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Sunday, May 12, 2002
Updated: May 13, 12:07 PM ET
Biggest cheaters in baseball

Page 2 staff

Few sports spawn as many cheaters as baseball, so Page 2 presents the 10 biggest cheaters in baseball history.

This could also be called the worst cheaters because the best cheaters are the ones we don't know about who still haven't been caught.

Take a look at our list, then read how our readers ranked the biggest cheaters of all time. And be sure to vote in the poll to crown the No. 1 cheater in baseball history.

1. New York Giants (1951)
Bobby Thomson
Bobby Thomson is mobbed by his Giants' teammates after hitting the "shot heard 'round the world."
Last year, the Giants admitted they had an elaborate sign-stealing system in place at the Polo Grounds in 1951. Did it help them erase the 13½-game lead the Dodgers had in August? Did Bobby Thomson know what Ralph Branca was throwing when he hit his "Shot heard around the world?" Those questions are unanswerable, even by Thomson, who exhibited Clintonesque qualities when questioned by the Wall Street Journal. "I'd have to say more no than yes," he said, then equivocated some more before finally saying that no, he didn't steal the sign for that pitch.

But there's no doubt that the Giants cheated. Coach Herman Franks would sit in the Giants clubhouse, conveniently located past center field, and use a telescope to read the catcher's signs. He'd then set off a bell or buzzer in the Giants bullpen that would identify the next pitch, and a relay man would signal it in to the hitter.

2. John McGraw (3B, SS, OF, Orioles, Cardinals, Giants, 1891-1906)
In the field, wrote Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns in "Baseball: An Illustrated History," the 155-pound McGraw "held far bigger base runners back by the belt, blocked them, tripped them, spiked them -- and rarely complained when they did the same to him." He was known to grab onto runners belts as they were rounding third, and grab the belt loops of runners tagging up at third. "He uses every low and contemptible method that his erratic brain can conceive to win a play by a dirty trick," wrote one reporter.

3. Gaylord Perry (pitcher, Giants, Indians, Rangers, Padres, Yankees, Braves, Mariners, Royals, 1962-1983)
Perry, a Hall-of-Famer, compiled his 314-265 record on the wings of a Vaseline ball. He'd stand on the mound, touching his cap or his sleeve, either loading up the ball or trying to convince batters he was doing so. In 1982, he became one of the very few pitchers to be suspended for doctoring the ball.

Gene Tenace, who was Perry's catcher with the Padres, said the ball was sometimes so loaded he couldn't throw it back to the mound. Indians president Gabe Paul defended Perry: "Gaylord is a very honorable man," he said. "He only calls for the spitter when he needs it."

4. Albert Belle (OF, DH, Indians, White Sox, Orioles, 1989-2000)
Albert Belle
Albert Belle reportedly used more cork than a vintner.
On July 15, 1994, Belle's bat was confiscated by umpire Dave Phillips after White Sox manager Gene Lamont voiced his suspicion that the bat was corked. The Indians knew it was corked, and set out to replace the bat, which Phillips had put in his locker. During the game, Indians pitcher Jason Grimsley wriggled through a crawl space above the ceiling above the umpires' locker room, dropped through an escape hatch, and replaced the corked model with a conventional one. "My heart was going 1,000 miles a second," said Grimsley. "I just rolled the dice, a crapshoot."

But the caper was easily found out -- the faux Belle model Grimsley had put in Phillips locker had Paul Sorrento's name on it. Belle was suspended for seven games. In his autobiography, released just a few weeks ago, former Belle teammate Omar Vizquel wrote about the "Batgate" incident: "I can be naive at times, but I'm not stupid. Certainly not stupid enough to steal Albert's corked bat and replace it with one that looked completely different -- one that was autographed by Paul Sorrento. That wasn't even a nice try. The problem, of course, was that all of Albert's bats were corked."

