It Ain't Cheatin' If You Don't Get Caught
While Americans are quick to applaud a sense of fair play in politics and in sport, they also possess a quiet admiration for the "dirty player" one whose cunning, guile and superior skill results in victory and accolades.
As historian Harold Seymour noted, "For good or bad, a consuming urge to win and a willingness to cut a few corners, if necessary to do so, have been a part of the American character since frontier days. These traits, which have contributed toward making the United States the kind of nation it is, were amply reflected by professional ball."
"The base paths belonged to me, the runner. The rules gave me the right. I always went into a bag full speed, feet first. I had sharp spikes on my shoes. If the baseman stood where he had no business to be and got hurt, that was his fault." - Ty Cobb
Some of the best-known tricksters, cheats, and rule-benders of the day:
John McGraw, a member of the rough and rowdy Baltimore Orioles of the 1890s and later manager of the New York Giants, "Mugsy" routinely cut inside bases, impeded baserunners by blocking them or pulling on their belts, and maddened umpires and the opposition with his short fuse and sharp tongue.
- "Sportsmanship and easygoing methods are all right, but it is the prospect of a hot fight that brings out the crowds." - John McGraw
- During his 33-year managerial career McGraw was ejected from a whopping 131 games, or four per season. He set the single-season record in 1905, getting tossed 13 times.
- "Eagle Eye" Jake Beckley was the master of the hidden ball trick, often hiding the baseball under a corner of first base and then retrieving it to tag out unwary baserunners.
- Canadian-born pitcher Russ Ford was a master of the "emery ball," a ball scuffed with emery paper that would take unpredictable dips and twists on its way to the plate.
- Clark Griffith, a standout hurler in both the 19th and 20th centuries, scratched, scuffed, cut, spit and defaced baseballs by banging them against his spikes; later, Griffith would be one of the most outspoken advocates of banning the spitball and other trick pitches.
- Ed Walsh relied on the spitball—a "legal pitch" until 1920—to post a 40-win season with the 1908 Chicago White Sox, hurling an astonishing 464 innings, a modern American League record.
How to throw a spitball:
The spit ball is thrown by wetting the tips of the fingers so that there is no friction at the contact point between finger and ball . This reduces the spin on the ball and makes it drop sharply. There should be moisture on only one side of the ball to make it drop properly. Most old time legal spitball pitchers chewed slippery elm to maintain saliva. There are a number of stories that tell the tale of the origin of the spitball. Most agree that dead-ball era pitcher Elmer Stricklett and minor league player George Hildebrand were involved in developing the pitch, but the jury is still out on the exact chain of events. In 1920 baseball outlawed the spitball, but allowed pitchers who threw the spitball to continue doing so through the rest of their careers.