August 10, 2005

We Like Cheaters -- On The Mound

Jayson Stark has a good story at ESPN about how we love cheaters in baseball -- as long as they are pitchers.
For some reason, there is only one form of cheating that seems to offend us anymore. And that is guys who cheat to hit more home runs. Period. No one grumbles about pitchers who scuff up baseballs with their belt buckles and their wedding rings. No one screams about pitchers who fiddle with their cap, wipe their brow, rub their hands through their hair gel and then fire pitches that break three feet.

... This is just a column meant to pose a question we can't answer. This is a column intended to point out the double standard that has always governed our attitude toward cheating in sports. ... "To me," says Phillies closer Billy Wagner, "guys who scuff the ball or put pine tar on the ball -- that's not cheating." And many people -- inside and outside of baseball -- agree. ...

Heck, it's amusing -­ if the right guy does it. Gaylord Perry used to make jokes about doing Vaseline commercials. And nobody cared. Heck, they laughed. ... But if this steroid outrage is really about the criminal act of cheating, then how can we stop there? Either we care about cheating, or we don't. And if we do, how can we justify picking and choosing which crimes are worth prosecuting?
It's a very good question. Fans are also much more open to players bending the rules and/or cheating if it happened many years ago. ... Is it because these players are altering themselves rather than the bats or balls? But players have been taking speed for decades. Is laser eye surgery an unfair advantage? ...

The Red Sox won't need a replacement starter for Wade Miller until Tuesday in Detroit. The team knows who'll start that game, but they aren't talking. Francona said it won't be Curt Schilling. Possibilities include Jeremi Gonzalez, Lenny DiNardo, Abe Alvarez.

Mike Remlinger on being booed last night: "When I grew up here, I figure I booed enough guys that I've got some coming to me." ... Ricky Bottalico threw a scoreless inning last night for Pawtucket. He can void the Sox trade after 10 days if he isn't brought up to the majors. ... The Red Sox have won their last ten home games.

Rogers / Arroyo at 7:00.


phil said...

I'm not one to defend cheating by pitchers, but at least that involves some skill on the part of the pitcher in executing the cheating. The only skill involved in steroid use is by the chemist and perhaps lying in front of Congress.

stephen ogrady said...

at least the scuffing, spitballs, etc is detectable and discernible. you can go out and search the pitcher and usually discover whether or not he's cheating. steroids, you just don't know (and we still don't, even with testing). totally different ballgame, IMO.

SamW said...

Scuffing is not detrimental to the cheater's health and its not an illegal act except under the rules of baseball. Spitballs do not turn the user into a raging ogre, which whether accurate or not, is part of the image we have of steroids. Also, steroids and HGH and supplements are a technological cheat which fans might be less likely to find palatable than something crafty and understandable like scrathing the ball on your belt buckle or having a smear of vaseline under the brim of your hat.

Earl said...

I'm pretty skeptical of this idea that "pitchers get a pass". Steroid use has been a major concern of fans for, what, five years now? As for pitchers who cheated to whom we're willing to give as pass, Stark gives two examples: Gaylord Perry (who last pitched in 1983) and Whitey Ford (who last pitched in 1967). Those are ridiculous comparisons -- cheaters from 20-40 years ago compared to cheaters who are currently in the major leagues.

Brendan Donnelly was recently suspended for pine tar, and I don't remember anyone (besides the ever-petulant Mike Scioscia) being upset about that disciplinary action. I see no double standard with batters vs. pitchers -- we've just become less tolerant of cheaters in general.

redsock said...

Phil: I think your comment is part of what Stark is saying we should discuss. Why do we find certain kinds of cheating "skillful"?

Samw: The drugs are certainly less palatable, but I don't think that should be our criteria. An act is either wrong under the rules of the sport or it is not.

Donnelly was suspended, but there was none of the venom and self-righteousness we've been hearing from writers and fans when steroids are involved.

phil said...

I'm just saying the difference in skill is whose skill it is: the player's or the physician's. Personally, I don't like it when players themselves cheat. (See, e.g., A-Rod.) I'm willing to root for physicians when they're repairing a player's ligament, because that sort of medicine is a noble thing. I don't root for players' tax advisors.

It also isn't a pitcher/batter dichotomy, because pitchers are probably as likely to use steroids as other players (all the better to get one's fastball up).

Another thought: pine tar and similar cheats don't mess up baseball statistics to the same extent as steroids, because those methods of cheating have been used in all generations.

Earl said...

Re: Donnelly -- Sure, there was no venom or self-righteousness, but the suspension was for having the pine tar, and there was no evidence of a willful intent to cheat.

I really think if a pitcher were caught with an emory board in today's game, they'd be treated at least like Sosa during the corked bat episode -- which is a good example of how fans and writers react when a player cheats in a way that doesn't involve PED's.

jon henry said...

First of all, I don't condone pitchers cheating either. That said, I do think steroid use is in another class than "doctoring" the ball.

One thing that doesn't seem to get mentioned very often (although samw alluded to it) is that possesion of steriods withuot a proper prescription is a criminal offense. First offenders can face a minimum of a $1000 fine and up to a year in prison under the Controlled Substances Act. You can't go to jail for scuffing up a ball.

Secondly, doctoring balls isn't detrimental to the cheater's health. If a kid decides to improve his performance by scuffing up the ball like he saw a former star do, it's a poor choice, but imitating it won't result in health (and legal) trouble in the future.

Basically my point is that all kinds of cheating are bad for the game, but there are reasons some people look upon steroids as worse.

Earl said...

Two other points:

1) Jason Giambi has been all but forgiven by MFY fans. If fans are willing to forgive a cheater after a couple months, of course they'll do the same after a couple of decades.

2) Stark's main evidence that we don't care about pitchers cheating is that Gaylord Perry is in the HOF. Yet Stark himself has said he will still vote for Palmeiro's HOF induction. So either (a) he doesn't consider cheating with steroids to be a problem (in which case there's no double standard), or (b) he thinks cheating should be ignored when evaluating HOF credentials (in which case Gaylord Perry's being in the HOF says nothing about attitudes towards pitchers cheating). Whichever one is true, it completely undermines his argument.

L-girl said...

Why is everyone so concerned with the players' health?

I don't hear any outcry against chewing tobacco anymore, though using it leads to gruesome disease, disfigurement and death.

I'm not making an argument for steroid use or for any kind of cheating. But the players are grown men - why are we so concerned with protecting their health?

SamW said...

l-girl, I think one of the problems is that if, as a player, I know, or even beleive that others are doing steroids, I perceive it as a competetive issue. I know that there's a decent chance that their value rises relative to mine when they do it. This puts pressure on me (millions of dollars are at stake right?) to do all I can to enhance my own performance. Assuming we all do the same amount of training, the obvious choice to go to for that edge is to the juice. So having some players doing steroids puts pressure on all the others to do so. I do not think its fair to allow this pressure to exist and rely on "personal responsibility" to police the issue.

As to redsock's comment that "something is either illegal under the rules of the sport or it isn't". I agree--I was trying to suggest reasons for the differential in perception between steroid use and scuffing or corking (I agree with Phil that there is no pitcher/batter dichotomy).

L-girl said...

Samw, I agree with you. That really is the crux of the issue, in my opinion - a level playing field.

My comment was in response to the argument that we should stop steroid use because it's bad for players' health. I don't know why we need to police their health, anymore than they need to police mine.