Tuesday evening, Yankees outfielder Dewayne Wise dove into the stands to attempt to catch a fly ball off the bat of the Indians’ Jack Hannahan. Although it appeared that there was no way he caught the ball, he never gestured or showed otherwise. Umpire Chris DiMuro neglected to check if Wise actually had the ball, and called Hannahan out. This ended the inning and may have contributed to a Yankees victory. Wise stated that it wasn’t his fault that the play was called as it was. And he’s absolutely right. Any ballplayer, whether in MLB or any other league would have done the same thing. This was more of an umpire mistake than a player-integrity issue. But, why is it an issue at all? Cheating has been going on in all major sports since their beginnings.
Since the 19th century, baseball players have used different methods of cheating or getting around the rules. Mike “King” Kelly, one of the greatest players of that era, was notorious for his cheating exploits, outsmarting umpires at every opportunity. Ken Burns, in his “Baseball” series, stated that Kelly would skip bases behind the umpire’s back, going from first straight to third. He was also known for, in an era where players or managers did not have to report substitutes into the game, yelling out from the bench “Kelly in the game” and catching a pop-up for an out.
Burleigh Grimes and Ed Walsh were noted spitballers in the early 20th century when the pitch was still legal. When the spitball was banned in 1920, pitchers who were already throwing them were allowed to until they were out of the league. Grimes was the last, retiring after the 1934 season. This, however, did not stop pitchers from trying to get any advantage they could. Hall of Famers Gaylord Perry and Don Sutton were accused of doctoring baseballs. Although it was never proven, their reputations, especially Perry, were slightly tainted.
Pitchers are not the only guilty parties, as we all know. But it’s not just steroids, or PEDs. Sammy Sosa and Albert Belle were both caught using corked bats. Infielders, especially second baseman and shortstops, get away with not touching second base on force outs. Strike zones change daily, or even worse, by inning. I’ll never forget watching Lee Smith when he played for the Orioles, hitting the so-called “outside corner” to strike out a batter. When the replay was shown, (overhead replay) you could see that the pitch was so far outside it seemed like it was in the other batter’s box. Is this cheating? Taking advantage of what is given, or both?
Football players are also very good at this. Artie Donovan, in his autobiography ”Fatso“, spoke of a game against the 49ers at old Kezar Stadium, where there had a been a circus the day before. He said that the once the offensive players were set, and weren’t allowed to move, that the defensive line would pick up manure from the circus animals that had not been cleaned up and throw it at the offensive linemen (who, because of this, became VERY offensive, but in a different way). It is said that there is a holding call on practically every play in today’s game. Anything that a player can get away with, they will do.
Basketballers have made “Flopping” an art form, using it to draw charging fouls. Have these forms of cheating had an impact on the integrity of the games, or on the games themselves? I would say no.
Other than golf (which has an apparent code of ethics different from any other sport), cheating has become commonplace in major sports worldwide. But is that any different from society in general? The 2000 presidential election for example. No one will ever know the truth about the votes in that election, and whether or not George W. Bush actually won. (It usually depends on which side of the political spectrum you fall). Not necessarily the fault of the candidates, but a system that was and is flawed when it comes to voting and counting votes. In many colleges, including military academies, there have been numerous cheating scandals on finals. Cheating is not only a sports issue, it’s a life issue.
The biggest impact that cheating has had on baseball recently has been the issue of PED’s. Many of the greatest baseball players of my lifetime will not make the Hall of Fame any time soon because of their use (or supposed use) of HGH/steroids. Not only does this affect the integrity of the game in my opinion, it will make it difficult for any player who all of a sudden becomes a 40+ home run hitter with a .300 average after posting career totals much lower, to not be accused of cheating. Players such as Asdrubal Cabrera, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Jose Bautista would be prime examples. The increase in home run and batting average statistics of these players leads some fans to believe that they were somehow “juiced”, instead of becoming better players through practice, strength, and ability.
From King Kelly to Dewayne Wise, from Artie Donovan to any wide receiver who supposedly catches a pass when they know it hit the ground first, from any basketball player who draws a charge or takes that extra step driving to the basket, cheating is and will always be a part of sports. But also a part of life.