Entries Tagged 'Bonus Cheating' ↓

Varitek pine tarring his fingers

Astute reader Lance Elroy wrote to point me to a bit of footage where, in the sixth inning, you can – maybe – see Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek putting pine tar on his fingers. It’s during Manny’s at-bat, the 2nd 3-2 pitch: (“good rip by Manny Ramirez…”) there’s a shot of Varitek in the dugout, and it looks like watching the dugout camera to make sure it’s not on, rubbing his hands…? He certainly looks fishy, but I’m not convinced he was up to anything nefarious: he might be getting ready to be put in with Wakefield out (which he was) — you can see during Drew’s at-bat Varitek’s putting his batting gear on, and he’s on-deck with Crisp up. It seems unlikely that Varitek was tarring his hands that early in the inning, and any advantage is deadened by his at-bat preparations.

It wouldn’t be a new trick, though. Catchers assisting their pitchers in ball-doctoring is a long and time-honored tradition. The pitcher’s under a lot of scrutiny, while their catchers are far freer to scuff or put something on a ball for the pitcher to make use of.

But was he trying to get pine tar onto the ball for Lester’s sake? Even if he was intending to go out on the field with tarred hands, there’s another, more prosaic explanation: Varitek’s not particularly good at throwing out runners (this year, he threw out 24% of opposing runners, putting him in the lower half of AL catchers). Pine tar on the fingers would give him a better grip on the ball making the difficult transfer to through, and help him get the throw off faster.

You’re not supposed to do it. But if you can get away with it and gain an advantage, why not?

Football cheating goodness: Patriots in trouble

I’ve been gleefully following the Patriots-Jets controversy, because it’s interesting and because it brings out interesting contrasts in how the two sports handle this. Here’s Chris Mortensen’s ESPN story.

The summary: the NFL took a camera and a videotape from a Patriots “video assistant” when they thought he was taping signals from the Jets coaches.

For one, there hasn’t been a similar coach-taping controversy in baseball yet, even though the nature of baseball makes it so, so tempting. In football, even if you put people on it, to make use of the information you have to either decode it in-game or hope that it’s still valid when you play them again later in the year.

But in baseball, where the series frequently run three or four games, if you crack a team’s system by videotaping their coaches and analyzing it all night, there might be two, three games left where you can take advantage of that information. And if you don’t, you’ve got another chance at it.

Football seems particularly well-suited to this kind of sign-stealing. In baseball, sign-stealing by the home team can give their batters an advantage for a hundred pitches, but that advantage is not all that huge. We can look at teams known to have been stealing signs and there’s no dramatic increase in their offensive performances.

But in football, where a team might only get to run fifty, sixty plays a game, being able to gain insight into the other team’s plays can be game-changing on that next snap. If you knew that every time the other team’s line coach made a particular sign that they blitzed two men, and you could be prepared for it, that could easily be a first down or six points.

The other interesting contrast is that the league’s anti- this. From the article:

Goodell is considering severe sanctions, including the possibility of docking the Patriots “multiple draft picks” because it is the competitive violation in the wake of a stern warning to all teams since he became commissioner, the sources said.

Baseball doesn’t have a rule, much less a stern warning memo to teams. And when these kind of things are suspected, baseball’s head office likes to investigate – and put the screws to teams – out of the public eye. You rarely even hear about them, and that’s generally only an accusation by an angry player that doesn’t get much play.

Here, we’ve already seen “sources” almost certainly close to the commish talking to the press about what happened, why, leading to reporting like “Sources say the visual evidence confirmed the suspicion”. Compared to the absolute silence MLB manages to enforce from their offices, it’s a huge difference. This is strange to me, because as I understand it, the NFL is way, way more controlling of the rules and regulations of how the game is run and what is and isn’t allowed than MLB. But faced with a controversy, they took action and they’re controlling the story.

More Bonds elbow pad fun

Over at Baseball Prospectus, you can listen to an interview with the guy who makes Bonds’ pad. Or read Will Carroll’s write-up if you’re a subscriber.

Good stuff — the guy says that the pad’s not designed to impinge or aid motion in any way, and more interestingly, that he takes detailed measurements of Bonds’ arms every year to build the pads, and Bonds’ measurements haven’t changed in 12 years, which — that’s a particularly interesting thing to say, given what we know about Bonds and his workout regime, and particularly given what we learn in Game of Shadows about Bonds’ use of steroids starting in 1998.

