In baseball, there are many ways to cheat, and some are more elaborate than others. There is the classic spitball, in which the pitcher spits on the ball before he throws it, and hopes that the extra lubricant will allow him to spin the ball more quickly and give the pitch more curve or sink. Then there is the corked bat, where a bat is hollowed out and replaced with a substance that will supposedly cause the ball to travel farther when hit. A hilarious example of this occurred at the expense of former Chicago Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa, when his bat broke and the evidence was clear. The list can go on and on, to the point of ridiculousness. All of these things have something in common, and that is that they will all result in a suspension from the game, and rightly so.
Baseball has a rich history of cheating. When old-school managers and players speak of cheating, they speak of it fondly, constantly referring to the good ol’ days, when attempts at gaining the upper hand were commonplace. As long as it doesn’t hurt anyone, and you don’t throw a game, it’s all fair. Putting some oil on the back of your hand to give your curveball some extra drop was just seen as gamesmanship, as long as you didn’t get caught.
But one thing that these old school players will agree on is that you don’t take PEDs (performance-enhancing drugs) . For them, as long as you don’t give yourself an unfair physical advantage above everyone else who works hard to make up for their lack of physical prowess, what you do with the ball and your bat is up to you. I partially agree with this sentiment. Taking steroids is a worse form of cheating than doctoring a ball or bat in baseball, and should be punished as such. But that is only because of baseball’s history of gamesmanship. Cheating is still considered cheating, regardless of how it’s done, and should be punished accordingly. Many players go unnoticed, and put in hours of work every day to remain a utility player year after year. When someone is able to strike them out three times in a game because they had a piece of sandpaper in their sleeve to make the ball move more, it is unfair. There are people dependent on this person’s income, and someone cheating shouldn’t be a factor of why one performs well enough to stay relevant and in the majors.
This past week, Michael Pineda, a pitcher for the New York Yankees, was suspended for ten games for attempting to gain the upper hand on the competition by using pine tar to get a better grip on the ball. Old school baseball fans and players may have said that his only fault was being thoughtless enough to place the pine tar on his neck, where it was easily seen. In the days of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, this may have been laughed at, or punished with less severity. Today, players are being paid millions of dollars, and the outcome of games can have further implications upon the playoffs which can be potential sources of millions of dollars in revenue. With this in mind, Pineda was suspended for ten games. For a pitcher, this doesn’t amount to much time, since he will miss three starts at the most, considering pitchers pitch every fourth to fifth game. But it sends the right message.
Every player who is caught cheating has an excuse. If it’s a nail file for a pitcher, it may have been that they need to file their nails to get a better grip on the ball. If it’s a corked bat for a batter, it may have been that they used someone else’s bat. Most of instances the excuses don’t work. It hasn’t seemed to work for Michael Pineda, who said that he needed a better grip on the ball. This brings up a good point. If pine tar allows the pitcher a better grip, then this would allow for more controlled pitches and less hit batters. If pine tar truly does help, then this may be an instance in which the MLB should look into the benefits of pine tar, not just for grips on bats, but on balls as well. Michael Pineda may be a cheater now, but maybe by next season, he will be seen as a promoter of hitter safety. Most likely, he will still be seen as a cheater. But hey, at least he didn’t take steroids like his suspended teammate Alex Rodriguez.