Commentary

Black Sox are clear leaders among suspected cheaters

Originally Published: August 9, 2007
By Rob Neyer | ESPN.com

In professional baseball, there are a couple of old sayings that encapsulate the general feeling toward breaking the rules: "It ain't cheatin' if you don't get caught" and "If you ain't cheatin', you ain't tryin'." From those, we also can assume that there has been a lot of cheatin' and not a whole lot of gettin' caught. That's just speculation. What we do know is that cheating has played a significant role in the game's history, from its very beginnings until exactly now.

Below, then, are the top 10 cheaters (admitted or alleged) of all time:

Under the radar
Here, in no particular order, are a few other notable episodes of cheating (admitted and alleged) in the majors:
• Like Norm Cash, longtime Royals center fielder Amos Otis admitted to having used a doctored bat throughout his career. As Otis said, "I had enough cork and superballs in there to blow away anything."
• In 1960 -- and quite possibly before then -- Bill Veeck's White Sox were stealing catchers' signs and relaying them to the batter via lights in the scoreboard. Pitcher Al Worthington, a devout Christian, joined the White Sox in September 1960 but left the club after only six days. A few months later, he said, "Baseball ought to be played on the up-and-up. When it's not, it's time to quit."
• There's a long history of groundskeepers playing various tricks, although whether the tricks constituted "cheating" depended largely on the umpire. In 1962, Giants groundskeeper Marty Schwab was voted a full World Series share, in part for his efforts to slow down Dodgers speedster Maury Wills and to slow down ground balls hit to San Francisco's third baseman and shortstop. In 1967, White Sox groundskeeper Gene Bossard invented (or reinvented) "frozen baseballs," based on the theory that if the power-starved Sox weren't going to hit home runs, they might as well prevent other teams from hitting them, too. What's not at all clear is how much this actually helped, as their run differentials at home and away were virtually the same.
• Cincinnati ace Paul Derringer supposedly threw a spitball to retire Detroit's Earl Averill for the last out in the 1940 World Series. ... In 1987, Joe Niekro was suspended for 10 games after umpires discovered him with an emery board and a small piece of sandpaper. ... Roughly a year later, Dodgers reliever Jay Howell drew a two-game suspension during the NLCS for having pine tar on his glove. ... Hall of Famer Whitey Ford, especially during his later seasons, allegedly tried every trick in the book, and probably invented a few new ones.

10. Lew Burdette

In Whitey Ford's autobiography, he said that Burdette, who spent most of his career with the Milwaukee Braves, "had the reputation of throwing the best spitter in baseball." It's almost impossible to say, without benefit of Burdette's admission or clear video, just how heavily he depended on the pitch. But in 1957, when the Braves shocked the nation by beating the Yankees in the World Series, Burdette beat the Yankees 4-2, 1-0 and (in Game 7) 5-0, throwing complete games in each of his three starts.

Honorable mention: Mike Scott very nearly pitched the Astros into the 1986 World Series, throwing scuff balls all the while.

9. Norm Cash

With all due "respect" to Albert Belle and Sammy Sosa, the most famous bat corker in major league history is Cash, the Tigers first baseman who hit .361 in 1961 to capture the American League batting title. Later, after his career had ended, Cash admitted to having used a corked bat -- to be precise, it was ground-up cork -- throughout his career. The funny thing, though, is that there's not actually much science behind the notion that a corked bat is a better bat. The cork is used to explain Cash's batting title, for instance … but if that's all Cash needed, and he continued to use it, then why didn't he manage to hit even .300 in any other season in his long career?

8. 1890s Orioles

When Derek Zumsteg wrote "The Cheater's Guide to Baseball," he chose this as his book's first chapter: "John McGraw and his 1890s Orioles." As Zumsteg notes, McGraw's Orioles were not the only team that would do just about anything to gain an edge; they were just the most accomplished at it. This meant inventing perfectly legal plays such as the hit-and-run and the Baltimore chop. It also meant skipping bases when the umpire was looking the other way, grabbing the baserunner's belt when the umpire was looking the other way, and just about anything else you can imagine getting away with when each game was overseen by just one arbiter. For a few years, the Orioles dominated the National League, winning three straight pennants beginning in 1894.

