Paging Doctor Baseball

Paging Doctor Baseball

Earning a P.H.D

Welcome to the wonderful world of deceit. Where pitches aren’t what they seem and the laws of physics are challenged by saliva, K-Y jelly, Vaseline, fishing line wax, pine tar, rosin, sweat, emery boards, and nail files. That’s right, folks, we are talking about the art of doctoring a baseball. How and why should one do this to an innocent little baseball? Sit back, relax, and learn the ways of the guileful pitchers that have–and still do–grace this multifaceted game.

What’s The Big Idea on Baseball Doctoring

The idea is to win and one would hope that this winning comes through honest endeavors, but unfortunately at times it doesn’t. Many pitchers throughout the history of the game have done various things to gain an advantage and defacing or adding a slippery or sticky substance to the old horsehide has been a more common occurrence than most know. By using a small piece of sandpaper to scuff a ball a pitcher can change its’ flight path. In addition, by adding some pine tar to their fingers they can increase their grip on the ball. This allows the pitcher better control over their pitches. The possibilities are endless, which is just how the crafty pitcher likes it.

The Who

Although, who are these masters of cunning? They are more common than you think and to discuss all that have partaken would fill volumes, so we’ll keep it to a select few of the more recognizable and who easier to recognize than the one standing right next to you. That’s right, first up are the current players that have most recently faced down the long arm of the ball doctoring law.

The Now on Baseball Doctoring

In March of 2020, the Los Angeles Angels fired their clubhouse attendant, Brian Harkins for providing pitchers with a blend of pine tar and resin. Harkins had worked for the Angels for nearly forty years. After his firing he filed a defamation lawsuit against the Angels and Major League Baseball. Harkins feels that he was unfairly made the scapegoat for ball-doctoring even though it has been going on since the spitball was outlawed in 1920. Since the filing it has come to light that many of baseball’s top pitchers including Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Felix Hernandez, Corey Kluber, and Adam Wainwright all partook in some sticky fingers. Also, in a recent interview, Trevor Bauer claimed that 70 percent of MLB pitchers are using substances to enhance pitches.

2006

During the 2006 playoffs, 41-year-old pitcher Kenny Rogers had a streak of 23 scoreless innings. Rogers’ performance helped propel the Detroit Tigers to the World Series and also to their only win of the series in Game Two when he pitched eight scoreless innings. There were also at least two photos taken of Rogers’ hand with an odd looking brown substance on the palm. One of the pictures is from Game Three of the American Championship Series. The other is from Game Two of the World Series. Rogers claimed it was dirt, but it looked strangely like pine tar. Seemed like a bit of a sticky situation.

The Bulldog

Orel Hershiser was known for his competitive spirit. However, after having shoulder surgery in 1991, the Bulldog’s spirit may have turned to something more devious. It was suspected by many that Orel was dampening the ball with something produced by the salivary glands. The most well known incident happened in 1997 when Hershiser was pitching for the Cleveland Indians.

Cleveland was facing the Baltimore Orioles in the ALCS and Orel pitched seven innings of shutout ball. Following the game, Orioles manager, Davey Johnson said that Orel was “going from his mouth to the ball” and that he “prefers to have the cover of the ball moist”. In addition to Johnson’s comments, Orel’s teammate, Chad Ogea stated that Hershiser, “showed me how to cheat, but said I can’t do it until I’m about 35.” Nothing came of the incident and Orel laughed it off.

Mike Scott and Baseball Doctoring

From 1979 to 1984, Mike Scott had numbers that were, well, mediocre. He had a 29-44 record with a 4.45 ERA. Then a miraculous thing happened. As Scott grew older, his pitching got better. This is not a common thing. Typically as arms get old they tend to lose some gas. Although, in Scott’s case he became a three-time All Star and won the Cy Young in 1986. His numbers following the 1984 season flipped and over the next five seasons he posted an 86-49 record with a 2.93 ERA. How did Mr. Scott do this? By scuffing baseballs. If you don’t believe it, let’s just ask Mike himself who said “I’ve thrown balls that were scuffed, but I haven’t scuffed every ball that I’ve thrown.” Sounds pretty close to a confession wouldn’t you say?

Whitey

There have been at least two books that document Whitey Ford’s underhanded actions. In Jim Bouton’s Ball Four, Bouton tells in detail how Ford would scuff the ball. Also in another book, Slick, co-written by Ford, he tells in detail about doctoring baseballs. One such admission involves the Yankees grounds crew. The crew would soak an area near where Yankee catcher, Elston Howard was positioned. Howard would then load up the ball with mud before returning it to Ford, creating what Ford called “mud balls”. In addition to his less than clean baseballs, Whitey also admits to having a special ring made for scuffing. Ford sure had a little help along the way to compiling the highest winning percentage (.690) of any pitcher in the 20th century.

Joe Niekro

Joe Niekro, brother of Hall of Fame pitcher, Phil Niekro, was caught in 1987 with a few things in his pockets. While pitching for the Twins, Joe was paid a visit by suspecting umpires. The umpires asked Joe to empty his pockets and he did, in a sneaky way. Niekro’s slight of hand is caught on video with an emery board flying one way and sandpaper the other. For his transgressions, Joe was given a 10-game suspension and an interview with David Letterman.

The Grand Master of Baseball Doctoring

When it comes to the best ball doctor there are none better than Gaylord Perry. Perry used whatever he could get his hands on, with Vaseline being his favorite. He also used Brylcreem, spit, and fishing line oil. He hid it everywhere from his hat to his hair to his face and even on a locket around his neck.

Furthermore, not only did he use foreign substances as a way to improve his pitches, he also used them as a form of psychological warfare. He would fidget about on the mound, touching his face, glove, uniform, and hat. This caused the hitter to think that he had a Vaseline ball coming his way, even if he didn’t. Perry was constantly visited by umpires, although he wasn’t ejected for ball doctoring until twenty years into his career. He even wrote a book called, Me and the Spitter. Hands down, Perry was the best.

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Players Mentioned: Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Felix Hernandez, Corey Kluber, Adam Wainwright, Trevor Bauer, Kenny Rogers, Orel Hershiser, Chad Ogea, Mike Scott, Whitey Ford, Jim Bouton, Elston Howard, Joe Niekro, Phil Niekro, Gaylord Perry

Manager Mentioned: Davey Johnson