Joel Peralta revives old-school cheating

June, 19, 2012
6/19/12
11:59
PM ET
Before steroids and HGH and the cream and the clear and other substances of superpower magic, we had old-school baseball: You know, stealing signs from center field, corking the bat, spitting on the ball, using the catcher's belt buckle to cut the ball, nail files, watering the dirt around the basepaths if the visiting team had speedy players, rubbing pine tar or other sticky goo on your glove, maybe a little K-Y jelly on the bill of your cap, pitching from six inches in front of the rubber, using superballs in your bat, taping a thumbtack to your index finger, altering the dimensions of the batter's box, tilting the foul lines, or even just a good ol' first baseman yanking a baserunner off the bag in a key moment of a World Series game.

So, thank you, Joel Peralta, for reminding us how baseball was meant to be played, when breaking the rules and cheating were considering a form of art rather than a moral affront against the grand traditions of the game. Peralta was ejected in the eighth inning of Tuesday night's game against the Nationals for having a foreign substance on his glove.

That was how you cheated back in the day. If you thought you could get away with it, you tried it. The spitball was banned in 1920? So many pitchers still threw it in the 1950s that former Dodgers pitcher Claude Osteen called it the decade of the spitter. In their book, "The Baseball Codes," Jason Turbow and Michael Duca write how the spitball was so pervasive that in 1955 commissioner Ford Frick lobbied for the relegalization of the pitch.

So, Joel, there is no shame in trying to pull one over on your opponents, the umpires and the fans who paid hard-earned money to witness a contest believed to be on the up and up. After all, Whitey Ford is in the Hall of Fame and he used to mix a concoction of turpentine, baby oil and rosin that he kept in the dugout during games. Gaylord Perry is in the Hall of Fame thanks to his ability in doctoring up the baseball -- or at least, with his swipes and tugs of his cap, deceiving hitters into thinking he was doctoring the baseball (Perry's young daughter once said her daddy just threw a "hard slider"). According to Turbow and Duca, Pete Rose insisted that Angels pitcher Bill Singer threw him four straight spitballs in the 1973 All-Star Game, one which hit catcher Carlton Fisk and bounced away. ("He didn't even tell me the damn thing was coming," Rose quotes Fisk as saying.)

Heck, we all remember Kenny Rogers in the 2006 playoffs when he didn't allow a run in three postseason starts. So he had some unknown brown smudge on his hand? Tony La Russa questioned the umpires about Rogers during the World Series and while Rogers was ordered to wash off the foreign substance, he wasn't ejected from the game. Hey, it ain't cheatin' if you don't get caught.

But you did get caught, Joel. Still, your teammate Carlos Pena stood up for you. "Someone called him out or betrayed him," Pena said after the game on the Rays' broadcast. "Someone who was his teammate. ... I don't think that's good sportsmanship."

Peralta played for the Nationals in 2010. Washington first-base coach Trent Jewett managed Peralta in Triple-A that year as well. So any number of people could have tipped off manager Davey Johnson to Peralta's grooming habits.

If anything, that's the disappointing thing. Foreign substance on your glove? Boring. Rick Honeycutt once used a thumbtack to cut the ball. Joe Niekro got caught with an emery board in his back pocket. Kevin Gross used sandpaper. Nolan Ryan, in his book "Throwing Heat," admitted to sometimes pitching from in front of the rubber. "On occasion I've pitched from about six inches in front of the rubber when I've needed the big strikeout," Ryan wrote. "And I know I'm not the only one who's done that."

The highlight of all this was after Peralta was ejected from the game and Rays manager Joe Maddon had the umpires check the cap and glove of Nationals reliever Ryan Mattheus. Gamesmanship at its best! It's the excitement of beanball wars without the threat of injury.

Plus, you have to appreciate that Peralta respects the traditions of the game. Too many of today's players don't appreciate the game's history. How many even know who Whitey Ford or Gaylord Perry are?

Funny, just today Phillies infielder Freddy Galvis sent out a statement apologizing for not using an illegal substance after he was caught with an illegal substance. Just yesterday, Roger Clemens was declared a free man when acquitted on all charges that he obstructed and lied to Congress in denying he used performance-enhancing drugs.

But Clemens, I suppose, is still a cheater in the minds of many.

Joel Peralta? He's an artist.

PHOTO OF THE DAY
Craig KimbrelDebby Wong/US PresswireCraig Kimbrel with a lead? You wouldn't want to get between a predator and his prey, would you?

David Schoenfield | email

SweetSpot blogger

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