Bonds and the elbow pad

The hot cheating story of the day is Bonds and his elbow pad. Over at Editor and Publisher, Michael Witte argues that it’s actually a mechanical aid that helps his swing. Check it out, he’s got six ways he thinks that monstrosity affects the swing. It’s interesting speculation:

1) The apparatus is hinged at the elbow. It is a literal “hitting machine” that allows Bonds to release his front arm on the same plane during every swing. It largely accounts for the seemingly magical consistency of every Bonds stroke.

I think it makes a little too much of his Home Run Derby performance, and too little of the consistent swing he showed before wearing the pad, but the possibility that protective gear might have a secondary benefit is fascinating.

The only thing I’d take issue with is this:

At the moment, Bonds’ apparatus enjoys “grandfathered” status. Similar devices are presently denied to average major leaguers, who must present evidence of injury before receiving an exemption.

This is not true, and pretty easily verified: in 2002, when the “crackdown” on body armor happened, Bonds was allowed to wear a compliant elbow pad because he had a medical exemption (see here, elsewhere), as required by the rules implemented then.

We’ve seen proposals before that players hit on the pad shouldn’t be awarded a free base, but that only addresses the all-plunking side of this (that you get extra HBP and better plate coverage). If Whitte’s article spurs baseball to look into whether this kind of gear can confer an extra mechanical advantage, I’m all for it, if only because I’m as interested in anyone to see if there’s been some quality cheating going on under everyone’s noses for years.

(thanks to the several readers who bugged me to write this up)

Lowell’s shoulder on Saturday

In Saturday’s Red Sox-Yankees game, Mike Lowell made that’s pretty clearly a much more egregious plan on the basepaths. From the recap on ESPN:

A night after Lowell took a pitch off his left wrist — one of five hit batsman in the game — he had three hits and four RBIs. He was also involved in a little basepath payback in the fourth when he slammed his right shoulder — and a little bit of his elbow — into Cano in an attempt to break up a double play.

Cano bounced the ball to first as he fell to the dirt, just getting Varitek at first.

“I never had a problem with him before,” Cano said. “Today he threw his elbow.”

But Torre said it was a clean play. Lowell, who spent his first four professional seasons in the Yankees organization, insisted he meant no harm.

“They taught me how to do it,” he said.

If you see the highlight, it’s a little remarkable that Cano made the play at all.

The interesting thing for me is that no matter how you want to interpret the rules, in terms of actual interference in a play on the field, Lowell’s action is far more direct and disruptive than what Alex did… but Lowell doesn’t face the same kind of scrutiny and discussion that Alex’s action did. Lowell’s play is even noted as being, essentially, hard but clean.

Why? Is it because Lowell doesn’t carry Alex’s reputation? Because breaking up a double play is acceptable? Or is it as simple as Cano somehow making the throw to get the out at first?

Story on Perry marinating self for added advantage

Frank Jordan wrote:

I have an addendum for the Gaylord Perry section. I once went to a Mariner game and sat in row 1 behind the Mariners bullpen at the Kingdome. Gaylord Perry was pitching that day and was warming up before the game right in front of us. When he got done warming up he sat down in front of us to cool down for a moment before leaving to head into the clubhouse. Left in front of us were two players. I can’t remember their names ( I was 12) but I believe one of them was Terry “Bud” Bulling, and the other was a relief pitcher.

I turned to my friend after Perry left and said, “Man, Perry STINKS.” (His smell, not his performance.)

The catcher turned to me and said, “Oh, so you now know his secret.”

“His secret? How do you mean?”

““Gaylord coats his entire body with Ben-Gay before the game, and when he sweats during the game his entire uniform becomes a big greaseball. He can touch any part of his uniform to throw a greaseball. The umpires can check him all they want, but Ben-Gay isn’t illegal and there’s nothing they can do about it.”

This was in the days before the odorless Sportscreme. It would be even easier to pull off today. (Ben-Gaylord?)

I didn’t encounter anything like this while doing book research, and I did a ton of Gaylord Perry reading writing that part of the book. But I don’t find this particularly implausible – Perry freely admits that he was willing to try anything, no matter how outlandish, in his pursuit of excellence through ball-doctoring.

And even if the catcher was putting him on, it’s still funny.

The potentially applicable rules to A-Rod

(Updated: reader Jeffrey Lang-Weir pointed out that there is a definition in 2, which led to this re-write)

Rule 2 defines interference.

(a) Offensive interference is an act by the team at bat which interferes with, obstructs, impedes, hinders or confuses any fielder attempting to make a play. If the umpire declares the batter, batter- runner, or a runner out for interference, all other runners shall return to the last base that was in the judgment of the umpire, legally touched at the time of the interference, unless otherwise provided by these rules.

