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June 13, 2012

The Platoon Advantage

Cheating Cheaters and Their Awful Excuses

by Michael Bates

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Baseball history is full of cheaters who excelled at their craft.  I'm not talking about PED users, for the most part.  I'm talking about guys who scuffed baseballs, stole signs, corked bats, and threw games.  And the vast majority of these men were never caught, though some, like Whitey Ford and Gaylord Perry, were happy to brag about getting away with it for decades.

But thankfully, baseball is also full of cheaters who were absolutely terrible at cheating, get caught easily, and then make terrible excuses none of us believe.  It is into this latter camp, gratefully, that Jose Valverde might fall.  Valverde, as most of the baseball-loving world knows by now, appeared to spit into his glove during the ninth inning against the Reds.  The video was posted online, and later tweeted about by Dallas Latos, the wife of Reds pitcher Mat Latos.

Valverde insists he wasn't doing anything wrong, telling the Detroit Free Press he was just "wiping sweat from his face."  Sweat.  Localized around your upper lip and chin area.  Wiped off, despite the fact that you make absolutely no wiping motion at all.  Right after you make a face like you’re getting ready to spit. That's your defense?  You must think we're as stupid as your "I just finished protecting a three-run lead in the ninth by retiring three whole batters" dance.  But Valverde's excuse is nowhere near the worst denial of all time.  Here are my favorites, ranked from least to most ridiculous.

George Brett Loses His Schniz

In 1983, the Yankees and Royals were playing a hot July game at Yankee Stadium.  George Brett came to bat in the top of the ninth with the Royals down 3-2, and he sent a Goose Gossage fastball over the wall in right field.  But Billy Martin had been waiting for this, and protested to the umpires that Brett had used pine tar too far up the barrel of the bat. When umpire Tim McClelland called him out (as was the rule at the time), Brett went ballistic and charged at the umpire.  Brett and the Royals' excuse, that he had broken the rules but that the pine tar had not helped Brett hit his homer, was accepted by league president Lee MacPhail.  Brett's homer was reinstated, and the Royals finished the rest of the win 25 days later.

Phillies Steal Signs With Binoculars in 2010
Charlie Manuel will deny to this day that bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer was doing anything untoward with his binoculars in the Coors Field bullpen. "He watches (Carlos Ruiz) to help him where he's setting up. It definitely had nothing to do with signs," Manuel told reporters after the game.  The Phillies must have a mold problem in their video room or something, or maybe Rios is allergic to film.  Otherwise, it's hard to take Manuel at face value.  

Phillies Steal Signs With Binoculars in 1899
This is one of my favorite stories ever.  Everybody apparently knew the Phillies were stealing signs in 1899, but nobody could figure out how until the Phils played Washington after a heavy rain.  Third baseman Arlie Latham noticed that the third base coach, Pearce Childs, was standing with his foot in a pool of water "up to his shoelaces," according to Christy Mathewson.  Latham got suspicious, and in between innings he Tommy Corcoran started digging in the dirt.  They came up with a buzzer and a wire that they pulled up and traced back to the Phillies clubhouse, where someone was sitting with his own pair of binoculars.  There's no evidence of what excuse the Phillies made, but it must have been a doozy.  The National League threatened to expel any team that was discovered doing likewise.

Scuffy Moehler Earns His Nickname
Moehler had had a strong 1998 for the Tigers, winning 14 with a 3.90 ERA (back when that was a big deal), despite not striking anyone out.  And he seemed to be on his way to a good 1999 too, when Mike DiFelice complained about the condition of the balls Moehler was throwing.  Larry Barnett asked to see Moehler's pitching hand, and found nothing.  But on the thumb of Moehler's glove hand, Barnett found a small piece of sandpaper, no larger than a dime, glued to Moehler's skin.  Moehler denied he was cheating, telling reporters it was dirt, not sandpaper. "Every time I get a ball, I rub the ball up.  I take my glove off and rub the ball up, and these three fingers get the dirtiest, and my hand was dirty." He didn't protest the ejection because it wasn't in "my nature" to do so.  Moehler got a hefty suspension and a fun new nickname (which isn't acknowledged by Baseball-Reference yet).  Prior to getting caught sand-handed, Moehler's ERA was 4.23.  After that, under the watchful eye of a suspicious nation, he managed 5.24.

