back to top

A Guide To Cheating In Baseball

Not all methods are created equal.

Posted on

For as long as baseball has been around, players have tried to gain a competitive advantage. As players and the sport have evolved, cheating has become increasingly frowned upon and difficult to get away with.

Some ways to cheat should stay away forever. Others are worth checking out again. We took a look at some known methods and considered the harm done to the sport and the shameless attempts by players who wanted to get ahead.


APA / Getty Images

How it works:

1) Saliva is applied to one side of a baseball, causing it to break sideways in the direction of the slobbery side.

2) With their fingers not on the seams, the pitcher used saliva to grease the ball before pinching it between their thumb and fingers. The ball was essentially squeezed out during the throw, giving it minimal spin and maximum drop.

Why it's illegal:

It's totally unsanitary and more importantly, super dangerous. The only fatality in MLB history occurred when Ray Chapman was struck in the side of the head by a spitball. This is why umpires regularly swap out dirty balls during the game.


- There were a few players grandfathered in after the 1920 ban, including Burleigh Grimes and Urban Shocker.

-Gaylord Perry.

- Alex Sanabia of the Miami Marlins threw a blatant spitball in 2013.

- Clay Buchholz has been accused of the practice.

- Jose Valverde might have tossed one in 2012.

Should it be legal?

Lindsey: There's no reason to bring it back. There are a few pitches with similar advantages as the spitball.

Logan: For some reason, I'm okay with this. I guess it's because the pitchers are just using what they got, you know? Way to be resourceful, fellas.

Matt: The spitball is a lost art form, and the reason it's lost is because it's dangerous. You can't have a guy throwing 95 mph and having no idea where the ball in ending up.

Badass meter: 6.

Stealing signs

FSN Rocky Mountain / AP Photo

How it works: Signals used by the opposing team are studied and deciphered.

Why it's illegal: It's not fully illegal. It's viewed as unsportsmanlike, but deciphering signals during gameplay is not in violation of the rules. Reviewing footage after the play is illegal.

Notable examples:

- "The Shot Heard 'Round the World" (1951): Bobby Thomson of the New York Giants hit a game-winning home run against the Brooklyn Dodgers, winning them the National League pennant. 50 years later, it was revealed that the Giants were watching and relaying catchers' signs, suggesting Thomson knew he would be facing a fastball.

- In 2010, it was suggested that Mick Billmeyer, then the bullpen coach for the Phillies, used binoculars to scope out the Rockies' bullpen.

Should it be legal?

Lindsey: We should ask Bill Belichick. Just kidding. Decoding signals from recordings is lame as hell and tells me your team can't win on their own abilities. I am, however, aggressively in support of figuring it out during gameplay, though that once went really poorly for Greg Maddux and Will Clark.

Logan: I am totally for this. If you can steal a sign and pass that info along before the play happens, that's just outsmarting and outplaying your opponent. It's not stealing if the information is available, yo. Come up with better signs or learn to hide them better.

Matt: Stealing signals by simply observing is part of the game. I have no problem with people in the dugout paying attention to coaches signs as long as there are no electronics involved. Although any hitter that peeks at a catcher's signs is a scumbag — firm rule.

Badass meter: 5.

Pine tar

MLB / Via Twitter: @SBNationGIF

How it works: Gives the pitcher a better grip/more control over the ball. It might actually benefit hitter safety.

Why it's illegal: Rule 8.02 from the Official Baseball Rules states a pitcher may not " apply a foreign substance of any kind to the ball".

Pitchers who have been said to use pine tar:

- Michael Pineda, who might be the most courageous or idiotic cheater in recent history.

- Kenny Rogers of the Detroit Tigers.

- Craig Kimbrel of the Atlanta Braves.

Should it be legal?

Lindsey: Hell yes. Pine tar is legally used to control bats and it lowers the chances of a batter being hit by a pitch.

Logan: Eh, screw it. Pine tar for everyone!

Matt: Pitchers claim that "sometimes" they use pine tar to "get a better grip on the ball," but isn't that exactly what the rosin bag is for?

Badass meter: 8.



How it works: It pretty much gives the ball the sideways break like the spitball, but it's a little bit less gross.

Why it's illegal: Poses the same risks as the spitball. Falls under rule 8.02.

Players who have been said to use Vaseline:

- Gaylord Perry admitted to hiding Vaseline on the zipper of his pants.

- Jon Lester was accused of using Vaseline during the 2013 World Series.

Should it be legal?

Lindsey: No. Unpredictable pitches can be done legally.

Logan: I don't know why, but I don't trust Vaseline. And I definitely don't trust it in the hands of pitchers. I say no.

Matt: Nope. Never trust a man who has Vaseline with him at all times.

Badass meter: 2.

Sandpaper/emery boards


How it works: The pitcher scuffs the ball, giving them a better grip and more movement.

Why it's illegal: Defacing the ball is listed as a violation under rule 8.02.

Players who have scuffed their baseballs:

- Joe Nierko got busted with an emery board when it fell out of his pocket in front of an umpire.

- Kevin Gross was caught with sandpaper in his glove.

Should it be legal?

Lindsey: Nope. It physically changes the baseball, which to me is more violating than applying a slippery or sticky substance to the surface.

