Can Cheating be Acceptable?



When we were younger most of us knew kids who used to sneak a glance or look  directly at classmates tests for a quick word recognition for a test question. We did expose them as “cheating” but  we did remain silent and for some reason accepted their actions. It did not dawn on us the moral consequences of getting caught because in our minds we just thought it was a one time thing by them. But how can we not have the same mindset when it comes to cheating in baseball. Some people see it for what it really is, a well rehearsed and orchestrated event that goes on nightly in our ballparks, while other cry out at the first sign of an improper move.

I am not condoning cheating here, but it is a bit more widespread than we give it credit for most days. Some people believe in he old saying, “If you are not cheating, you are not trying.” But then again, it is not cheating unless you get caught.  So why is it that we show such huge amount of emotion and outcry when one of our athletes gets caught in a sport that wants you to steal, and sometimes you even get caught in the act. I know the general belief is that cheaters never prosper, but in reality they do get away with it more than you will ever imagine in baseball.

I mean is the sport of baseball actually harboring a belief that the act f cheating is somehow part of the under fiber of the game and is accepted as a mode of behavior by its players and teams. You only have to look at some of the rituals and action within the game itself to see that cheating, in some form is right in front of your eyes all the time.  I mean if a player does a slide outside the base path to break up a double play and either rolls into a infielder or brings his spikes up, is that an accepted form of cheating? Or maybe the simple act of leaving some saliva on your finger or even putting a small slip of sandpaper attached to the back of your belt giving you a huge advantage in the game.

Steroids have become a huge polarizing point in the sport in recent years, and while I do not condone them because of the lasting  side effects they will have on the human body, I can understand the need and want to be the best in the sport. And is that really some of the reason most people do get caught using an illegal substance. They are trying to find the top of the limit they can use something to give them an edge without it becoming an obvious part of their game. Trying to be the best at what they do can sometime make a aging veteran make a bad decision, or a rookie fighting for survival above the minor leagues.

People forget that even in the cool and groovy 1970’s teams used to have amphetamines as general drugs in the MLB clubhouses before they were finally outlawed by the league for their damaging effects on the body.  People have used everything in the pharmacy to find an edge or an advantage in this game, so why is today’s generation any different. Mostly they are different because they are getting caught and maybe going above and beyond the accepted levels and usage of any drugs or cheating device.

I would love to be able to have a packet of those red dots people use on files to walk through the Baseball Hall of Fame to just put on the plagues and the displays of people enshrined or even their gear in the walls and galleries of the famed building of people who have either cheated, or have a huge public perception of some kind of non-conducive act in the game. I think that most of the early day pitchers had their moments. We know of plenty who have been known to doctor the ball, or even outright do it in front of the crowds without their knowledge.


The biggest pitching name to admit to some sort of doctoring is Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry.  I mean a simple wipe of the brow of his cap, or even adjusting his pants by grabbing the belt could produce a small quantity of vasoline that could be used to send the ball in a different flight pattern to the plate.  We all know he has been suspended in his career for his antics on the mound, but one of his best might be the act of seeming to doctor the ball and it be as clean as a whistle. Then we have Phil Niekro, the knuckleballer who was caught once and suspended for 10 games for his acts of cheating.

Niekro’s weapon of choice was an emery board which could be used to put a indentation in the ball to get a better flight pattern for his butterfly ball. Considering he already threw a pitch that had its own mind, the added aerodynamic of the scuffed ball just gave him an additional edge in the game. Even greats like Whitey Ford and Don Sutton have come under the microscope, but still enjoy huge fan support. Most pitchers of that era had their own ways of adding some sort of substance to the ball to get some more action on it, but was it considered a part of the game, or was it a rationalization on cheating by saying “everybody does it”‘

The biggest form of cheating is the action done by Coaching staff and players in the dugout during games by watching the Third Base Coach and the opposing dugout especially during the games. Act of stealing signs is an accepted form of cheating in the rules of the game. It is hard to prove that another team is doing it, but it is also an accepted norm of the game at the same time. Former major leaguer Eduardo Perez was one of the best at doing recon work on stealing sign from the opposing team.

When he was with the Tampa Bay Rays he used to sit in the dugout and call out a play or pitch right before the play happened. Of course he might be wrong more time than right, the action of even trying to interpret the signals could be viewed as a form of cheating.  But what about if a team is doing it with audio signals to their bench in hopes to get an advantage to the game. This happened during the 1951 baseball season when the New York Giants were able to get some revenge against the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Recent discoveries and accounts have linked the actions to be true, but Bobby Thompson, who hit the “Shot Heard Around the World” has never admitted he got a tip-off on the pitch he hit for immortality. It is said that
Giants coach Herman Franks would sit in the dugout, just out of view of the Polo Grounds in the centerfield clubhouse and relay the catcher’s signals and send via a bell/buzzer signal to the dugout, then the dugout would relay the signal to the hitter at the plate.

And baseball accepted this practice at the time because if one team went down for the action, all of them would have to cease their own forms of cheating to get pitching signs and signals from the base Coaches. But there is another form of this signal cheating that is more out in the open for everyone to see. It is when your teams has a man on second base. They are direct contact with the catcher’s signals to the pitcher and can relay the pitch with a body signal or gesture during the game. But a new form of cheating I am beginning to pick up on is the altering of the radar guns in the stadiums.

Do you really think some of these guys are throwing 98 mph, or maybe the slight alteration to the gun prior to a certain reliever coming into the game could change a hitter outlook on them after seeing multiple 90+ reading most of the year, then an 89 mph heater take them out for a critical out.  I could go on for days on the other types of accepted cheating and alterations and redefinition of the rules of the game. I have not even gotten into the groundskeepers role in all of this magic yet. We all know that the home field advantage is significant to the team getting some runs ans hits on their own turf during games.

I also stayed away from the topic of corked bats and illegal dimensions like shaved handles to add a slight hint of bat speed to the hitters.  But now we have a new foe hitting the cheating format of the game and it is a silent weapon until drug testing or even a eye contact with the product can make a player’s life miserable, and a team searching for answers. The new addition of the anabolic steroid to the annuals of cheating in baseball is accepted by some as the evolution of the game. But then others see it for what it really is, personal cheating done on an individual basis to get an edge in the game.

For some reason you want to admit you like that a player wants to be the best they can be in their sport, but you also find it disturbing they will put a chemical in their own bodies that might hurt themselves in the long run for short term gain.  I think that is one of the reason some guys do it, not for greed or for money, but for the adulation of the fans and to get that extra step up on the competition.  But for all the good it does to that player and his team, the long range effects on the young fans and the essence of the game take a huge hit on the purity and quality of some of the game’s best and greatest.

Everyday players find a new way to cheat the edges of the game with new found techniques and actions that stay within the rules of the game, but flirt with the gray areas of rules and regulations.  And most of these actions are accepted by fans and player alike as individual adjustments or improvements to their game. One issue I have skirted today is the action of using illegal substances in the body as a form of accepted cheating. You could do a 5-part series on the chemical uses and advantages of players actions both today and in the past and still not get down to the root of it all.

Cheating within the game is an accepted mode of playing it to the fullest. Finding advantages and sidesteps to the rules and bending them to the point of breaking them is an accepted action by every team.  Teams do seek out advantages against their opposition for every game. If we did not want to get the upper hand on our opponent there would not be a need for advanced scouting or even a scouting report on the opposing pitcher. Knowledge can be the best form of delving into the truth and falsehood of the game. But do we also reward the act of cheating in baseball?

Let’s say tomorrow we find out a MLB team has doctored their “mudd” application to game balls with a new dry chemical that when mixed with a special resin mixture used on the mound  would produce a slippery substance on the ball that will aid the pitching staff and will be entirely absorbed and all traces removed from the surface of the ball in its flight to the plate. Would we be amazed at the development, or ashamed that our team got the edge on the competition?

That is a personal decision for each of us to consider the next time a infraction to the code of the game is revealed. Is it a competitive edge or an act of cheating if a team gets the upperhand on another team? I guess that depends on who is winning the game at the time!


great post, you really make a good argument here and your writing is some of the most interesting and some of the best I’ve seen on

great job!

Ah Rays…the desire to get ahead. And the willingness to do whatever it takes to get ahead. The rise in steroids use is one of the most troubling things. Here we have players willing to do permanently damage their bodies for what? A few extra home runs? Louder cheering in the stands? A few extra million dollars in a contract? And how do we police it when there are new drugs – that we can’t test for yet – being developed all the time. It is a great topic that you brought up today; and not one that there is an easy answer to.


Thank you for that compliment.
Sometimes we just write what pops into our heads at night. This time I wrote what was on my mind at the moment.
It is easy to write something good when you have such a colorful subject.
People have written books on less about this same subject.
Again thank you for your thoughts.

Rays Renegade

I myself do understand that willingness to do anything. I admitted in prior blogs some of the stuff I did to get ahead, and today’s players are no different.
I still think a problem like the one I spoke about in the blog could happen based on the technology we have today in biochemicals and composition.
Not stating it has or will happen, but it is a futuristic truth it can be developed and used without anyone’s knowledge.

Rays Renegade

Excellent topic Rays! You reminded me of that book that talks about the cheating by the Giants that went on in 1951. The book is “Echoeing Green.” How one devastating moment can haunt and follow a player around for 50 years , whether sign-stealing is “part of the game” or is not acceptable in certain situations…all of these are covered. Ballpark employees you would never suspect become shady figures in the plot. Excellent book.

I have never read that book, but a friend who is a big SABR guy wrote me an email about that same book after reading the blog.
I guess I have a date with the bookstore soon to see if they still even have a printed copy of that for sale.
With the amount of gray area in rules of all sports, people do try and steer as close to the lines as possible without hindering the game.
I know in football if I can get my first two fingers into the seam of your jersey, you are going where I want you to go from that point on, and the referee has no idea unless you break my finger.

Rays Renegade

Renegade, you always generate such interesting conversation. In case you haven’t seen it, today’s NY Times had an op-ed piece on this very subject. Check it out:

He echoes some of your thoughts. Great debate!

Do you really think I would by random chance read the NY times. lol
I will definitely check it out after the game on Sunday.
Every sports has a gray area like stealing signs and also a catcher framing the plate with his glove actually out of the strike zone.
It is part of the imperfection of the game that leaves more to the human element than we first thought way back when it was first played in Cooperstown, NY.

Rays Renegade

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