Jay Greeson: Some baseball cheating seen as good fun

Jay Greeson: Some baseball cheating seen as good fun

June 22nd, 2012 by Jay Greeson in Sports - Columns

Tampa Bay relief pitcher Joel Peralta was tossed from a game this week because he had pine tar on his glove.

It was a story that allowed us to review the great old baseball images of George Brett exploding onto the field after the umpires said his ninth-inning homer in Yankee Stadium in 1985 was denied because he had too much pine tar on his bat. It also called to mind the time that Joe Niekro flipped his emery board across the infield and when a Cleveland Indians employee was caught trying to sneak a loaded bat that belonged to Albert Belle out of the umpires' dressing room.

Ah, the hijinks of those crazy baseball players.

But after the recent verdict involving Roger Clemens, it raised an interesting question about baseball's rules: Why are certain forms of cheating (scuffing the ball, corked bats, etc.) good-natured fun while steroids (which were not even against baseball's official rules until the mid-2000s) are akin to flag-burning and ordering the McRib sandwich at McDonald's?

(Side question: Why do the good folks who make the McRib shape the "meat" into something that looks like it has bones? Is that really a good goal for a sandwich -- to give the appearance of bones? And yes, we know the Mickey D folks have served billions and billions, but it's still worth asking.)

Anyhoo, where were we?

Oh yeah, baseball's finicky determination of which rules are pure and which are purely suggested. Why is there overwhelming hatred of alleged steroids users and a lovable embrace for actual rule breakers?

Stealing signs, scuffing up the ball, juicing the bat -- each of those are competitive edges and games within the game, but steroids are somehow the devil's work.

Gaylord Perry got into the Hall of Fame by cheating more than Barry Bonds or Clemens, and Perry needed the forbidden agents to doctor up the baseball to win his 314 games. But Perry's a crafty veteran and Clemens and Bonds are scourges of humanity? OK, whatever.

Sure, Perry was a cuddly grandfather-esque fellow who grinned and heed and hawed about his Eddie Harris version of putting snot on the ball. And Bonds and Clemens were as pleasant as an afternoon IRS audit after an early-morning root canal, but that does not differentiate between the indifference to Perry's blatant disregard for the rules and Clemens' and Bonds' obvious disregard for what in truth was illegal but not against baseball's rules.

So how are we to know which rules are sacred and which are suggestions?

We've known for years that the baseball Hall of Fame voters are anti-steroids, but you know what that's ultimately going to achieve? Baseball's Hall of Fame is going to be watered down. Yep, by keeping the alleged and the admitted steroid users out for the time being, baseball writers are going to feel inclined to vote for someone.

That means the Jim Rices or the Jim Kaats or even the Dave Stewarts of the world are going to get an extra review or two. (In fact, if a guy is on the ballot more than five years, then it's time to move along. The simplest definition of determining whether a player is a Hall of Famer should be: Ask yourself if he is a Hall of Famer, and if you pause more than two seconds, he's not. Period. This is not the Hall of Really Good or even the Hall of Great, it's the flippin' Hall of Fame, and not everyone gets a trophy.)

But eventually, Bonds, Clemens, Alex Rodriguez, Sammy Sosa and the lot will get into the Hall of Fame and we all know it. In fact, the second definition for inclusion is whether a player is one of the best of his era, and if you're playing in the steroids era, so be it.