Rule 7.08 deals with when a runner’s out, and this is what those who would argue that A-Rod should have been called out are referring to:

Any runner is out when –
(b) He intentionally interferes with a thrown ball; or hinders a fielder
attempting to make a play on a batted ball;
Rule 7.08(b) Comment: A runner who is adjudged to have hindered a fielder who is attempting to make a play on a batted ball is out whether it was intentional or not.

Now, watching the replay it’s pretty clear that when he runs through, that’s okay: as long as he doesn’t get in the way of the fielder making the play, he’s fine.

The issue is – does yelling at the fielders count as hindering them as they attempt to make a play on the batter?

While what we see enforced in games is is that physically hampering the fielder is illegal (and almost never done) while vocally attempting the same thing is, at least, not enforced, it’s clear from the definition that confusing the fielder is illegal and offensive interference.

As long as it’s not enforced – like foreign substances on uniforms for pitchers – a runner would be dumb not to take advantage of it when it could so clearly help his team.

With two outs, too, what’s the harm? If it doesn’t work, inning over. If it works, huge benefit. There’s no reason for him not to try, and that’s why it’s a smart play on his part. I’m sure – to editorialize for a second – that if this had been Jeter, or if you don’t think Jeter would do that, pick a saavy popular veteran of your choice – that this would hardly be the subject of that much controversy.

A-Rod calling for a pop-up

Several readers sent this in: A-Rod, while a baserunner, called for a pop-up, orrr maybe he didn’t.

ESPN’s game recap

Rodriguez hit an RBI single with two outs in the ninth that made it 7-5. Jorge Posada followed with a high infield pop and Rodriguez ran hard, cutting between Clark and shortstop John McDonald.

Replays showed Rodriguez shouting something, and Clark backed off at the last second. McDonald was only a few steps behind Clark, but couldn’t make the catch and ball dropped for an RBI single.

“I just said, ‘Hah!’ That’s it,” Rodriguez said. “Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”

also, if he did call for it, that’d be cool, right, because

Rodriguez said three or four times each week, opponents shout at him while he pursues foul pops near their dugout.

Not that he’s saying he did. It’s interesting, we talked about a similar play in a college game just last week.

It’s a nice play if you can get away with it. I’ll update with more quotes as, inevitably, this gets more press. Here, with the Yankees ahead 7-5, his action turned an out into a single on the way to a four-run ninth inning and a final score of 10-5. It didn’t turn out to be the difference maker, but it was directly responsible for giving the Yankees a chance tos core three more runs. That’s a huge swing.

Freel, a collision and a faked catch

Several readers have emailed, but Dave Steinberg managed to be first, so: check out this MLB.com story on Ryan Freel, who it turns out didn’t catch a ball — it was put in his glove by Reds outfielder Norris Hopper as Freel lay prone on the warning track.

Scary, funny, cunning, and a remarkable bit of clear thinking by Hopper, given the circumstances.

The line between training and cheating

In the book, I talk a little about the hazy line between “what an athlete could achieve normally” and “cheating” in the context of nutritional supplements and other training devices.

I thought of this when I read this Wired article, “Wayne Gretzky-Style ‘Field Sense’ May Be Teachable

Essentially, it appears that there are ways that you can help teach a player to have a better sense of spatial relationships, specifically in recognizing where a tennis serve will go with almost no information. Read the article – I found it fascinating.

But it raises the old issue: when does this get to the point of being an unfair advantage? We already see tennis prodigies raised by their parents to play (parents take jobs near supercoaches, drive the kids ridiculous distances, pay for tournament entries) that give them a huge head start over a similarly-talented kid growing up in rural Idaho, or Atlanta, who doesn’t have access to the same resources.

If you can teach young baseball kids better pitch recognition skills that make them dramatically better prospects, but the equipment costs $50,000 to use for a year, who does that help, and who does that hurt? Does it also severely unbalance the game in favor of rich countries?

We see some of this already in the construction of batting cages, but other sports – track and field, for instance, was the first to adopt use of hyperbaric chambers designed to allow athletes to sleep in low-oxygen environments without having to hike up a mountain. Now we’re starting to see basketball players use it.

Technically, you could travel up a mountain, sleep, come down for a game or practice or other training, and then go back up every night. It’s possible.

But if the issue is fairness, then equipment and training techniques like those detailed in the article make performance dependent in some respects on monetary resources over individual merit, and that’s not fair.

And if the issue is limiting the use of training techniques, where do you draw the line between teaching pitch recognition, like this, and batting cages? Are pitchers who can get full biomechanical workups early at a distinct advantage over those who don’t?

All these questions and more will have to be confronted in the coming years, and potentially could dramatically affect the way baseball recruits and develops its talent.