The Red Sox currently have the best record in Major League Baseball. The biggest reason for this is the resurgence of their once great starting rotation, led by Clay Bucholz and his 1.01 ERA and 6-0 record through his first six starts. However, it seems not everybody is willing to believe that Bucholz could be so bad last year (4.56 ERA with a record of 11-8) and then just turn things around so completely without a little artificial assistance. And by “not everybody” I mean Toronto Blue Jays broadcasters Dirk Hayhurst and Jack Morris, who both accused Bucholz of cheating during his commanding start against the Blue Jays last week.
So it is true? Well, that remains to be seen. But if it is, Bucholz would hardly be the first pitcher to doctor a baseball. In fact, it’s assumed and almost expected that many if not most guys will try to do something to a ball at some point in their careers to get a little more action on their pitches. The only time people really get upset about it are when the cheating is obvious…and their team is losing.
Today, in honor of the amusing Clay Bucholz-Jack Morris controversy, let’s take a look at some of the most notable examples of cheating pitchers throughout the modern history of Major League Baseball.
How did Preacher Roe pitch successfully until the age of 39 for the Brooklyn Dodgers? It was all thanks to what his teammates called his "Beech-Nut Curve." Beech-Nut was a kind of chewing gum, and in a 1955 article for Sports Illustrated Roe explained that, for some reason, the spit that brand of gum produced was the best spit for curve balls.
Of course, during his playing days, everyone knew Roe was doctoring the balls. What they didn't know was what he was doing or how he was doing it—and that was by design. You see, Roe got into the habit of faking batters out by wiping his fingers on his cap between pitches. Thus, while he never had anything on the bill of his cap, they all thought he did. Then, after time, Roe could fake a batter out by going to his hat and then throwing a fastball instead of a curveball.
Now that's a "wily" veteran.
9. Preacher Roe (1938-54)
Legendary Yankees pitcher and baseball Hall of Famer Whitey Ford admitted that he used a variety of "techniques" to enhance his pitching. Sometimes he would scuff it with his wedding ring or belt buckle. Other times he would rub it a special gunk made of baby oil, turpentine, and pine tar.
Of course, Ford said he only used these tactics later in his career when his arm was failing and not when he won 25 games in 1961 and ended up with the Cy Young Award. That year he played totally fair and square...wink wink.
8. Whitey Ford (1950-67)
Gaylord Perry is the most famous spit-baller in baseball history and a master at the art of deception. You see, while Perry openly admitted to using pretty much every kind of substance you could imagine on a baseball—vaseline, saliva, K-Y jelly, fishing line wax, resin, sweat, dirt—it was elaborate pre-pitch routine that made the biggest difference. The guy would touch his cap, lips, eyebrows, shoulders, chest, and even his thighs before every single pitch. The result? Players were sure he was putting something on the ball, and they were so focused on figuring out what and how that they lost concentration and he could strike them out with undoctored balls.
Of course, that's not to say that Perry was lying about all the substances he used. The guy was eventually caught and ejected from a game—in his 21st Major League season. It's just that the idea of him cheating was probably more important to his success than his actual cheating.
7. Gaylord Perry (1962-83)
Up next we have Don Sutton, who, like Gaylord Perry, is a Hall of Fame pitchers with 300 wins in his 20-plus-year MLB career. Sutton has never been quite as forthright about his methods as Perry, Ford, or Roe, but he definitely had fun with his reputation for scuffing the ball. In one interview he suggested that, with all the accusations against him, he should get an endorsement from Black & Decker. And of course, "Black & Decker" became one of his nicknames after that.
6. Don Sutton (1966-88)
Tommy John is most famous for being the first major league pitcher to undergo the revolutionary ligament replacement surgery in 1974 that is now named after him—and which has saved the careers of countless pitchers. However, it wasn't just the elbow surgery that prolonged his career. This guy was also one of the most masterful ball doctors of his era. One time a reporter asked him how many pitches he had, and John responded, "Four basic ones...plus eight illegal ones."
5. Tommy John (1963-89)
If there's one thing you should be taking from this list so far, it's that guys probably don't have 20-year pitching careers without some kind of help. (Right, Roger Clemens?) Joe Niekro, the younger brother of Hall of Famer Phil Niekro, was no exception. This guy probably used a variety of doctoring techniques throughout his career, but he is most famous for being involved in perhaps the most awesome example ever of a pitcher getting caught red-handed. In 1987, while pitching in a game for the Minnesota Twins, the home plate umpire came out to the mound and asked Niekro to empty his pockets. The guy tried to slyly throw an emery board and a piece of sandpaper away so that the umps wouldn't see...but, yeah, they saw.
That little incident earned Niekro a ten-game suspension, but also a trip to Late Night with David Letterman, where he appeared in a carpenter's apron and carrying a power sander.
4. Joe Niekro (1967-88)
Everyone remembers the 1988 postseason for Kirk Gibson's famous gimp-legged home run off Denis Eckersley and the Dodgers' upset of the heavily favored Oakland A's in the World Series. However, if Gibson hadn't done that, you'd probably remember the 1988 postseason for the two-game suspension of Dodgers closer Jay Howell. During Game 3 of the NLCS against the Mets, Howell got ejected for having pine tar on his glove, and the Mets then rallied for five runs in the 9th to take a 2-1 series lead.
3. Jay Howell (1980-94)
During Game 2 of the 2006 World Series between the Tigers and Cardinals, cameras spotted Tigers pitcher Kenny Rogers with a brown smudge on his throwing hand, and fans in St. Louis went absolutely ballistic...at Cardinals managers Tony LaRussa. Why? Because if LaRussa had made a formal complaint to the umps, they would have had to eject Rogers, Detroit's hottest pitcher. However, LaRussa didn't make a formal complaint, and instead just asked the home plate umpire to tell Rogers to wash his hand after the first inning. Rogers then went on to pitch eight scoreless innings, and the Tigers evened the series 1-1.
So why didn't LaRussa take the opportunity to get his cheating opponent ejected? Well, he and Tigers manager Jim Leyland are close personal friends, so everyone assumed it had something to do with that. Thus, fans in St. Louis were not happy. Luckily for LaRussa, the Cardinals went on to win the World Series anyway, otherwise he might have been chased around an angry mob with torches and pitch forks.
2. Kenny Rogers (1989-2008)
Pine tar, pitchers say, does not alter the trajectory or velocity of a pitch. All it does is help you pitcher get a better grip on the ball. Thus, an ejection for having pine tar on your hand or glove really is a more minor infraction when compared to a nail file in the back pocket.
With that being said, the ejection of Tampa Bay's Joel Peralta last season for having pine tar inside his glove really shouldn't have been that big of a deal, especially when you consider all the guys suspended for using steroids over the last three seasons. However, Peralta's ejection became a big deal due to the manner in which it came about.
You see, Peralta got ejected before even throwing a pitch against the Nationals, his former team. And after the game, Nationals manager Davey Johnson basically admitted that he knew Peralta would have pine tar on his glove because he always did when he pitched for him.
In other words, Johnson let Peralta cheat for him, then he used his inside knowledge to screw him (and his new team) later on. That's a pretty classles move, and it definitely broke what they call "the unwritten code" of baseball.