5. Joe Niekro (pitcher, Cubs, Padres, Tigers, Braves, Astros , Yankees, Twins, 1967-1988)
Aug. 3, 1987: Niekro's on the mound in Anaheim, pitching for the Twins against the Angels. He throws a slider that breaks the laws of physics. When plate umpire Tim Tschida visits the mound to have a look, an emery board flies out of Niekro's pocket. Niekro's also carrying a small piece of sandpaper "contoured to fit a finger," according to second base ump Steve Palermo.

Niekro's ejected and suspended for 10 days. "The guy was so blatant," said Palermo. "It was like a guy walking down the street carrying a bottle of booze during Prohibition." Niekro denied any wrongdoing, arguing that as a knuckleballer, he needed the emery board to file his fingernails. And the sandpaper? "Sometimes I sweat a lot, and the emery board gets wet," he explained. "And I'll also use the paper for small blisters."

6. Whitey Ford (pitcher, Yankees, 1950-67)
Whitey Ford
Whitey Ford got help from mud, gunk and catchers.
Ford used his wedding ring to cut the ball, or had catcher Elston Howard put a nice slice in it with a buckle on his shin guard. Ford also planted mud pies around the mound and used them to load the ball. He confessed that when pitching against the Dodgers in the 1963 World Series, "I used enough mud to build a dam." He also threw a "gunk ball," which combined a mixture of baby oil, turpentine, and resin. He kept the "gunk" in a roll-on dispenser, which, the story goes, Yogi Berra once mistook for deodorant, gluing his arms to his sides in the process.

7. The Bossard Family (groundskeepers, Cleveland Indians, Chicago White Sox, 1920s-present)
When Gene Bossard, who took care of the Comiskey Park field from 1940-83, died in 1998 at age 80, he knew that his legacy of altering the field to the White Sox's advantage would continue through his son, Roger, who followed him as head groundskeeper. According to his Sun-Times obit, "The Comiskey Park infield once was known as 'Bossard's Swamp' because he kept it watered down for sinkerball pitchers Dick Donovan, Tommy John and Joel Horlen. He also soaked the area around first base when opposing base stealers came to town, and he kept the baselines raised so that Nellie Fox's bunts stayed fair."

In 1999, Roger told The Seattle Times that his grandfather, Emil, a groundskeeper for the Cleveland Indians in the 1920s and 1930s, would move Cleveland's portable fences back 12-15 feet when the Yankees visited, taking away their power advantage.

But Dad, Bossard said, was the great innovator. "He invented frozen baseballs in 1967. He and Eddie Stanky (manager of the White Sox). We had three pitchers that year -- Tommy John, Joel Horlen and Gary Peters -- and that was our whole team. We had no offense. In the bowels of the old stadium my dad had an old room where the humidifier was constantly going. By leaving the balls in that room for 10 to 14 days, they became a quarter to a half ounce heavier."

And Gene passed on the family know-how. "In 1971 or '72, when Chuck Tanner was our manager, we played Oakland during their dynasty," Roger said. "Chuck said, 'Make sure Billy North doesn't steal a base.' First time, Wilbur Wood walks North on four pitches. Everyone knows he's going to steal. He took a step and a half, but we had doctored the baseline, and he fell to his knees. Our catcher threw to first and tagged him out. Me and my dad had a big smile. But they still beat us by eight runs."

During the 1993 playoffs, Toronto's Rickey Henderson fell just short of accusing the youngest Bossard of doing all he could to make Comiskey slow. "These basepaths are soft. Tim Raines has, what, 17 stolen bases (really 21)? Well, you know the field's messed up. He told me he can't run on this stuff. You slip a lot. I think it's one of the worst fields for traction."

8. Norm Cash (outfielder, White Sox, Tigers, 1958-74)
By his own account, Cash used a corked bat during the 1961 season, a breakout year he never came close to duplicating. In '61, Cash led the AL in batting with a .361 average, hit 41 homers and drove in 132 runs. After he retired, he demonstrated for SI how he doctored his bat by drilling an eight-inch hole in the barrel, filling it with glue, cork and sawdust.

9. Graig Nettles (3B, OF, Twins, Indians, Yankees, Padres, Braves, Expos, 1967-88)
On Sept. 7, 1974, the Yankees' Graig Nettles hit a home run against the Detroit Tigers. The next time up, he hit a broken-bat single. Tigers catcher Bill Freehan scrambled for the six superballs that came bouncing out. "I didn't know there was anything wrong with the bat," Nettles said after the game. "That was the first time I used it. Some Yankees fan in Chicago gave it to me and said it would bring me good luck. There's no brand name on it or anything. Maybe the guy made it himself. It had been in the bat rack, and I picked it up by mistake, because it looked like the bat I had been using the last few days." Nettles was called out on the single, but his solo homer was allowed and the made all the difference as the Yankees won 1-0.

10. Amos Otis (OF, DH, Mets, Royals, Pirates, 1967-1984)
After retiring, Otis, a five-time All-Star who hit 193 career home runs, admitted that he used a funky bat much of his career. "I had enough cork and superballs in there to blow away anything," he said. "I had a very close friend who made the bats for me. He'd drill a hole down the barrel and stuff some superballs and cork in it. Then he put some sawdust back into the hole, sandpapered it down and added a little pine tar over the top of it. The bat looked brand new."

Also receiving votes
  • George Brett (3B, DH, 1B, Royals, 1973-93)
    On July 24, 1983, at Yankee Stadium, George Brett of the Kansas City Royals came to bat with the Royals down, 4-3. He slammed a two-run tater off of Goose Gossage, giving the Royals the lead. By the time Brett had made it to the dugout, though, Yankee manager Billy Martin (acting on the advice of Graig Nettles, who, perhaps prompted by the superball incident, had read the rulebook) was protesting to home plate umpire Tim McClelland. McClelland asked for Brett's bat, examined it while conferring with his crew, and then called Brett out for having too much pine tar on his bat. According to the rules then, pine tar and similar substances couldn't be higher than 18 inches from the bat handle; Brett's bat was covered up to 19 or 20 inches. After the enraged Brett had been ejected for arguing the unusual call, the Yankees went on to win 4-3. The Royals protested the game, and AL president Lee McPhail overturned McClelland's ruling, reinstating Brett's homer.

  • Preacher Roe (pitcher, Cardinals, Pirates, Dodgers, 1938-54)
    While playing, Roe, who went 22-3 for Brooklyn in 1951, said, "I got three pitches: my change; my change off my change; and my change off my change off my change." After his career ended, he came clean in an SI article entitled, "The Outlawed Spitball Was My Money Pitch."

  • Rick Honeycutt (pitcher, Mariners, Rangers, Dodgers, A's, Yankees, Cardinals, 1977-97)
    When pitching for the Mariners against the Royals on Sept. 30, 1980, Honeycutt taped a thumbtack to his finger to cut the ball. Willie Wilson, after hitting a double, spotted the tack from second base. When the umps came out to have a look, they not only found the tack, but also a gash in Honeycutt's forehead -- he had rubbed his face absentmindedly, almost poking his eye out in the process.

    "I should have known right then that it wasn't going to work," he later said. "It didn't do anything for me. I didn't know what I was doing at the time. I only did it once and I did it badly and got caught at it. I was really struggling at the time. We were getting ready to go out onto the field, and I passed a bulletin board and there was a tack in it. I put it on the middle finger of my glove hand." Honeycutt was ejected, suspended for 10 games, and fined $250.

  • Don Sutton (pitcher, Dodgers, Astros, Brewers, Angels, A's, 1966-88)
    Late in his career, Sutton was often accused of scuffing. In 1978 he was ejected and suspended 10 days for defacing the ball, but when he threatened to sue the National League, he was let off. Was teammates with Gaylord Perry for a while. "He gave me a tube of Vaseline," joked Sutton. "I thanked him and gave him a piece of sandpaper." Umpires took the allegations seriously, and sometimes gave him a good going over. Once, he left a note inside his glove for the men in black. It said, "You're getting warm, but it's not here."

