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Cheating has been part of the Grand Old Game, but I still draw a line

On Sports
Rochester Business Journal
December 7, 2012

Other than red lights and double bogeys, there aren't many things I truly hate. There are, though, some things that really turn me off, and one of them is cheating in sports-coaches and athletes breaking the rules and doing whatever they can to get away with it. The worst is flat-out lying.
Hey, winning isn't just everything, it's the only thing, right? Do what you have to do to put big numbers under your name; just be sure you don't get caught.
Well, as you probably know, three of the new nominees for the Baseball Hall of Fame-Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa-supposedly (probably?) used performance-enhancing drugs that helped them put up their big numbers. They have denied using drugs, but there's no doubt that many of the 600-plus voters are convinced they did use them.
Should they be voted into the Hall of Fame? How about Pete Rose, who holds the career record with 4,256 base hits? Should he continue to be barred from the Hall of Fame because he bet on the Cincinnati Reds when he was their manager from 1984 to 1989?
Reportedly, Rose finally admitted it in 2004, saying he bet on the Reds to win every game, not win some and lose some. Of course, who knows if he was telling the truth, but either way, he did something MLB does not allow. Managers don't pitch or bat, but they make moves that can make things happen on the field.
My knee-jerk reaction to the Bonds-Clemens-Sosa issue has been, "No way! Put 'em in the Hall of Shame, not the Hall of Fame. Bonds breaks Hank Aaron's home run record by drinking liquid weights instead of lifting them, and he won't even admit it? Just bury Barry's homer number; don't honor it."
Former pitching star Curt Schilling said on ESPN's "SportsCenter," "I wouldn't vote for them ever."
Ah, but then I did a bit of research, and I might have softened up a bit. I wasn't surprised to find out that cheating has been rampant in our Grand Old Game for decades-not taking banned substances, but doing some little things the powers-that-be didn't or couldn't notice.
For example, take Hall of Fame pitcher Gaylord Perry, who retired with a 314-265 record after a 21-year career (1962-83). Perry put Vaseline on the baseball, and in 1982 he was suspended for doing that. According to ESPN, Gene Tenace, who was the San Diego catcher when Perry pitched for the Padres, said there were times when the ball had so much Vaseline on it that he couldn't even throw it back to Perry. So should Perry be yanked from the Hall of Fame?
How about Whitey Ford, the great New York Yankees pitcher? He's in the Hall of Fame too. Ford used his wedding ring to put a cut in the ball, or he had his catcher, Elston Howard, do it with a buckle on his shin guard.
And in 1963, Ford admitted he had mud pies around the mound and loaded the ball with them. He even said that year, "I used enough mud to build a dam." He also said he threw a "gunk ball," putting things like baby oil, turpentine and resin on the ball.
Well, would Whitey have been a Hall of Fame pitcher had he not done all that stuff? And should he still be?
Then there was slugger Albert Belle, who used a corked bat back in 1994 and maybe even before then. Or pitcher Joe Niekro, caught with an emery board when the umpire came out to see why his slider was sliding off a cliff? Neither of them is in the HOF, so it's no big deal, right?
Finally, way back in 1951, the New York Giants admitted they used an elaborate sign-stealing system at the Polo Grounds. The word was that Giants coach Herman Franks would be in the team's clubhouse, out past center field, and use a telescope to read the catcher's signs. Then he would set off a bell or buzzer in the Giants' bullpen and someone there would relay it to the hitter.
There is no doubt in my sports mind that there have been many, many more instances in the wide world of sports-except in the self-disciplined game of golf, where bending the rules, even breaking them and flagrant cheating, happen 24/7.
Yet even though it happens here, there and everywhere, I would not vote for the aforementioned three new candidates, mainly because some of Bonds' and Clemens' impressive numbers came late in their careers. That was especially true for Bonds, who hit 317 of his 762 home runs in his last eight seasons, starting with 49 in 2000, when he was 35 years old-or, given the stuff he no doubt was taking, 35 years young.
Some, of course, look down at Babe Ruth because he drank too much beer and ate too many performance-enhancing hot dogs. At least he didn't pretend not to have done so, and he had the belly to prove it.
Rick Woodson's column appears each Thursday on the Rochester Business Journal website at His book, "Words of Woodson," is available at Listen to his weekly program, "The Golf Tee," at 9 a.m. Sunday on WHTK-AM 1280 and FM 107.12/7/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email

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