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Cheating in Baseball: America’s Pastime’s Darkest Secrets

Throughout the history of baseball, cheating has always been a dark cloud hovering over the sport. Infractions are still somewhat common.

Throughout the history of baseball, cheating has always been a dark cloud hovering over the sport. Whether corking bats, doctoring balls, or using performance-enhancing drugs, cheating has significantly shaped the game. This comprehensive guide will explore various instances of cheating in baseball, shedding light on the consequences and impact these actions have had on the sport.

Spiking and Dirty Plays: Early Beginnings

In the 1890s, baseball was a much more brutal sport than it is today. Players often resorted to dirty tactics to gain an advantage on the field. One such tactic was spiking opponents with their cleats. Players intentionally slid into their opponents with their metal spikes raised, causing injury and chaos on the field. Other dirty tactics included tripping or grabbing opponents by their belts while running the bases. These sneaky plays often went unchecked, as only one or two umpires oversaw the game.

The Black Sox Scandal: Throwing the 1919 World Series

Arguably the darkest moment in baseball history, the 1919 Black Sox scandal involved eight players from the Chicago White Sox conspiring with gamblers to lose the World Series intentionally. This shocking betrayal resulted in a lifetime ban for all eight players, including the talented OF “Shoeless” Joe Jackson. Despite their not-guilty verdicts in court, the players’ actions have left a lasting stain on the sport’s legacy.

Doctoring the Baseball: The Spitball Era

Before 1920, spitballs were legal in baseball. Pitchers would apply spit or other substances to the ball to make their pitches harder to hit. This tactic drastically changes the ball’s trajectory, making it dip and swerve unpredictably. However, this practice ended in 1920 when New York Yankees SP Carl Mays hit Cleveland Indians SS Ray Chapman in the head with a pitch, resulting in Chapman’s tragic death. Following this incident, Major League Baseball banned the spitball to protect players and maintain the integrity of the game.

Despite the ban, some players continued to use spitballs and other illegal substances to doctor the ball. One notable example was SP Gaylord Perry, who pitched for eight teams throughout his 22-year career. Perry’s infamous spitball significantly influenced his 314 career wins, launching him into the Hall of Fame. His book, Me and the Spitter, detailed his use of the illegal pitch, further highlighting the prevalence of cheating in the sport.

The Pittsburgh Drug Trials: Cheating and Cocaine

In the mid-1980s, the Pittsburgh Drug Trials revealed the widespread use of cocaine among MLB players. Several high-profile players, including 1B Keith Hernandez, OF Tim Raines, and SP Vida Blue, were implicated in the scandal. The players involved were granted immunity in exchange for their testimony. Using the testimony, the trial brought to light the rampant drug use within the league and changed how MLB approached drug testing and enforcement. This was a legal issue much more than a matter of integrity, but the sport’s reputation was still at risk.

Pete Rose’s Lifetime Ban: Betting on Baseball

OF Pete Rose is one of the most talented players in baseball history. He is perhaps best known for his lifetime ban from the sport due to his involvement in gambling. Rose admitted to betting on baseball while managing the Cincinnati Reds, violating a cardinal rule of the game. Despite his unparalleled talent and numerous records, Rose’s lifetime ban has prevented him from being inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Steroid Use: The Performance-Enhancing Scandal Era

Steroid use in baseball has arguably been one of the most significant cheating scandals in all of sports history. In contrast to previous cheating methods, steroid use involves players altering their bodies to gain an unfair advantage on the field. The increased strength, reduced injury risk, and improved eyesight by steroids have created a significant imbalance in the game. Unlike other forms of cheating, the lingering effects of steroid use often persist even after a player has stopped using the substances, making it more difficult to level the playing field.

Biogenesis: The PED Scandal Continues

Even after implementing stricter steroid testing, some players found ways to continue using performance-enhancing drugs. The Biogenesis scandal, involving a Miami-based anti-aging clinic, revealed that several major league players were obtaining PEDs and evading detection through careful timing and dosing. This scandal led to numerous suspensions and tarnished the reputations of several star players, including 3B Alex Rodriguez.

Corked Bats: An Unfair Advantage at the Plate

Another form of cheating in baseball involves altering the bat to gain an advantage at the plate. Some players have been known to insert cork or other lightweight materials into their bats, making them easier to swing and hit the ball further. This practice has led to suspensions and controversies for several notable players, including OFs Sammy Sosa and Albert Belle. Despite the suspensions, the relatively lenient punishments for these offenses have done little to deter further instances of cheating.

In response to the steroid epidemic, MLB has implemented harsher punishments for players caught using performance-enhancing drugs. However, many argue that these penalties are still inadequate and that the league must establish stricter consequences to deter future offenses. The current standard is that first-time offenders miss 80 games and cannot play in the postseason.

The Cardinals Hacking Scandal: Corporate Espionage in Baseball

In a unique and unprecedented scandal, the St. Louis Cardinals hacked into the Houston Astros’ player database in 2013 and 2014. Cardinals scouting director Chris Correa gained access to the accounts of several Astros employees, including then-General Manager Jeff Luhnow. As a result, the Cardinals could view the Astros’ scouting reports, draft plans, and other valuable information. This act of corporate espionage led to significant consequences for both Correa and the Cardinals organization, including fines, the loss of draft picks, and prison time for Correa.

The 2017 Astros Sign-Stealing Cheating Scandal

The 2017 Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal is one of the more recent and infamous instances of cheating in baseball. The Astros were found to have used video cameras to steal signs from opposing teams, relaying this information to their batters in real time. This blatant form of cheating played a significant role in the Astros’ 2017 World Series victory, casting a dark shadow over their championship title. To be clear, the use of electronics is what made their scheme illegal, as sign stealing is a natural part of the game. The Astros were also not the only guilty team but received the most attention for how egregious their system was.


Despite the considerable backlash and consequences faced by the team, including suspensions, fines, and the loss of draft picks, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred ultimately decided not to strip the Astros of their World Series title. This decision has been criticized, with many arguing that the lack of severe consequences sets a dangerous precedent for future cheating scandals.

How Does Cheating Stick Around?

Cheating in baseball has been a persistent issue throughout the sport’s history. From early instances of spiking and doctoring balls to the more recent steroid and sign-stealing scandals, cheating has impacted the game in various ways. As baseball continues to evolve and adapt, MLB must remain vigilant in its efforts to maintain the integrity of the sport and deter cheating in all its forms. With the crackdown of foreign substances in the last few seasons, the eternal fight continues.

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