MLB Cheating: Ranking the Toronto Blue Jays and 12 Other Cheating Controversies
Recent reports have surfaced of the Toronto Blue Jays being accused by opponents of cheating, a possible explanation to the extreme power surge in the Rogers Centre of the past few years.
If true, that would just be one of the many allegations of cheating throughout the history of the game. Here are 12 other cheating controversies that have taken place in MLB history.
The Los Angeles Dodgers' Bill Buckner was caught with a grooved bat in 1975. Why groove a bat you ask? A grooved bat is believed to impart greater backspin on a batted ball, increasing its flight distance.
The examples of this phenomenon come from golf, where grooved club heads are common. The benefits of this technique applied to baseball have not been demonstrated, but a believed benefit is often enough when the stakes are sufficiently high.
It is doubtful that Buckner and other bat groovers did anything more than enhance their chances of being caught cheating.
We need to turn on the fans.
Genevieve Ross/Getty Images
A former superintendent of the Metrodome, Dick Ericson confessed to rigging the air vents in the domed stadium to favorably influence Minnesota Twins' hitting. This reportedly occurred during the 1980s and 1990s and was confirmed in a confession Ericson made in 2003, after his retirement.
Kirby Puckett's walk-off home run in game six of the 1991 World Series was rumored to have been struck under such a favorable wind though the benefits of fan manipulation have never been demonstrated.
Around that time, the air current manipulations were suspected by Texas Rangers manager Bobby Valentine, whose efforts to observe airflow with tape were scuttled by the Twins.
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
Gaylord Perry, a pitcher with many teams, plied his trade with the spitball. He at least admits as much, even titling his autobiography “Me and The Spitter,” a book published prior to his retirement from Major League Baseball.
Perry reveled in the spitter and it's relatives, both of the substance-added variety and the scuffed/damaged type. Part of his plan was to keep hitters off balance by forcing them to think about spitters, sweatballs, mudballs, or whatever else might be thrown their way.
Bill Veeck and Cleveland Indians
Bob Feller didn't need Veeck's help.
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The Cleveland Indians, under the ownership of Bill Veeck in the 1940s, used movable outfield fences to take advantage of the visiting teams' home run hitting skills.
Teams that could out-homer the Indians played with the fences moved back, a move designed to reduce the advantage a team like the New York Yankees had against the Indians.
This really wasn't cheating, but it was certainly against the spirit of the law and before long, it would be against the letter of the law. In 1947, the American League required that fences be fixed for the duration of the season.
The man in the photo, Bob Feller, was not a pitcher who needed this sort of help.
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Former New York Yankee Graig Nettles earns points for creativity. Super balls! Most players who doctor their bats stick with cork, the tried and “true” aide-de-pop.
The Nettles bat spilled the balls on September 7, 1974 on a bat-breaking single, one at-bat after Nettles homered with it.
As with many of these incidents, the Nettles super ball bat comes with a middle school level excuse, in this case a plea of innocence from Nettles who claimed he grabbed the wrong bat by mistake.
I am not sure I believe that Nettles or any good hitting major leaguer could make that mistake without noticing immediately that the bat felt different from the legal bats on hand.
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
Sammy Sosa's bat corking practices are only interesting given the accompanying excuse.
Like Graig Nettles, Sosa pleaded innocent to using a corked bat in a game and he supplied a dubious reason for having the bat in the first place. Like Nettles, Sosa claimed he accidentally grabbed the wrong bat, saying that he kept a corked bat around for batting practice in order to better entertain fans.
All this happened in 2003, two years after Sosa's third 60-home-run season and during his sixth consecutive 40-home-run season. Like Nettles, Sosa broke his bat while hitting a single.
Who knows how many home runs he may have hit with it.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
The Philadelphia Phillies were accused of sign stealing in May of 2010 by the Colorado Rockies and New York Mets. These accusations, at least the one from Colorado, were backed by eye-witnesses and video, showing Philly bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer using binoculars while the Phillies were hitting.
