Sammy Sosa and Three More of Baseball’s Funniest Cheating Scandals

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Another baseball season will soon be upon us, as opening day commences in about 48 hours. Time to look back at some of the funniest baseball cheating scandals in history. With Michael Pineda’s pine tar-smeared neck transports us to a time when baseball cheating was simpler; a time before steroids and the AnabolicEnergy boost that they provide to users, congressional committees and televised testimony about injecting HGH into Roger Clemens’s behind. Pineda’s beautiful incompetence reveals how much we long for the stress-free cheats of old.

We want one individual scuffing a ball with a nail file, not this ongoing battle for baseball’s soul. Those who love to bet on baseball can easily recall the game’s most memorable and in retrospect, harmless, cheaters. Some were good at it, like Don Sutton, and some were terrible at it, like Joe Niekro. Let’s take a look at four classic cheating moments from baseball’s recent history.

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Joe Niekro and the Nail File

Minnesota Twins pitcher Joe Niekro has an undisputed home in baseball’s hall of shame. Niekro threw the knuckleball, a pitch that regularly seems to defy the laws of physics. However, in 1987, with Minnesota playing the Angels, umpire Tim Tschida came out to the mound and asked Niekro to empty his pockets. Niekro flicked a nail file behind him, a moment that lives forever on highlight reels. The umpires confiscated the nail file, a piece of sandpaper and a bag of scuffed-up baseballs.

Niekro pleaded innocent, saying that he used the nail file to keep his nails close so that he could throw the knuckleball. He said that the sandpaper was a backup in case his sweat made the Emery board wet. However, Angels manager Gene Mauch said that the balls weren’t scuffed; they were “borderline mutilated … Nobody ever suspected Joe Niekro,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “Everybody always knew it.”

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Sammy Sosa and the Corked Bat

In 2003, when Major League Baseball was just starting to get serious about steroid testing, a noticeably smaller Sammy Sosa showed up for spring training. In April, he took a pitch to the head, which caused him to start standing farther back in the batter’s box.

He couldn’t reach any outside pitches, which pulled his average down to .285 with six home runs and 24 RBIs. Then, on June 3, against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Sosa hit a grounder to second that split his bat. When umpires looked at the bat, they found that a piece of cork had been notched into the center.

Sosa insisted that he’d brought the corked bat out for batting practice to put on a show for the fans. He forgot that he was still using the corked bat when he went to home plate. Of course, no one believed him, but observers seemed more sad than angry. “You don’t want to see that happen to a great player like Sammy,” said Lou Piniella, who was Tampa Bay’s manager. “I care about the great players in this game, and Sammy certainly is in that category.”

Toronto Blue Jays and the “Man in White”

In mid-July 2010, Yankees manager Joe Girardi suggested that the Toronto Blue Jays were stealing signs. He told reporters that he had started using multiple signs whenever his team played at Rogers Centre, even when the bases were empty.

An ESPN reporter began to investigate the allegations and received confirmation from four American League relief pitchers that a man in white was relaying signs to the Blue Jays every time the visiting pitcher threw an off-speed pitch. The players guessed that he was receiving information via Bluetooth from someone else in the stadium that was watching the visiting catcher through binoculars. Toronto’s general manager denied the allegations, but the Blue Jays never escaped the shadow of the Man in White.

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Don Sutton and the Fifth Pitch

Former Dodgers and Astros pitcher Don Sutton was always accused of doctoring his baseballs. Once, when asked whether he doctored his baseballs with a “foreign substance,” Sutton replied, “Not true at all. Vaseline is manufactured right here in the United States of America.”

When umpires would ask Sutton to empty his pockets, they’d find notes that said, “You’re getting warmer” or “Ask Sparky, he knows everything.” He was once ejected from a game for allegedly scuffing the ball, but umpire Doug Harvey admitted that he had no evidence that Sutton had altered the baseball. Sutton called the suspicions his “fifth pitch,” saying it only existed in the batter’s mind. Of course, the batter had enough to worry about trying to hit Sutton’s curveball and his slider.

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