Liar, liar ... there's no sense telling the truth

Originally Published: May 9, 2007
By Jerry Crasnick | ESPN.com

There's no crying in baseball. But as any student of the game can attest, you'll never find a shortage of lying in baseball.

Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi became the newest member of the prevaricators club when he told a Toronto radio station that he misled fans and the media in spring training by hiding closer B.J. Ryan's elbow injury, calling it a back problem.

Ricciardi is taking a pounding for his credibility issues, but he was just one of two club officials to acknowledge lying about an injury last week. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel also 'fessed up and admitted the club knew about closer Tom Gordon's shoulder problems in spring training but chose to keep the development under wraps.

Baseball has an illustrious history of truth-bending for the sake of convenience. As John Helyar writes in "Lords of the Realm," the late Walter O'Malley intentionally kept Dodgers fans in the dark once he decided to move the team from Brooklyn to Los Angeles.

"I'm coming," O'Malley told a Los Angeles county supervisor in 1956. "But I will deny it to the press, because I've got another season to play at Ebbets Field. You don't know the Brooklyn fans. They'll murder me, actually murder me, if they know I'm coming."

It was Billy Martin, never one for false diplomacy, who uttered the classic line "One's a born liar, and the other is convicted" in reference to Reggie Jackson and George Steinbrenner.

And as shortstop Pokey Reese observed of former Cincinnati GM Jim Bowden, "As we say in the clubhouse, you know that man is lying when his lips are moving." Amazingly, Reese lasted seven more months with the Reds before Bowden traded him to Colorado.

The temptation to twist the truth continues to grow with the increased dollars at stake in the game. As shocking as this seems, some baseball executives are convinced that superagent Scott Boras isn't always 100 percent forthright in his negotiations with clubs.

This week's installment of "The Starting 9" looks at memorable lies, fibs and misdirection plays from the past 20 years in baseball. They serve as evidence that "no comment" can occasionally be the best comment of all.

Pete Rose
Rose

1

Pete Rose

After 15 years of ranting about investigator John Dowd, waiting for a reinstatement phone call and living the life of a baseball pariah, Rose finally comes clean about his penchant for betting on baseball. The occasion: the publication of his book, "My Prison Without Bars," in January 2004.

Rose, who had never copped to anything more serious than betting on football, tries to justify his transgression by pointing out that he consistently wagered on his team to win while he was manager in Cincinnati.

While cathartic, Rose's soul-baring exercise doesn't earn him the acceptance he craves. He is vilified for upstaging Paul Molitor and Dennis Eckersley just as they're celebrating their election to the Hall of Fame.

Things take a more dramatic downward turn for Rose in September 2004, when he has to watch Tom Sizemore skulking around in a modified Moe Howard haircut in his portrayal of the Hit King in the ESPN movie "Hustle."

2

Rafael Palmeiro

Bill Clinton doesn't have a monopoly on the self-righteous finger wag. While appearing before a congressional steroid committee in March 2005, Palmeiro stands in stark contrast to the stonewalling Mark McGwire and linguistically challenged Sammy Sosa. He's there to strike a blow for the anti-juicers in the game.

Rafael Palmeiro
Palmeiro

"I have never used steroids. Period," Palmeiro says.

Four months after this assertion, Palmeiro joins Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray in the 3,000-hit, 500-homer club. But he doesn't look like such a hero when he tests positive for the steroid stanozolol.

Palmeiro insists that he violated baseball's steroid policy unwittingly and blames his test results on a contaminated vitamin B-12 shot from a vial given to him by Orioles teammate Miguel Tejada. Now Palmeiro's critics are convinced he's both a liar and a rat. On the miraculous chance he makes it to Cooperstown, don't expect those words to appear on his plaque.

3

Collusion

Heaven knows how many owners have exaggerated their financial plight to raise ticket prices or squeeze stadium dollars out of desperate municipalities. Paul Beeston, former Toronto Blue Jays president and MLB chief operating officer, once said, "Under generally accepted accounting principles, I can turn a $4 million profit into a $2 million loss, and I can get every national accounting firm to agree with me."

Baseball owners take deceit to a whole new level in the late 1980s, when they follow a course allegedly orchestrated by commissioner Peter Ueberroth. Acting in concert and in violation of the basic agreement, the owners refrain from making offers to a host of desirable free agents -- from Kirk Gibson to Jack Morris to Tim Raines.

As part of a 1990 collusion settlement, owners agree to pay the aggrieved players $280 million in damages. The episode puts a significant crimp in player-club relations, which is saying something for a sport that's endured a slew of labor-related confrontations since the early 1970s.

4

Bud Selig

During a news conference at the 2005 All-Star Game in Detroit, Selig tells reporters he was unaware of rumors of steroid use in baseball until 1998, when Mark McGwire broke Roger Maris' single-season home run mark.

Bud Selig
Selig

"I never even heard about it," Selig says. "I ran a team and nobody was closer to their players and I never heard any comment from them. It wasn't until 1998 or '99 that I heard the discussion."

Selig must have forgotten about a July 15, 1995, story by Bob Nightengale of the Los Angeles Times. The piece carried the headline "Steroids Become an Issue," with the accompanying subhead "Many Fear Performing Enhancing Drug is Becoming Prevalent and Believe Something Must Be Done."

The story quotes Dodgers general manager Kevin Malone and Padres GM Randy Smith, who estimates that 10 to 20 percent of major-leaguers are steroid users. Respected veterans Tony Gwynn and Frank Thomas also weigh in on the topic.

Nightengale also interviews Selig, the interim commissioner at the time. Selig tells the Times that baseball owners addressed the issue at a meeting a year to 18 months earlier, only to conclude there was no reason for concern.