These accusation sufficed to bring down a warning from Major League Baseball. The evidence against the Phillies might not constitute proof of cheating, but is a step closer to the demonstration of cheating than the tenuous statistical methods the Blue Jay accusers are using.
The man photoed is Miguel Olivo, the Colorado Rockies player the Phillies were allegedly "observing."
Toronto Blue Jays
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Accusations are flying that the Toronto Blue Jays are stealing signs and using them to aid their hitters. So far, conclusive evidence has yet to materialize despite efforts to find the spy in center field and attempts to statistically demonstrate Toronto cheating.
There has been talk of analyzing Blue Jays' hitting numbers at the Rogers Center to test for cheating. To me that approach borders on impossible given the number of other variables that have to be washed out, not the least of which are the biases of would-be investigators.
For this approach to be sound, the investigators must define a reasonable standard of proof based on statistical inferences.
Bill Veeck and Chicago White Sox
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Old Comiskey Park in Chicago is storied to have had a special light or lights used for communicating to Chicago White Sox hitters. This was part of the exploding scoreboard Bill Veeck had installed in 1960.
The scoreboard was sufficiently elaborate and decorative that any suspicious lights would be hard to find. Oddly one of the strongest objectors to this device was Chicago White Sox player Al Worthington, whose born-again-Christian morals he made verbally clear to management.
This innovation was not illegal at the time Veeck introduced it, it was only frowned upon. Like his other innovations, it was banned shortly after inception. In this case, 1961, when all electronic sign stealing equipment was declared illegal.
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
I can't in good conscience omit the Pine Tar Incident, though—like Bobby Thompson's shot heard round the world—this event is so storied I don't have much new to say. If you want to learn the details, simply search for “George Brett pine tar” with your favorite search engine.
In short, New York Yankees manager Billy Martin objected to Brett using a bat with too much pine tar and a huge ruffle ensued.
My interest in the event stems from its unique relationship with the idea of cheating. It is unlike many of the other controversies here listed in that there is no question about whether the rule breaking occurred.
What is in question and what is unique about the pine-tar incident is the motive. The pine-tarred bat was probably not a tool for taking advantage of rules and even if it technically constituted cheating, it did not indicate a desire to cheat.
The pine-tar incident has a rich cast of characters, two of whom are worth mentioning as they make appearances elsewhere on the list. Graig Nettles, who some say informed Martin of the rule and Gaylord Perry, who tried to hide the bat to add even more flavor as participants because they were tarnished by separate cheating incidents all their own.
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This one is a double whammy, for not only did Belle use a corked bat, the Cleveland Indians tried to cover up the incident illicitly.
On July 15, 1994, Chicago White Sox manager Gene Lamont asked for an inspection of Belle's bat. An inspection of the bat would not happen until after the game and in the mean time the bat would be stored in the umpires' locker room...maybe.
Before the game ended, a clumsy heist was put into motion with Indians' pitcher Jason Grimsley sent crawling above ceilings to burglarize the locker room in order to swap the corked evidence with some innocent material.
This plan worked about as well as an Indiana Jones artifact switch. The bat used for the switch was clearly labeled with Paul Sorrento's autograph making it a complete failure as counterfeit evidence, leaving Albert Belle to deal with the rolling boulder of American League punitive measures, a seven-game suspension.
New York Giants
It was before Mays' time but so what.
Michael Nagle/Getty Images
The most famous sign steal was perhaps perpetrated in 1951, by the New York Giants against the Brooklyn Dodgers. This event is so well documented in other locations that I won't go into much detail, only covering what is necessary to convey the magnitude of the action.
In 1951, the Giants and Dodgers finished the regular season tied for first place in the National League. The deciding playoff game was ended when the Giants' Bobby Thompson hit a walk-off three-run home run off the Dodgers' Ralph Branca.
Some say Thompson was alerted to the type of pitch he hit over the fence.
No proof exists though it is known that the Giants placed coach Herman Franks with a telescope in their clubhouse beyond center field to observe signs that season, signs that were carefully relayed via a bullpen buzzer and human messengers between bullpen and dugout.
Association with one of Major League Baseball's greatest moments earns this controversy top honors.