  • Kevin Gross (pitcher, Phillies, Expos, Dodgers, Rangers, Angels, 1983-97)
    Gross, pitching for the Phillies against the Cubs on Aug. 10, 1987, was caught with sandpaper in his glove and suspended for 10 games. The glove was confiscated by MLB. Three years later, he called the commissioner's office to ask for the glove back.

  • Billy Hatcher (OF, Cubs, Astros, Pirates, Reds, Red Sox, Phillies, Rangers, 1984-95)
    Hatcher, playing for the Astros against the Cubs on Aug. 31, 1987, broke his bat and it flew down the third base line. Cubs third baseman Keith Moreland saw cork, and Hatcher was suspended for 10 games.

    Hatcher later said he was using pitcher Dave Smith's bat, not his own. "Dave used the same model bat I did, a C243. I ran out of my bats and Dave said, 'Billy, you can use one of mine.' He told me to take it out of the bat rack instead of the bat bag. I looked in the bat bag and noticed that he had some C243s with some wide grain so I grabbed one of those. If I had known it was corked, I would have tried to swing, but the first two times at the plate that game I tried to bunt. When it broke, I had gotten a hit."

  • Wilton Guerrero (2B, SS, OF, Dodgers, Expos, Reds, 1996-present)
    On June 1, 1997, the Dodgers rookie led off against the Cards in St. Louis by grounding out. His broken bat shattered, and when he scrambled to pick up the pieces instead of running it out, the umpires became suspicious. The bat had been corked. Guerrero was ejected, suspended for eight games, and fined $1,000.

  • Brian Moehler (pitcher, Tigers, 1996-present)
    Moehler, pitching against the Devil Rays on May 1, 1999, had a tough time in the first two innings, giving up three runs. The next four innings, he was very effective, allowing just one hit as the ball danced around the Devil Rays' bats.

    When Tampa Bay manager Larry Rothschild complained, home plate umpire Larry Barnett investigated -- and found sandpaper taped to the thumb of Moehler's pitching hand. Moehler was ejected and suspended for 10 games. Moehler said it was dirt, not sandpaper, on his thumb, but didn't appeal. Tigers' manager Larry Parrish issued a non-denial denial. "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, including some Tampa Bay Devil Rays," Parrish said.

  • Lew Burdette (pitcher, Yankees, Braves, Cardinals, Cubs, Phillies, Angels, 1950-67)
    Burdette threw sliders, sinkers, and spitters -- either that, or he had an extraordinary range of nervous tics. He denied accusations that he doctored the ball: "I don't throw a spitter, but I can teach you how to throw one since you asked." He also said the suspicions gave him an advantage. "Let them think I throw it. That gives me an edge because it's another pitch they have to worry about."

  • Nels Potter (pitcher, Cardinals, A's, Red Sox, Browns , Braves, 1936-49)
    In 1944, Nels Potter was one of the most effective pitchers in baseball, and he was a key to the Browns pennant-winning season, going 19-7. Potter also became, in 1944, the first pitcher to be suspended for throwing a spitball. On July 20, pitching against the Yankees, he ignored umpire Cal Hubbard's warning against wetting his fingers before going to the resin bag, and was tossed and suspended for 10 games. Potter denied throwing the spitter.

  • Maury Wills (manager, Seattle Mariners, 1980-81)
    On April 25, 1981, Wills told the Kingdome groundskeepers to enlarge the batter's box by a foot. A's manager Billy Martin noticed. "Martin showed umpire Bill Kunkel before the game the Kingdome batter's box is seven feet long instead of the prescribed six!" wrote Byron Rosen in the Washington Post. "And the extra foot is out toward the pitcher! Wills said it was not a big deal, a couple of inches, not a foot, just a little groundskeeping alteration he ordered because Mariner Tom Paciorek has been stepping out of the box when he hit. Martin noted, though, that he had breaking-ball pitcher Rick Langford working that night and batters being able to move up a foot in the box could cut at pitches before the curve broke." Said AL umpirin supervisor Dick Butler, "That's like setting the bases 88 feet apart instead of 90." A "shocked and dumbfounded" Wills was suspended for two games and fined $500.