Do baseball players cheat? Yes, and here's how

Cheating in baseball is nothing new. One ex-minor leaguer wrote a paper that is adding to the debate about rule bending and illuminates the sport's darker arts.

Garrett Broshuis was starting his sixth season in the minors, his career at a crossroads.

He was 27 and still had never pitched in the big leagues. The 2009 minor league camp for the San Francisco Giants didn't offer much hope. There seemed no way to boost his flagging strikeout totals.

That's when he got a bit of advice.

"I didn't have an 'out' pitch. One way you can develop an 'out' pitch is by cheating," he said. "One of the coaches kind of suggested that to me."

 

Broshuis tested a spitball, with eye-opening results. But, he says, he couldn't bring himself to use it in a game — the pitch is banned, after all.

Broshuis soon took up a new line of work — law school. Neither he nor his conscience ever made it to the majors.

But his time in the minors was not an entire loss. He wrote a paper on cheating in baseball while at the Saint Louis University School of Law, and it's been floating around the Internet. The paper adds to a debate about bending the rules, a practice that may be as old as the game itself. And it gives readers a chance to learn a few of the sport's darker arts.

DEEP ROOTS

The game's duplicitous roots can be traced back well over a century.

Baseball cheating: Garrett BroshuisAP Photo: Jeff Roberson

Before he became an accomplished manager, John McGraw was a rough-and-tumble infielder for the Baltimore Orioles during the 1890s. Derek Zumsteg honors those Orioles with an entire chapter in his 2007 book "The Cheater's Guide to Baseball" — a lighthearted look at the game's ball-doctoring, bat-corking, sign-stealing legacy.

There's plenty in there about the spitball, that lubricated pitch with a strange flight path that can drive an opponent crazy, but some early examples of cheating were as primitive as they were brazen.

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"Even the clean teams dabbled in blocking runners, occasional tripping, and constant heckling," Zumsteg wrote. "The dirty teams, like the Reds, the Spiders, and particularly the Orioles, would take full advantage of a single umpire by running directly to third from first, holding runners forcefully at their base, using the pretense of a tag to sock a player with a ball, and running into fielders trying to make plays."

But as Zumsteg points out, those Orioles were masterful innovators, using tricks like the hit-and-run, which would become an accepted element of baseball strategy. McGraw and the Orioles tried to win at pretty much any cost — and that's not always a bad thing. Sometimes it makes the sport more exciting.

For example, in real life a thief ends up in jail. In baseball, he ends up in scoring position.

Since he never pitched in the majors, Broshuis has less firsthand knowledge of what goes on there — but he can watch games with a more trained eye than most.

"Probably at least once a game when I'm watching, there's something suspicious," Broshuis said. "At least one pitcher is doing something."

Zumsteg's book reads at times like a how-to guide. There's a step-by-step tutorial on corking a bat to increase swing speed. There are illustrations of how a doctored ball moves en route to the plate — and several pages of discussion about another where-do-you-draw-the-line issue: sign stealing.

FOREIGN SUBSTANCES

In Broshuis' experience, the most common example of rule bending by pitchers involved pine tar. The justification is that it's used to improve a player's grip — and may not necessarily cause the ball to do weird things on its way to the batter.

Last year, Washington manager Davey Johnson challenged the glove of Tampa Bay reliever Joel Peralta. Umpires found pine tar, Peralta was ejected, and the incident led to a testy back-and-forth between Johnson and Rays manager Joe Maddon.

Maddon insisted it was "underhanded" of Johnson to use inside information against Peralta, who had previously pitched for the Nationals. Maddon also said pine tar use is "common knowledge in the industry" and doesn't help a pitcher that much anyway.

Johnson said Maddon should "read the rulebook" — and the matter faded from public consciousness after a few days.

Compared to some other substances, pine tar doesn't seem all that insidious.

Broshuis recalls playing with a pitcher who had sandpaper on his glove. In 1999, Brian Moehler of the Detroit Tigers was suspended when an umpire said he caught the right-hander with sandpaper. Tigers manager Larry Parrish said at the time: "There's not a pitching staff in baseball that doesn't have a guy who defaces the ball. ... If the umpires want to check things like that, I think half to three quarters of the league would be suspended."

Baseball cheating: Seattle Mariners pitcher Gaylord PerryAP Photo: Ray Stubblebine, File

Well after the end of his Hall of Fame career, pitcher Gaylord Perry could still joke about his infamous spitball.

"I'd put Vaseline on my hands and shake the opponents' hands the night before I pitched," Perry said several years ago, when the Giants retired his jersey. "They'd say, 'What are you doing?' And I'd say, 'I'm just getting ready for tomorrow night.'"

When contacted recently, Perry said he didn't want to discuss this topic further.

IS CHEATING SO WRONG?

Graig Nettles was ejected from a 1974 game when six superballs came out of his bat, a slapstick anecdote that — four decades later — doesn't seem to offend fans as much as, say, a flunked drug test.

Zumsteg concludes in his book that: "Baseball is and always will be inseparable from cheating."

But some of the more outlandish examples of cheating have become romanticized over the years, and that kind of acceptance concerns Broshuis. He sees a parallel between player attitudes toward ball doctoring — and the performance-enhancing drug problem that recently plagued the sport.

"If players are in a culture where cheating is embraced, then any time a new mode of cheating comes along, I believe that they are more likely to embrace the new mode of cheating," Broshuis said. "Past rules haven't been enforced, so why would future rules be enforced?"