Juan Gonzalez Loses His Luggage
You remember JuanGone, the two-time AL MVP.  And if you didn't, perhaps his Hall of Fame brochure will remind you.  But what I'll always remember Igor for is for his ill-fated trip through security in 2001, when a bag he had checked was opened and searched by the TSA. The officials found drugs and syringes in his bag, and according to the New York Daily News, steroids.  Now, I'm not much of a PED hawk, but I think we can all be disappointed that Gonzalez didn't come up with anything better than trying to blame his trainer for the mix-up.

Kenny Rogers Is Either Cheating Or Gross
And frankly, I don't know which is worse. It looked like Rogers had some kind of pine tar or stick'em on his left hand in 2006, when he faced the Cardinals in the World Series.  Paul Lukas, of UniWatch, had a great post up about Rogers' hats not matching his teammates', and the potential for chicanery.  Now, I don't know that Kenny Rogers cheated.  But his excuse was that, rather than a thin layer of foreign substance, he actually had a "big clump of dirt" on his pitching hand.  Which...gross.  Wipe that off, dude.  Also, your definition of a "big clump" and mine are vastly different.  Irreconcilable even.

Sammy Sosa and Graig Nettles Used the Wrong Bats
Both Slammin' Sammy and the strangely monikered Graig used the "this isn't my normal bat" excuse, in 2003 and 1974, respectively.  Nettles hit a broken bat single, and six superballs trickled out onto the field, which were promptly collected for posterity by the best catcher everyone has forgotten about, Bill Freehan.  "That was the first time I used it," Nettles said. "Some Yankees fan in Chicago gave it to me and said it would bring me good luck. There's no brand name on it or anything. Maybe the guy made it himself. It had been in the bat rack, and I picked it up by mistake, because it looked like the bat I had been using the last few days." Sosa broke his on a grounder to second base, revealing a cork center, and claimed that he only used that bat in batting practice.

Dude, You're Not Fooling Anybody.

Yeah, you.  Vinny Rottino.  YOU'RE NOT FOOLING ANYBODY!  (h/t to Ben Lindbergh)

Albert Belle's Mission Impossible
Perhaps the worst-kept secret on the Indians in 1994 was that Albert Belle was using a corked bat. So when the White Sox asked the umps to confiscate Belle's weapon of choice to send to the league for analysis, Jason Grimsley crawled through the ceiling into the umpire's locker room during the game to replace it.  But all of Albert's bats were corked.  So Grimsley swapped out Belle's bat for one of Paul Sorrento's, which might have worked if every single bat didn't have each player's name on it.

Joe Niekro Is the Greatest Actor of Our Time
This is my absolute favorite of all time, and it's the first cheating incident I remember.

I love how Joe acts all offended that the umpires were questioning his integrity.  "Here, fine. Take my glove. Gaaahd!" Then he immediately goes to his back pockets to try and toss out the emery board. What was his next move? "No sir, I have no idea what the emery board is doing on the field.  Who would even bring an emery board onto a baseball field?  That idea is ridiculous upon its face.  Well, we've all had a good laugh about that; let's go back to letting me run out the string on my career, shall we?"  And then, when the ump sees it, Niekro GOES TO PICK IT UP!!! God, I love this clip. I hope he got to keep the board.  I really do.

And for the record, Valverde's excuse probably fits somewhere between Scuffy Moehler and Juan Gonzalez.

Michael Bates is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Michael's other articles. You can contact Michael by clicking here

Related Content:  Jose Valverde,  Baseball,  Spitball,  Dallas Latos,  Cheating

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