7. Gaylord Perry

Consider: When Perry's autobiography was published in 1974, the title on the cover was "Me and the Spitter." A couple of years earlier, a National League pitching coach said of Perry's alleged spitball, "Oh, he may throw it once in a while. But really, he throws a good sinker. That thing about the spitter is mostly psychological." It's true that Perry did benefit from the hitters' suspicions, and it's true that he threw plenty of other pitches; in his long career, Perry threw sinkers and fastballs and sliders and curves and slow curves and forkballs and changeups. But it was the spitball that made him a great pitcher, and without it, he certainly wouldn't have won 314 games or been elected to the Hall of Fame.

6. Barry Bonds

"This is America! You're innocent until proven guilty, and Barry Bonds hasn't been proven guilty of anything yet!" If I had a dollar for every time I've heard that ridiculous defense, I could afford the drugs Bonds allegedly has been using so effectively the past seven or eight seasons. It's true that Bonds has never been convicted, or even suspended. But in America, we often convict criminals with circumstantial evidence, and when it comes to Bonds, we have plenty of that. Without even getting into the morality of performance-enhancing drugs, I hope we can agree that Bonds has finagled his way into the record books.

5. Hal Chase

Like Bonds, Hal Chase was an exceptional figure in his time -- the dead ball era -- not because he was doing anything different from everybody else but because he was doing it so well. In Chase's case, "it" was throwing games for money. We'll never know how many games Chase kicked away or how profitable his crimes were. One thing, though, that always has struck me about Chase is that he was universally considered the most talented first baseman of his era, defensively speaking, but his defensive statistics were terrible; in his three-year stint with the Reds, they were easily the worst in the National League. If Chase had played every game to win, he might have wound up in the Hall of Fame. Instead, he was banned from baseball and eventually died without a nickel to his name.

4. Mark McGwire

When McGwire was in his 20s, he played six full seasons and averaged 36 home runs per season. Then he got hurt and missed most of the next two seasons (and much of another). When McGwire was in his 30s, he played four full seasons and averaged 61 home runs per season. Then he got hurt again, retired, and eventually destroyed his credibility with an embarrassing performance in a congressional hearing room. So McGwire isn't going to the Hall of Fame, and his record has been broken by Bonds. But McGwire -- and, to a lesser degree, Sammy Sosa -- showed their peers that 60 home runs wasn't anything if one was willing to explore all the modern options.

3. 1877 Louisville Grays

In 1876, the National League was created, partly as a response to the rampant corruption in the National Association, the first attempt to organize the top professional clubs. In 1877, the National League had a scandal of its own. In the middle of August, the first-place Louisville Grays had a nice lead over contenders St. Louis and Boston, but then they started tanking games. A few players later admitted to throwing exhibition games -- for which they were paid by gamblers -- but considering the Grays went through a stretch of 11 official league games with just one win, it seems likely they were throwing some of those, too. The scandal broke after the season. Four players were expelled from the league, and the Louisville and St. Louis franchises -- the latter had signed two of the banned players -- were themselves cast from the league. Crooked play certainly was not eradicated, but the National League had sent a strong message, thus helping ensure its future success.

2. 1951: Giants steal signs

Just in case you missed the news … when the New York Giants made their brilliant run to catch the Brooklyn Dodgers down the stretch in '51, they were stealing catchers' signs with a telescope in center field. When Bobby Thomson hit his pennant-winning homer in the third game of the Giants-Dodgers playoff series, he probably had been tipped off that Ralph Branca's next delivery would be a fastball. Of course, the Giants were not the first team to steal signs, nor would they be the last, and it's likely that other pennants have been won and lost as a result of such chicanery. But the Giants are the most famous sign-stealing team, and their pennant the most famous.

1. Black Sox

The story of the 1919 Chicago White Sox has been told in works of historical fiction, historical nonfiction and docudrama and in silly tripe (i.e., "Field of Dreams"). Let's get some facts straight, then. In the fall of 1919, eight members of the heavily favored White Sox conspired to throw at least one game of the World Series, which resulted in a few of them -- along with the knowing gamblers -- making a great deal of money when the Cincinnati Reds won. When the news finally broke nearly a year later, the results included the destruction of a great White Sox roster, the permanent suspension of the eight conspirators -- including Shoeless Joe Jackson, who would be in the Hall of Fame otherwise -- and the hiring of baseball's first commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis.

Rob Neyer writes for ESPN Insider and regularly updates his blog for ESPN.com. You can reach him via rob.neyer@dig.com. His most recent book, "Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Blunders," is available everywhere.