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If You Ain't Cheatin', You Ain't Tryin'

April 8, 2006 - Justin Mantell


In addition to Michigan football, BlueFan is also a Major League Baseball fan. Even before the steroid issue came to the fore, the sport had enough problems to fill Fenway Park. Among those problems are the inability to attract younger fans; balancing the need to be modern with the desire of the traditional fan to leave the game alone; and the disparity between the haves and have-nots. Each of those issues has now taken a backseat to the “steroids epidemic in baseball”. Every media outlet, and listener, reader and viewer of those outlets has weighed in about steroids in baseball. Overwhelmingly, the opinions have been against steroids in baseball—“it’s cheating and these players should be kicked out of the league and/or have an asterisk placed beside any record they may have set.” What has not been brought up by anyone is how the culture of baseball is predicated upon winning at all costs, which often means cheating. 

How many times have we heard ballplayers say: “if you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’”?

BlueFan says “you’re right, using steroids is cheating, but where have you been for all the other cheating that goes in baseball!?!” Players have been cheating for years and no one has said a word, except “wow, that S.O.B. is some competitor!” It seems that people—fans and talking-heads alike—are drawing an arbitrary line in the sand between what is acceptable cheating and what isn’t. It isn’t surprising because some of baseball’s cheating is so ingrained in the game that it’s now seen as part of the game. 

BlueFan defines cheating as playing outside the rules of the game to gain an advantage.

Don Drysdale, Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez and Bob Gibson are all known as great pitchers and fierce competitors. What all four also have in common is that they have thrown at a batter to send a message that he shouldn’t be leaning out over the plate and getting too comfortable. BlueFan has never heard any of the four referred to as cheaters. Hitting a batter is against MLB rules, and that batter is awarded a base as a result. Are we to believe that the effects of hitting a batter don’t carry over to subsequent at bats for the offended batter and his teammates? It’s cheating and it’s done to gain an advantage. At least the rules of the game take into account the danger of hitting batters by penalizing the pitcher and his team. Unfortunately, awarding the batter first base seems to have been little deterrent throughout the history of baseball.

Ty Cobb was not held in the highest regard as a person, but he’s revered as one of the game’s greatest competitors. According to baseball historians, he never missed a chance to slide high and hard into the bag, with his spikes bared. That is contrary to the rules of sportsmanship in baseball, so why would he have spiked fielders? Perhaps, he wanted the fielder more focused on avoiding his spikes than catching the ball. In essence, he wanted to gain an advantage, and went outside the rules to do so. There has never been a mention of looking at the amount of runs Cobb scored during his career through the filter of his cheating on the basepaths.

Before there were steroids and human-growth hormone, there were greenies. If pitcher-writer Jim Bouton is to be believed, many players have been popping them like Tic-Tacs since at least the 60s. Pete Rose admitted using greenies, and no one has mentioned placing an asterisk beside his career hits record (although Pete’s had a boatload of other troubles since his banishment from the game). During the Pittsburgh drug trials of the 80s, it was said that Hall of Fame players Willie Mays and Willie Stargell allegedly used greenies. Amphetamines are against the law without a prescription—just like steroids. Has the widespread use of greenies had an effect on baseball over the last forty years? Is baseball okay with the fact that greenies most likely enhanced players’ performance? Who knows, because there has not been one word about an investigation into players’ use of amphetamines and any effects they may have had on baseball history. 

It seems like the outrage of fans is more focused on steroids than it should be, considering the legacy of cheating in Major League Baseball. The media has definitely played a part in fueling the outrage, because they can smell blood in the water. But the idea of prior cheating being reflected in the record books could really be a Pandora’s Box that once opened, may never again be closed. The question remains how can anyone be surprised that there are currently cheaters in baseball when, for years, players have lived by the motto “if you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin”?

Go Blue!

Justin Mantell

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