Bock’s Score: Stick or Cheat

Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire

OK, Major League Baseball has decided it’s time for pitchers to ditch the sticky stuff.

Sun screen lotion is to be used for protection from the sun, not to be applied to baseballs. Pine tar belongs on bats to improve grips, not on baseballs to improve spin rates. And nail files in your back pocket, well that’s certainly not right.

Alarmed at the bulging number of strikeouts and evaporating batting averages, MLB announced a crackdown on applying greasy kid stuff to the baseballs. Six no-hitters in the first two months of the season, suggested something funny was going on.

The current substance of choice appears to be something called Spider Tack which, when applied to baseballs increases the spin rate, making life more complicated for hitters. When Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole was asked about it, he stumbled over the answer, suggesting he knew more about it than he was willing to say.

When umpire Joe West noticed some suspicious stains on the cap of Cardinals pitcher Giovanny Gallegos, he launched an investigation. That sent manager Mike Shildt into a bit of a hissy-fit. Later, the Cardinals bench boss mentioned “baseball’s dirty little secret.’’ and that would be that pitchers like to get an edge and so some interesting things. Michael Pineda once was caught with pine tar on his neck and was suspended for that misdemeanor.

There’s an old saying in sports: “If you ain’t cheatin’ , you ain’t tryin’.’’ And you can be sure pitchers have always been tryin’.

The spitball was banned during the 1920s for sanitation reasons. And pitchers shrugged off that legislation and found other methods of doctoring baseballs.

Hall of Famers Whitey Ford and Gaylord Perry were masters of the art. Ford’s Yankee catcher, Elston Howard, named him the “Chairman of the Board” and used his belt buckle to scuff balls for the Yankees ace. Perry went through all sorts of movements on the mound–hand to cap, hand to hair, hand to pants leg—playing with the minds of hitters who were convinced he was loading up pitches but could never figure out where he was hiding his sticky helper.

Then there was Joe Niekro, who, like his brother, Phil, was a knuckleball specialist. That pitch requires trim nails. Niekro was rumored to be getting a little extra help with his pitches so one night, the umpires decided to frisk him. All of a sudden, a nail file dropped out of his pocket.

Oops!

About the Author

Hal Bock

Hal Bock covered sports for 40 years at The Associated Press including 30 World Series, 30 Super Bowls and 11 Olympics. He is the author of 14 books including most recently The Last Chicago Cubs Dynasty and Banned Baseball's Blacklist of All-Stars and Also-Rans. He has written scores of magazine articles and served as Journalist In Residence at Long Island University's Brooklyn campus where he also served on the selection committee for the George Polk Awards.

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