction ceremony, the Hall of Fame itself is

full of evidence of the game's notoriety.

"If you ain't cheatin', you ain't tryin'," is how Long Island Ducks manager

Don McCormack laughingly answered a question about his reaction to Sosa's

deed. McCormack, a veteran minor-league player and manager who played briefly

for the Phillies in 1980 and '81, said he has seen plenty of corked bats,

spitballs and stolen signs and was outraged by none of it.

That mantra is a common one because while the sport has legislated against

cheating, it is tolerant enough to have allowed Perry (and other pitching

suspects) to remain in the Hall of Fame, will no doubt induct Sosa when his

career is through and has a hilariously disturbing history of deception that

many consider a part of the game's charm.

Robert Mechikoff, a professor in the department of exercise and nutritional

sciences at San Diego State, is not one of them. "Getting an edge, or what I

refer to plainly as cheating, is part of the culture of baseball. There has

been a history of great accomplishments, magnificent athletic achievements, yet

it has utter lows. Absolute betrayal," said Mechikoff, who is considered an

expert on the history and ethics of baseball. "To many fans, the sin is in

getting caught. Their love of baseball overcomes their despair. The myth and

the magic have been tarnished, but we bounce back. We love the game."

So we look the other way and shrug. Asked when he thought the Sosa furor

would die down, former Yankees third baseman Graig Nettles told ESPN Radio with

a laugh, "As soon as Sammy starts hitting home runs again."

Nettles was one of the first players caught illegally tampering with his

bat when "superballs" flew out of the end of one of his bats, which had

shattered during a game in 1974. Nettles wasn't about to come down hard on Sosa

or the concept of cheating. "I think they're making a big deal about it. At

the time it happened to me, there was no ESPN, no way to keep it going day

after day like now," Nettles said in June. "Back then it was an innocent thing.

People were always trying to get a little edge. The pitchers were scuffing the

ball and throwing spitters so the hitters tried to combat it by putting

something in their bats. As a player, you're always looking for an advantage."

That kind of frequent rationalization is what most bothers Mechikoff. "I

felt almost despondent, dejected, disappointed - any 'D' word you want,"

Mechikoff said in a telephone interview from his home in San Diego. "Sammy Sosa

could be a beacon for the kids and the rest of us. The great smile and the

great story. And now, who can you believe? Where are your heroes?"

Some are in Cooperstown, especially pitchers who so abused the art of

legally doctoring a baseball with saliva and other substances during the early

days of the game that a rule was passed banning such tactics in 1920. But the

rule had a grandfather clause that allowed Burleigh Grimes (how's that for a

perfect name for a guy who used slippery elm and spit on baseballs?) to

continue using a "legal spitball" until he retired in 1934. He's in the Hall of


So is Perry, who flaunts his baseball life of trickery at every turn. He

even wrote a book in 1974 (while he was still playing!) entitled "Me and the

Spitter." In one passage, Perry wrote, "I'd always have it [grease] in at least

two places, in case the umpires would ask me to wipe one off. I never wanted

to be caught out there with anything, though. It wouldn't be professional."

Perry was not only a practitioner of the art of cheating but a willing

tutor. Frazier was one of his pupils. "It helped him get into the Hall of Fame.

It helped me last 10 years," Frazier said. "Gaylord taught me all the tricks -

Vaseline or K-Y Jelly when you couldn't sweat in April. Just put it behind

your neck or on the back of your thumb. He taught me something early that I

never forgot: They [the umpires] couldn't touch your skin when they came to the

mound to check you out. They could touch your shirt or your glove or check

your pockets, but no skin. Gaylord told me he used to put the stuff under his

shoe tongue, 'in case I have a long game and it runs out.' "

Frazier was such a good student that he learned to improvise - under duress

at first. "Billy Martin was my manager in 1983 and he suggested, very

strongly, that I try it [using a doctored ball]. I had some success, so I

stayed with it," Frazier said. The genial righthanded pitcher said he came

across a shampoo when he was in Chicago - "Rolf's, I think, but they don't make

it anymore" - that left his hair "nice and greasy." Whenever he traveled

there, "I would buy four or five bottles," Frazier said. "During a game, I'd

just reach back behind my neck for some grease."

A more celebrated Yankees pitcher, Whitey Ford, is another Hall of Famer

who admitted he resorted to devious means of making his ball dart suddenly. "My

slider was not as fast and I had lost a little off my fastball. I had to come

up with a new pitch. I decided to cheat," Ford wrote in "Slick," his 1987

autobiography co-authored by Phil Pepe. Ford asked former World Series nemesis

Lew Burdette, a noted spitball artist, how to load up and throw the spitter.

Success with a loaded ball led to experimentation for Ford, who eventually had

a special ring made with a rasp, which he wore to the mound instead of his

wedding ring.

"I started wearing the ring when I pitched," Ford wrote, explaining that he

would rub the baseball against the pointed rasp, scratching it on one side. "I

would put the part of the ring with the rasp underneath my finger. On top, I

covered the ring with flesh-colored Band-Aids so you couldn't tell from a

distance that I had anything on my finger. One little nick was all it took to

get the baseball to sail and dip like crazy."

