Ex-minor leaguer says baseball cheating lives
Garrett Broshuis was starting his sixth season in the minors, his career at a crossroads.
AP Baseball Writer
Garrett Broshuis was starting his sixth season in the minors, his career at a crossroads.
He was 27 and still had never pitched in the big leagues. The 2009 minor league camp for the San Francisco Giants didn't offer much hope. There seemed no way to boost his flagging strikeout totals.
That's when he got a bit of advice.
"I didn't have an `out' pitch. One way you can develop an `out' pitch is by cheating," he said. "One of the coaches kind of suggested that to me."
Broshuis tested a spitball, with eye-opening results. But, he says, he couldn't bring himself to use it in a game - the pitch is banned, after all.
Broshuis soon took up a new line of work - law school. Neither he nor his conscience ever made it to the majors.
But his time in the minors was not an entire loss. He wrote a paper on cheating in baseball while at the Saint Louis University School of Law, and it's been floating around the Internet. The paper adds to a debate about bending the rules, a practice that may be as old as the game itself. And it gives readers a chance to learn a few of the sport's darker arts.
"I would work my tail off, trying to refine, trying to work on my command - do all these little things to try to get better. And then, I can just use a little foreign substance, and all of a sudden, it could have possibly been the best pitch that I had," Broshuis said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. "When something seems too easy, it probably is too easy for a reason."
In recent years, cheating in baseball has become synonymous with performance-enhancing drug use, but Broshuis observed a broader array of ways to skirt the rules. He calls it a "culture of deception" - and is in the camp that believes a spitter here and a Vaseline pitch there wind up creating an atmosphere where some players feel it's OK to take steroids. Others don't think it's that serious.
"I don't get all that caught up in it. Guys used to cut the ball. That was the big thing. I used to think, `If you're good enough to cut it and make it do something, good for you,'" said Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona, who was also a first baseman during a decade-long playing career in the majors. "You still have to be able to pitch."
The game's duplicitous roots can be traced back well over a century.
Before he became an accomplished manager, John McGraw was a rough-and-tumble infielder for the Baltimore Orioles during the 1890s. Derek Zumsteg honors those Orioles with an entire chapter in his 2007 book "The Cheater's Guide to Baseball" - a lighthearted look at the game's ball-doctoring, bat-corking, sign-stealing legacy.
There's plenty in there about the spitball, that lubricated pitch with a strange flight path that can drive an opponent crazy, but some early examples of cheating were as primitive as they were brazen.
"Even the clean teams dabbled in blocking runners, occasional tripping, and constant heckling," Zumsteg wrote. "The dirty teams, like the Reds, the Spiders, and particularly the Orioles, would take full advantage of a single umpire by running directly to third from first, holding runners forcefully at their base, using the pretense of a tag to sock a player with a ball, and running into fielders trying to make plays."
But as Zumsteg points out, those Orioles were masterful innovators, using tricks like the hit-and-run, which would become an accepted element of baseball strategy. McGraw and the Orioles tried to win at pretty much any cost - and that's not always a bad thing. Sometimes it makes the sport more exciting.
For example, in real life a thief ends up in jail. In baseball, he ends up in scoring position.
"We permit a thing called `stealing' to take place," noted baseball historian Ken Burns, whose epic documentary series about the sport debuted in 1994.
Of course, other slippery tactics have been outlawed - but that doesn't mean they disappeared. Broshuis grew frustrated with what he saw as lax enforcement of some of baseball's prohibitions.
He says players become exposed to more cheating as they move through the minors.
"At the lower levels, it's not as prevalent, I don't think. Guys haven't had the opportunity to learn it then. As you advance to higher levels, it becomes a little more prevalent," said Broshuis, who graduated law school this month. "That'll be kind of the journeyman guys that have been around for a long time. Some of them will be doing it."
In other words, a scene from "Major League" - in which a veteran tells an incredulous young teammate some of his secrets for loading up the ball - may not be all that far-fetched.
"Once you get a little older, a lot of them try to do every little thing they can to get an advantage - and you can understand it," Broshuis said. "I completely understand why they do it. It's just the game they've known their entire life. It's the game they love, and it's their livelihood. Your career is always in jeopardy at that point - when you're in that journeyman position."
Since he never pitched in the majors, Broshuis has less firsthand knowledge of what goes on there - but he can watch games with a more trained eye than most.
"Probably at least once a game when I'm watching, there's something suspicious," Broshuis said. "At least one pitcher is doing something."
