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 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 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 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
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.