Cheating done rather subtly in baseball nowadays
If you catch him in a quiet moment, Alex Rodriguez probably can understand why he was pilloried for hitting .103 in the 2005 and 2006 postseasons, or for entering a Toronto nightclub with a Las Vegas stripper and so-called "Playboy Bunny wannabe." These are the hazards of celebrity.The fallout from some other transgressions must baffle him. Was Rodriguez that out of line for sunning himself while shirtless in Central Park? And weren't his competitive instincts in the right place when he stuck out his arm and tried to dislodge that ball from Bronson Arroyo's glove during the 2004 American League Championship Series? The same goes for an incident in late May, when A-Rod yelled "Ha!" in an effort to distract Toronto third baseman Howie Clark from catching a pop fly. The Blue Jays were livid, and the outcry was immediate and harsh: Why would a player of Rodriguez's stature resort to little league tactics to give his team an edge? Rodriguez might be heartened to know that one old-time ball guy is squarely in his corner. Hall of Famer Earl Weaver, who still follows the game closely from his home in Florida, read the newspaper accounts and was astonished at the bashing Rodriguez took for his actions.
In his book "Is This a Great Game, or What?" ESPN's Tim Kurkjian devotes an entire chapter to the art of sign stealing. Former White Sox coach Joe Nossek was renowned for his ability to monitor the opposing team's third-base coach and detect if a hit-and-run play, pitchout, squeeze play or something else was in the works. Mechanical trickery also is ingrained in baseball lore. Four years ago, The Wall Street Journal reported that the 1951 New York Giants fashioned their 13½ game comeback against Brooklyn with the help of a center-field telescope and a system of buzzers and signals used to steal catchers' signs. Mata Hari would have been proud. Although sign stealing remains part of the game, some people think it's less prevalent these days. More signs are relayed directly from the dugout to individual players now, rather than through the third-base coach, and skilled managers are just as likely to rely on their instincts as on pilfered signs. "All the talk about sign stealing is overblown," said Washington Nationals manager Manny Acta. "The people who believe that stuff are the most paranoid about it. They're always trying to steal signs, and they think the other team is stealing theirs." Paranoia comes with a price. A manager who insists on routinely changing his team's signs runs the risk of rampant confusion in the ranks. "The bottom line is, you want your guys to get the signs," said Buck Showalter, a former big league manager and now a senior adviser with Cleveland. "Sure, the other team isn't getting them [if you change signs often]. But it doesn't do much good if your guys aren't getting them, either." Showalter thinks an experienced baseball man can discern as much from watching an opposing coach's body language as from the signs being relayed. It's the equivalent of spotting a poker tell.
One of the best relationships you need to have is with your home groundskeeper. Whether it's length of grass or the texture of the dirt, there are a lot of things teams try to do to accentuate their strengths and minimize their weaknesses.
Former big league manager Buck Showalter
When Maury Wills stole 104 bases for the Dodgers in 1962, the Giants countered by opening the floodgates. The San Francisco grounds crew watered the field until it became a sloppy mess and so unnerved Willis that he was ejected for complaining about the playing conditions. It would be tougher for that kind of fiasco to take place today, if only because of the media attention. "You used to have one game on TV a week," Acta said. "Now, every game is on TV every single day, whether local or nationally. You can't show a game on TV where there's a spot at first base where it's all dark because it's so wet. Somebody will be investigating." Teams still do, however, tailor field conditions for their benefit. It makes sense for a speed-oriented club, such as the Angels, to slope its foul lines inward so bunts and infield choppers stay fair. For years, the big knock against Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg was that he benefited from the extraordinarily high grass at Wrigley Field. Hitters routinely try to scratch out the back of the batter's box to buy an extra fraction of a second. And when Dodgers sinkerballer Derek Lowe is on the mound, do you think the guy in charge of watering the infield doesn't linger just a little longer around home plate? "One of the best relationships you need to have is with your home groundskeeper," Showalter said. "Whether it's length of grass or the texture of the dirt, there are a lot of things teams try to do to accentuate their strengths and minimize their weaknesses." Equipment doctoring
Gaylord Perry won 314 games while mastering the spitball, and Don Sutton and Mike Scott were among the pitchers who resorted to creative scuffery.
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CHEAT WAVE '07
Over the next two days, ESPN.com examines the recent wave of sports cheating and assesses the damage done to our trust in the games we watch. Cheat Wave
Perspectives• Drehs: Answer to cheating lies within
• Future cheats: Stem cells and gene dopers
• Helyar: When owners cheat owners
• Fish: Jose Canseco's online pharmacy primer
• Merrill: Playing unfair at the fair
• Vote: Are the rules of golf golden?
Introduction• Drehs: Cheating raises serious questions for sports
• Forde: We love 'em and can't leave 'em
• Timeline: Hot Spots Through the Years
Your Voice• Vote: Are you a habitual cheater?
• Vote: What does cheating mean to you?
Baseball• Crasnick: Call it cheating, or call it gamesmanship
• Neyer: Baseball's top 10 cheaters of all time
• Thompson: Shoeless Joe's redemption
• SportsNation: What separates cheating from strategy?
• How do you cork a bat?
• Dale Murphy chat wrap
Football• Chadiha: Players look to gain an edge almost any way they can
• Notorious image sticks with Raiders
• Cheating anecdotes: College football
• SportsNation: Cheating or gamesmanship?
Basketball• Thorpe: It's survival of the fittest in the NBA
• Cheat Wave: Pushing the Envelope
• Cheat Wave: Pushing the Envelope 2
• David Thorpe chat wrap
• Cheating anecdotes: College basketball
• Thompson: Point-shavers, a half-century later
NASCAR• Newton: Cheating might be a dirty word, but so is losing
• Blount: Cheating in NASCAR? You be the judge
• Newton: Evernham forces NASCAR's hand
• McGee: Bill France Sr. vs. the mob
Hockey• Burnside: The NHL's cheat sheet
• Burnside: Competition committee is league's best line of defense
Page 2• Zumsteg: "Cheater's Guide to Baseball"
Tennis• Garber: Players police themselves in tennis
• Inside the ATP Gambling Scandal
Golf• Harig: Golf's honor code limits 'cheating' incidents
• Sobel: Ten famous rules invocations in golf history