Baseball’s Long History Of Cheats

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - April 13, 2005
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According to a recent Associated Press-AOL poll, twothirds of all Americans feel baseball should ban anyone who used steroids from the Hall of Fame. No number was given to the amount of people they called, but it factors out to 195,242,300 individuals with a steroid bias. If you want to keep a running tab, the U.S. receives a net gain of one person every 13 seconds. Make that 195,242,301 people who don’t like the clear.

In light of recent busts, leaked testimony and a loose-lipped former mistress, many sports fans are hoping that Major League baseball does something drastic. The problem — in addition to the game being run by people who seem to have no concept of what they are doing — is how should baseball punish those who are too stupid to pass sport’s easiest exam. Giving them a seat in the Pete Rose Suite may sound fair until we realize that bending the rules is not the sole privilege of overpumped second basemen.

From 1962 to 1983 Gaylord Perry took the use of petroleum products to unheard-of heights. A tap of his cap, an itch along his waistband or an extra fold in his glove all served one purpose, hiding any substance that can cause a baseball to duck and curve like a drunken butterfly. His catcher, Gene Tenace, has said there were times he couldn’t return the ball because there was more Vaseline than cowhide on the surface.

From Joe Niekro’s emery board to Indians pitcher Jason Grimsley breaking into an umpire’s locker to switch bats for teammate Albert Belle after his bat exploded into a cloud of cork, sawdust and cotton candy, everyone is looking for an edge. And if that means pumping your okole full of juice or Greg Nettles enhancing his ash with superballs, the practice is not about to end. So, with that being the case, where does baseball draw the line on the ultimate suspension?

If the powers that be decide drug and hormone abusers should be eliminated from Hall contention, then all cheats should suffer the same fate. If you’re caught scuffing a ball, going to bat swinging a wine stopper or swallowing a chem lab with dinner each night, that’s cheating and you’re gone.

Opponents of such a plan will point to the serious health risks involved with steroids and the players’ influence on the young as reasons to call for a harsher ban. But that’s a law-enforcement problem. Baseball’s problem is protecting the integrity of the sport and keeping another generation of shady grounds crew chiefs from making their way into the game.

The legacy of the Bossard family began in the 1920s with family patriarch, Emil, who would slide Cleveland’s moveable outfield walls back when playing the Yankees. Gene, next in line of innovative field shapers, took pride in, but would not admit, changing the field to fit the needs of the White Sox. Gene raised the foul lines to help Nellie Fox keep his bunts fair. For sinkerballers Tommy John, Joel Horlen and Dick Donovan, he would keep the infield soggy to slow ground balls. He did the same around first base to slow would-be base stealers — a trick passed down to son Roger — and he even kept baseballs in a dank room with a humidifier to make them heavier.

If baseball does end up locking the Hall to cheaters, it has to be across the board.

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