Burdette, like Perry a man all too happy to share his tricks, wasn't a Hall

of Famer, but he did win three games in the 1957 Series as his Milwaukee

Braves defeated Ford's Yankees in seven. In the early 1960s, Burdette's catcher

was Joe Torre, who spoke with bemusement days after the Sosa affair, sharing

several anecdotes of his own misadventures. "I called all of Lew Burdette's

spitballs," Torre said with a laugh. "Otherwise, I'd never have been able to

catch them. But nobody on our team ever figured out how he did it. It was his


Secrecy remains part of baseball lore as well. To this day, Sample won't

reveal the identity of a pitcher he played with who cleverly hid sandpaper in

his glove, which he used to scuff the ball. But Sample, a nine-year veteran who

played the outfield for the Yankees in 1985, gladly revealed the pitcher's

method. "He changed the insignia on the glove," Sample said. The pitcher's

glove had a white "R'' for Rawlings encircled by a shiny red surface near the

outside of the thumb area. "He cut out the red material, slipped in the

sandpaper and spray-painted the glove the same color red," Sample said. "It

looked believable. He wouldn't scuff the ball on every pitch. Just when he

needed an out in a big spot."

Ducks pitching coach Dave LaPoint, a 12-year big-league veteran who was

with the Yankees in 1989 and '90, said he once was talked into trying K-Y Jelly

when he played for the Cardinals. "I threw three pitches over the catcher's

head in warm-ups and never used it again," LaPoint said. "I couldn't control

the ball."

Such boldness. Such deception. And such creativity. Joe Niekro was

embarrassed when an emery board fell out of his back pocket; Rick Honeycutt was

caught with a thumbtack taped under a flesh-colored bandage on his index

finger; Brian Moehler taped a small piece of sandpaper to his thumb; several

members of Billy Martin's Oakland staff were said to have rubbed

Johnson&Johnson baby oil on their thighs before games so it would soak through

their uniforms when they began to sweat and they could easily reach down and

load up the ball.

Corked bats, of course, require carpentry, as Buck Showalter showed so

vividly on ESPN a couple of years back when he was an analyst on Baseball

Tonight. Showalter demonstrated the corking process, using a drill to bore out

space in the bat; a knife to slice the cork into small pieces; a dowel rod to

push the cork into the bat; glue to hold the parts together; sandpaper to

smooth out the rough edges; and spray paint to cover the handiwork. "It's not

that hard to do, from what I've heard. If you can find a carpenter, it's pretty

simple," Frazier said. "When you're done, you just spray paint the bat black.

That's why most guys who use corked bats use a black bat. It's easier to get

the paint to match."

Albert Belle, Wilton Guerrero and Billy Hatcher are among those who have

been caught using corked bats. The rumor list is much longer, however. Sample

said he was never tempted to try corking despite what was going on around him

during the 1970s and '80s. "I just thought with my luck I'd get caught," Sample

said. "It would've been nice to have added a few more home runs. One of my

teammates offered one time, but I just couldn't do it. I didn't work the 'edge'

part of the game too much."

Others apparently did. One of the greatest sports moments of the 20th

century - the final Dodgers-Giants playoff game of 1951 - was painted with the

cheating brush when a Wall Street Journal story in 2001 revealed that an

electrician named Abraham Chadwick devised a scheme to steal signs and relay

them to Giants batters. Chadwick allegedly installed bells and buzzers in the

Giants' clubhouse, which was situated beyond the centerfield wall with a view

of the catcher, and hooked them up to the bullpen in right-center. Using a

telescope, a Giants player would press a button in the clubhouse (once for a

fastball, twice for a curve). The signal was relayed from the bullpen to the

batter. Bobby Thomson insists he didn't have the signal for the fastball he hit

off Ralph Branca for the epic pennant-winning homer. Still, you have to wonder

if The Shot Heard 'Round the World was really the result of The Sign Flashed

'Round the Ballpark. And even if Thomson didn't know what was coming, plenty of

his teammates did as the Giants came back from a 13 1/2-game deficit to tie

the Dodgers.

With such a notorious past involving such clever rule-breaking, no wonder

there wasn't a huge outcry around baseball after Sosa's shenanigans. "I don't

think anyone should be up in arms over what Sammy did," Frazier said. "It was

Sammy, so everyone made a big deal about it. But no one made a big deal about

Billy Hatcher [in 1987]. I don't think it's widespread. These hitters are so

strong, they don't need cork in their bats."

There are some pitchers, Frazier said, who do need an illegal edge. "There

are definitely guys today who throw a spitter or something else, but I won't

give up any names. I don't think it's rampant, but it's there," he said. "It's

not something Bud [Selig, the commissioner] should get excited about. Cheating

is not a big deal today. Why? Because it's too darn expensive to get suspended

with the money these guys make."

The percentage of cheats may be small, but Mechikoff believes that a

dishonest element always will be present. "It troubles me to no end that we

will let Sammy off the hook eventually," Mechikoff said. "The next time

somebody thinks of a new way to cheat, another player will say, 'Why didn't I

think of that? That's a great idea.' These guys are pretty creative. It makes

you wonder what they will come up with next?"

Major-league hitters who have used altered bats . . .. . . Play

Player When Offense


Sammy Sosa 2003 corked bat

8-game suspension

Wilton Guerrero 1997 corked bat

8-game suspension

Albert Belle 1994 corked bat

7-game suspension

Billy Hatcher 1987 corked bat

8-game suspension

Graig Nettles 1974 Superballs

not illegal then

and some pitchers who have doctored baseballs.

Brian Moehler 1999 sandpaper 10-game


Joe Niekro 1984 emery board 10-game


George Frazier 1983-87 K-Y Jelly, shampoo never caught

Gaylord Perry 1962-83 various substances never caught

Rick Honeycutt 1980 thumbtack ejected

from game

Whitey Ford 1960s used ring to cut ball never caught

Lew Burdette 1950-1960s saliva never



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