Logan: Yes. Professional ball players are such babies when it comes to the condition of a baseball. "Oh, the pitch hit the dirt? Let's get another one." Psh. Get out of here with that weak shit. Baseballs get scuffed up, man. Deal with it.

Matt: Fuck no. Have you ever scuffed up a wiffleball and noticed that suddenly your curveball drops six feet in a millisecond? Imagine what a major league pitcher can do with a scuffed up baseball. This is hardcore cheating, just ask the 1986 Mets (or anyone in the National League in '86) about Houston's Mike Scott.

Badass meter: 5.


How it works:

1) Games are thrown to result in a pre-determined outcome.

2) A person employed by a team bets on (or against) the outcome of a game.

Why it's illegal: Rule 21 from the Official Baseball Rules specifically lists gifts for defeating a team, gifts for umpires, and betting on games as grounds for permanent ineligibility. It's also just kind of shitty for fans.


- Eight players from the Chicago White Sox were banned from the league after being accused of throwing the 1919 World Series. It was after this incident that the first Commissioner of Baseball was appointed.

- Pete Rose, all-time hit leader, was banned from baseball and the Hall of Fame when it was uncovered he had bet on Major League games while managing the Cincinnati Reds. Rose has admitted to being guilty, but maintains he never bet against the Reds.

Should it be legal?

Lindsey: Uh, no. The lack of predictability in baseball is probably my favorite thing about the sport. Plus, I like to believe players on my team are dedicating their lives to baseball for my enjoyment, not for their own personal gain. Or something. But c'mon, it's time to forgive Pete Rose.

Logan: As a fan, this crap pisses me off so much. No. Just no.

Matt: Absolutely not. The idea of a player or manager deliberately altering the outcome ruins the game for fans. This has nothing to do with gaining a competitive advantage — it's solely about greed.

Badass meter: -1000.


How it works: Cuts the ball, altering the path of the ball.

Why it's illegal: Definitely a unique way to deface a baseball.

Players who have used thumbtacks:

Rick Honeycutt is the only player to be caught using a thumbtack to alter the baseball. He had taped the tack to his finger and accidentally scratched his own face with it, leaving a gash discovered by the umpires.

Should it be legal?

Lindsey: No, but...I know I said I find it super violating to physically alter the beloved baseball, but something about pitchers TAPING sharp objects to their hands and causing self-harm, all for a bit more movement in a pitch, is hilarious to me.

Logan: Yep. It's like a more intense scuffed up ball. Stop whining and start running to first base, you pansies.

Matt: Nope. Why don't we just give pitchers Swiss Army knifes while we're at it?

Badass meter: 8.

Corked bats

How it works: The core of a bat is modified, usually with cork, to make the bat lighter, allowing a player to swing with more power. Studies have shown that the cork actually absorbs kinetic energy, making the ball travel a shorter distance with less power.

Why it's illegal:
Just as rules forbid modifying the baseball, altered bats are illegal under section 6 of the Official Baseball Rules. The same rule actually forbids coated bats, but coating up to 18 inches of the bat with pine tar is legal.

Players who have used corked bats:

- Sammy Sosa, of course. Just for batting practice though, right?

- Wilton Guerrero of the Dodgers.

- Albert Belle of the Indians.

Should it be legal?

Lindsey: The study that says balls actually travel a shorter distance kind of debunks my only defense of the practice: excitement. No increase in dingers? No point.

Logan: Corking your bat sounds so scientific and clever, but it's actually kind of lame. I suppose I have to say this should be legal since I am all for messing with the baseball, right? Wrong! I make my own rules! No corked bats!

Matt: The idea of corking a bat just seems childish to me. It reminds me of the Vortex power bat. I don't care if people do it, only because I hope their bat breaks and they get caught and shamed.

Badass meter: 6.

Performance enhancing drugs (PEDs)

Lisa Blumenfeld / Getty Images

How it works: Take drugs. Grow freakishly strong and athletic. Break records and bats.

Why it's illegal: It doesn't really need to be said, but it gives a player a ridiculously unfair advantage.

Players who have used and been caught with using PEDs:

- Jose Canseco.

- Mark McGwire.

- Barry Bonds.

- Alex Rodriguez.

- Probably anyone you ever called your hero.

Should it be legal?

Lindsey: Nah. Keep baseball pure, or whatever. However, can anyone deny some of the most notorious users haven't been arguably the most entertaining? At least we got some good 'ole slugfests out of the steroid era.

Logan: Yes. I am so pro PEDs, it's not even funny. Athletes are paid mega bucks to be entertaining, so if taking steroids or whatever makes them play better, I say go for it. I appreciate that sacrifice and it clearly pays off. Don't even pretend like the McGwire-Sosa home run race wasn't amazing to watch.

Matt: No. Professional athletes do something that the average person can't and that is why we watch. We watch in awe when a pitcher throws 100 mph or a hitter mashes a 500 ft. home run. Having to think, "well, I wonder if he's on something?" ruins the game. Plus if they were legalized it would almost force every player to use, because if they aren't getting the utmost competitive advantage they aren't doing their job. The PED-era was certainly fun to watch, but it was like watching a video game and as long as we still call baseball "America's Pastime" I don't think steroids should have a place in the game.

Badass meter: 3.