With the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox sign-stealing scandal being the talk of this MLB offseason, it’s natural for baseball fans to reconsider the different types of cheating in the game of baseball. Cheating has been a practice in baseball as old as the game itself. For as long as the game has existed, it seems like players have been trying to gain an unfair competitive advantage.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the various ways players in baseball have cheated – or in some cases, attempted to cheat – throughout the years.
The first type of cheating that baseball players do is the one most fresh on everyone’s minds. Stealing signs is fairly common in baseball. There are actually no specific rules against it, and it’s generally accepted when players are using their own eyes to steal and interpret the signs. However, when players use technology to steal signs, it strays into the area of cheating.
An investigation found the Astros had a sophisticated sign-stealing system in place that involved cameras and clubhouse attendants banging on trash cans to signify what pitch was coming. A few years ago, the Red Sox were found to be using Apple Watches to help them steal signs.
One conspiracy theory also posited that the Astros were wearing buzzers taped to their bodies to relay messages about what pitch was coming. Though there was strong evidence available online of this being true, MLB said it did not find evidence of this in their investigation.
The latest crackdown by MLB is evidence that they will have a zero-tolerance policy going forward for any type of use of technology to steal signs. It’s unclear how many teams were doing this before (the Astros and Sox may have just been the ones who got caught) but it’s clear that no one will do it in the future.
The illegal use of performance-enhancing drugs (steroids) hung like a black cloud over the game’s home run explosion of the late ’90s and early 2000s. In 1998, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa both shattered Roger Maris’s single-season home run record of 61 home runs. Later, both would found to have used PEDs to gain an advantage.
In 2007, former U.S. senator George Mitchell released the Mitchell Report, implicating many former players with potential steroid use including pitcher Roger Clemens. A late-career power surge by Barry Bonds also fueled speculation that he used as well.
There’s no way of knowing every baseball player who cheated using PEDs. Some of the sport’s most famous players from that era were either proven or rumored to have taken them. Currently, MLB has a much stricter testing policy in place, so steroids will never impact the sport to the degree they once did.
Pitchers using foreign substances
To put a little extra something on their pitches, some pitchers in the past have put illegal substances on the ball. Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry was famous for throwing a spitball — a pitch that at one time was not just legal in baseball, but commonly accepted.
Pitchers have also used substances such as Vaseline to give their ball some added break. Some pitchers have applied the foreign substance to the brim of their cap or other places on their uniform and body to access it without the umpire knowing.
Some hitters will hollow out their bat then insert a cork into the middle of it, making it lighter. This enables them to hit the ball farther. This can be exposed if a player’s bat breaks in the course of play, allowing the umpires to see the inside of the bat. The most famous examples of players corking their bats were sluggers Sammy Sosa and Albert Belle.