Luis Tiant, the Cuban-born right-hander who was a standout for the Boston Red Sox in the 1970s, takes it all in stride.
"They're going to cheat, I guess," he said. "Some guys are going to doctor the ball. Some guys maybe do, I can't say who or whatever."
Zumsteg's book reads at times like a how-to guide. There's a step-by-step tutorial on corking a bat to increase swing speed. There are illustrations of how a doctored ball moves en route to the plate - and several pages of discussion about another where-do-you-draw-the-line issue: sign stealing.
In Broshuis' experience, the most common example of rule bending by pitchers involved pine tar. The justification is that it's used to improve a player's grip - and may not necessarily cause the ball to do weird things on its way to the batter.
"There are a lot of guys that use it that truly believe that it's not cheating," Broshuis said. "They rationalize it by saying they aren't going to hit guys as often."
Last year, Washington manager Davey Johnson challenged the glove of Tampa Bay reliever Joel Peralta. Umpires found pine tar, Peralta was ejected, and the incident led to a testy back-and-forth between Johnson and Rays manager Joe Maddon.
Maddon insisted it was "underhanded" of Johnson to use inside information against Peralta, who had previously pitched for the Nationals. Maddon also said pine tar use is "common knowledge in the industry" and doesn't help a pitcher that much anyway.
Johnson said Maddon should "read the rulebook" - and the matter faded from public consciousness after a few days.
Compared to some other substances, pine tar doesn't seem all that insidious.
"That was by far the most prevalent one, the one that I saw the most," Broshuis said. "When they went away from that and went a step further, then they were a little more guarded about it. ... Then it just became rumors."
Broshuis recalls playing with a pitcher who had sandpaper on his glove. In 1999, Brian Moehler of the Detroit Tigers was suspended when an umpire said he caught the right-hander with sandpaper. Tigers manager Larry Parrish said at the time: "There's not a pitching staff in baseball that doesn't have a guy who defaces the ball. ... If the umpires want to check things like that, I think half to three quarters of the league would be suspended."
Francona doesn't sound too concerned about pitchers trying for an edge in today's major leagues.
"You see guys with rosin or pine tar. In my opinion, all they're trying to do is grip the ball. The balls get rubbed up and it's amazing to me how inconsistent that is," he said. "You want the pitcher to have the best grip - even on the other team. I don't want them whacking one of our guys. So much more often now, it's guys trying to get a grip. The days of Gaylord Perry are, I think, long gone."
Well after the end of his Hall of Fame career, Perry could still joke about his infamous spitball.
"I'd put Vaseline on my hands and shake the opponents' hands the night before I pitched," Perry said several years ago, when the Giants retired his jersey. "They'd say, `What are you doing?' And I'd say, `I'm just getting ready for tomorrow night.'"
When contacted recently, Perry said he didn't want to discuss this topic further.
A few days ago, Miami pitcher Alex Sanabia was caught on camera spitting on the ball, although he doesn't sound like much of an heir apparent to Perry. He said he didn't know it was illegal to spit directly onto a baseball. Marlins manager Mike Redmond said he didn't think Sanabia even realized what he'd done.
IS CHEATING SO WRONG?
Graig Nettles was ejected from a 1974 game when six superballs came out of his bat, a slapstick anecdote that - four decades later - doesn't seem to offend fans as much as, say, a flunked drug test.
Zumsteg concludes in his book that: "Baseball is and always will be inseparable from cheating."
But some of the more outlandish examples of cheating have become romanticized over the years, and that kind of acceptance concerns Broshuis. He sees a parallel between player attitudes toward ball doctoring - and the performance-enhancing drug problem that recently plagued the sport.
"If players are in a culture where cheating is embraced, then any time a new mode of cheating comes along, I believe that they are more likely to embrace the new mode of cheating," Broshuis said. "Past rules haven't been enforced, so why would future rules be enforced?"
Broshuis outlines possible enforcement changes, such as more inspection of balls, bats and uniforms, as well as harsher penalties than are currently in place for altering balls and bats.
But there's no telling how effective a crackdown like that would be in the long run. In the high-stakes world of professional sports, players have plenty of incentive to do whatever they think they can get away with - and nothing less.
Broshuis - the former player who has spent so much time lately studying the rule of law - is realistic about his call for reform.
"You're going to need managers and pitching coaches talking to people about it, and saying that it's not acceptable, and you're going to need stricter enforcement at the top. You're going to need more discussion about it in the minor leagues, too," Broshuis said. "It's tough to change a culture."