The sign stealing scandal of the Houston Astros has the baseball world talking, with MLB Network almost giving it 24 hour coverage. There is outrage everywhere, and talk of vacating the Astros World Series title. According to the media, players have been scarred for life, because of the way the Astros beat them. Some of the coverage and writing acts like this is something new to baseball, cheating. You have got to be kidding, me. Baseball has had the most cheating, and circumventing of the rules than any sport in history, and this goes back to the very beginning of the game. The team of the 90’s, the Baltimore Orioles were one of most cheating teams in all of baseball. The Baltimore Orioles were the team of the 90’s? Yes, they were the best team of the 1890’s. More on that later, but let me clear up one thing here. I do not condone what the Astros did in the least. In fact, I am not sure the penalties were harsh enough. I suspect that Alex Cora may get a 2 year suspension. However, this idea that the Astros title should be vacated is absurd. None of the biggest cheaters have ever had their records removed from baseball. Go to any statistical site and you will find that Barry Bonds is the all time home run leader. In my mind Hank Aaron still is. People that write about vacating the Astros title, probably vote for Bonds and Clemens to get into the Hall of Fame. Let’s look at all the cheating that has gone on in baseball over the years, and I will try to keep this brief, but it will be difficult.
There are many areas of the game that players and coaches have figured out, how to cheat. . The steroid era, which saw so many home run records broken, and MLB did nothing about it, until forced, because home runs started to fill the seats, when it was desperately needed. In fact, 6 of the top 15 home run leaders all time were considered steroid users. Considering the steroid era lasted around 10 years, that is quite a high number. Nobody is changing the records books any time soon. Many people feel that steroids saved baseball, because of all the exciting home run races and the records that were broken in a short period of time. Next we have pitchers, doctoring up the ball, by applying substances to the ball or roughing up the ball with sandpaper and nail files. The spit ball has a long and interesting history. It was made illegal, when it was thought a spit ball hit a player in the head and killed him around 1920. What was interesting about making the spitball against the rules, was that pitchers that were highly skilled in throwing the pitch were grandfathered in, and were allowed to throw the pitch until they retired. See, baseball has always had screwed up thinking. The advantage of making the ball slippery whether by spit, or a substance like vaseline, is that it would take spin off the ball so the ball would act a lot like a knuckle ball, but with more speed. The most famous spit ball pitcher of the modern era was Gaylord Perry and of course he was rewarded for his cheating by being elected to the Hall of Fame. Another victory for cheating in baseball. Then we have doctoring the bat by using pin tar and cork. The best bat doctoring though has to be by those 1890’s Baltimore Orioles, who would shave down one side of the bat to make bunting easier, which was a major part of the game at that time. Finally there has been gambling, that has tainted baseball. Pete Rose and the Chicago White Sox of 1919 and the players involved were banned from baseball for life. You can do lot’s of things in baseball but don’t bet.
Now, lets turn to that team of the 1890’s the Baltimore Orioles of the National League, the only league at the time. They were, by far, the dominate team of the decade. This team did not stop at just shaving bats to gain an edge. This team sneaked balls into the outfield so if a ball got past them they would be able to get to the other ball quicker. They blocked opposing runners in the base paths. They interfered with foul balls near their dugout. They did many other things to break the rules. The press called their play “aggressive” and chastised teams that played more by the rules. The entire National League was a rough and rowdy league. Fans were finally beginning to tire of the act. Thus the American League was born, and vowed to clean up the game and play by the rules. The league was founded in 1901, which was basically a league derived from the Western League. Their success was rapid to the point, that the first World Series was played in 1903 between the two leagues, with the Boston Americans beating the Pittsburgh Pirates in a 9 game series. If it wasn’t for cheating the American League may have never existed. That brings us back to sign stealing, which has been going on forever. Now, even Bobby Thompson’s shot heard around the world is “tainted” because the Giants devised something to get the info to Thompson before the pitch. Really now, after almost 70 years that home run is diminished. Maybe we should vacate the Giants National League pennant. Let’s face it cheating has benefited the game more than it has hurt it. Steroids brought the crowds back into the stadium, it helped start the American League, and it got rid of the dead ball era after the Black Sox scandal. Ten years from now someone will find a new way to circumvent the rules. Cheating is part of the folklore of baseball and despite the severe penalties for this latest sign stealing scandal, the game will move on and most likely thrive. Let’s hope the media can, but I am not too sure.