Back in early July, there was a newspaper article about the NY Mets playing the Atlanta Braves. Jose Reyes, one of baseball’s hottest players right now slipped several times on the base pads around first base and the umpires ordered some drying agent put down. He eventually stole two bases and keyed a Mets win. It seems that the grounds crew got a little overzealous in trying to keep the dust down when watering the infield and made mud. This is reminiscent of how the San Francisco Giants dealt with Dodger speedster Maury Wills by doing the same thing like 50 years ago. This got me thinking about this sort of “wink-wink” cheating that goes on in baseball, anything to get a competitive edge.
Let me begin by saying that I have no issue with this sort of creative competitive efforts. In the long run how different is something like this then a team, not in a dome, using artificial turf and then stocking their team with slap hitting, quick running, and good fielding players to gain a competitive edge. Or how about having loads of space in foul territory to help pitchers getting extra outs. There are lots of them out there and I thought I would highlight a few of my favorites and also identify those that go beyond attempts at competitive advantage.
First up, stealing signs. Whether a base coach tries to pick off the catchers signs or a coach in the dugout tries to figure out what signs the third base coach is giving, this has been around since Abner Doubleday (I know Maqz, Doubleday didn’t invent baseball but most people think he did and I playing to the masses here!) One thing I don’t understand though is why this effort is considered an ultimate baseball skill (some coaches have remained in the game because of their ability in this area) yet if you put an eye in the stands or in front of a TV set they consider it cheating. This is like saying its ok to steal money from a bank but not ok from the corner grocery store.
Watering down the infield to slow runners is on a par with watering down in front of home plate to slow infield hits or letting it bake rock hard to favor your own slash hitters or letting the infield grass or outfield grass grow long to compensate for slow fielders or “tilting” the foul lines to encourage or discourage bunts. All part of the environmental approach to baseball skills I guess. No problem for me here.
Next up, feigning success. Why is it that every outfielder who attempts to make a diving or sliding catch tries to sell it to the umpire as if he was successful even when it obviously was not? Why does a fielder make a sweep tag and hold the glove up even if he didn’t come close to touching the runner. Why does a catcher hold his glove up when the ball was in his hand and not involved in making the tag? Why does the middle infielder straddle the bag or come across it even if he doesn’t touch it officially for the out? These are all gamesmanship and everyone gets away with it. It seems the only time there is controversy is when an umpire makes the correct call when no one was expecting anything other than a phantom tag. Again, no issues with that either.
Finally, a question. Why is it wrong for a batter to cork his bat or a pitcher to scuff a baseball but is ok for a first baseman to use an elongated glove or a catcher using a flexible glove with a knuckle ball pitcher or an outfielder to use a extra long glove to reach farther over the fence or lower into the grass on a shoe string catch. It seems inconsistent to me. I’d ask why a batter doesn’t get credit for a sacrifice fly on a long out that advances a runner from second to third but does for a short fly that gets a runner from third to home but that is rules issues not cheating issues and so it is a topic for another time.
One final note; I know it has been a while since I have written but circumstances required a bit of a break. But I am back, I'm loud, proud and ready to take on baseball once again!