"If baseball has a problem, I must say candidly that we were not aware of it," Selig is quoted in the Times in July 1995. "It certainly hasn't been talked about much. But should we concern ourselves as an industry? I don't know. Maybe it's time to bring it up again."

5

Tim Johnson

Johnson, a rising managerial star in Toronto, has spent years inspiring players with tales of his service in Vietnam. The stories are vivid in their imagery, with references to gunfire exchanges and minefields and the horrors of combat up close.

Trouble is, the accounts are completely untrue. Although Johnson spent six years in the Marine Corps teaching mortar technology to recruits on their way to Southeast Asia, he never saw combat duty in Vietnam.

When the lies come to light, Johnson apologizes and says he's seeking counseling. He also apologizes for inaccuracies in his Blue Jays biography -- which includes a reference to his days as an All-America high school basketball player and a fictional offer to play hoops at UCLA.

Toronto general manager Gord Ash gives Johnson a chance to win back the trust of the players in the spring of 1999 but concludes that it's a lost cause. The Blue Jays fire Johnson and replace him with Jim Fregosi two weeks before the 1999 season opener.

"It became apparent that it wasn't going to work,'' Ash says.

6

Al Martin

Martin, a left-handed-hitting outfielder, is perceived as one of baseball's good guys for most of his 11 seasons with the Pirates, Padres, Mariners and Devil Rays. But some late-career revelations make him a punch line worthy of a David Letterman monologue.

Martin is playing for San Diego in 2000 when reports surface that he has two wives in different parts of the country. Martin tells police that he took part in a ceremony in Las Vegas with wife No. 2 but didn't think it was binding.

When Seattle trades for Martin during the stretch run, local columnist Art Thiel is unenthused.

"He's not a bad pickup, but a guy who's been on three teams in five months and with two wives simultaneously is not exactly the emotional bedrock upon which to fan a pennant drive," Thiel writes.

In 2001, Martin compares a collision with Seattle teammate Carlos Guillen to the time he tried to tackle Michigan running back Leroy Hoard in 1986, when he was playing strong safety at Southern California. Problem is, USC and Michigan never met that year, and Martin was an outfielder in the Atlanta Braves' system. It's all a figment of Martin's imagination.

7

Albert Belle

During an Indians-White Sox game at Comiskey Park on July 15, 1994, Chicago manager Gene Lamont asks umpires to confiscate Belle's bat. Rumors are swirling that the Cleveland slugger is an inveterate cork-a-holic.

From the outset, Belle contends there's nothing suspect about his bats.

"If I used a corked bat, I'd have 50 homers by now,'' he tells the Cleveland Plain-Dealer.

The evidence contradicts that claim. When Belle's bat is examined, cork is discovered inside. He receives a 10-game suspension and has it reduced to seven games on appeal.

In hindsight, Belle's antics aren't half as entertaining as the subplot. During the Cleveland-Chicago game, an intruder traversed a ceiling crawl space between the visiting clubhouse and the umpires room and replaced Belle's confiscated bat with a model belonging to Indians first baseman Paul Sorrento. The umpires immediately identified the Sorrento bat as a fraud.

In a 1999 interview with Buster Olney of the New York Times, Jason Grimsley admits to being the mystery bat-exchanger.

Jeff Kent
Kent

8


When Kent breaks his wrist during spring training in 2002, he tells the San Francisco Giants that he hurt himself while washing his truck. He's publicly outed for lying when reports surface that he was actually popping wheelies on his motorcycle -- in direct violation of his contract.

Giants general manager Brian Sabean, initially supportive of Kent, eventually tires of the soap opera surrounding the team's obligation to pay Kent.

"I'm up to here with Jeff," Sabean tells reporters.

The following winter, Kent leaves San Francisco to sign with Houston.

In ensuing years, several other players go to great lengths to put a palatable spin on injuries. Rockies shortstop Clint Barmes, Dodgers reliever Joe Beimel and Yankees pitcher Carl Pavano (who neglects to inform the team about a rib injury suffered in a car accident) are among the major-leaguers who are less than forthright about their off-field endeavors.

9


Hernandez gained more than the opportunity of a lifetime when he fled his native Cuba. Try four years.

Orlando Hernandez
Hernandez

El Duque was reportedly 28 years old when he signed with the New York Yankees in 1998. But when The Smoking Gun Web site obtained a copy of his divorce decree, it showed he was born in 1965, rather than 1969. In their book "The Duke of Havana,'' Steve Fainaru and Rey Sanchez report that Hernandez and two other players burned their driver's licenses and Cuban ID cards to conceal their true ages.

Hernandez is now universally acknowledged as 41, but someone forgot to tell his current employers, the New York Mets. The 2007 team media guide still lists his birthdate as 1969 and his age as 37.

Honorable mention

J.D. Drew: In late September 2006, Drew tells the Orange County Register that he has no plans to exercise his opt-out clause and leave the Dodgers. "At some point you make those commitments and you stick to them,'' Drew says. In December, Drew takes advantage of his status as a free man to sign a five-year, $70 million deal with Boston.

Tony La Russa: La Russa, the master media manipulator, sends Darryl Kile to the press room before the opener of the 2000 division series against Atlanta and then pulls a switcheroo and starts 21-year-old Rick Ankiel instead. Ankiel walks six batters and throws five wild pitches in a victory over the Braves, and his long, ugly slide begins.

Sammy Sosa: We don't know for sure whether Sosa lied about steroid use. But it's indisputable that he left Wrigley Field early in the Cubs' 2004 season finale. Sosa told the Chicago Sun-Times he stayed until the seventh inning, but video cameras captured him heading for the parking lot in the first.

Jerry Crasnick covers baseball for ESPN Insider. His book "License To Deal" has been published by Rodale. Click here to order a copy. Jerry can be reached via e-mail.

Jerry Crasnick | email

ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer