Judging the Royals

How pitchers cheat: They do it in plain sight, not behind the scenes

Home plate umpire John Flaherty checks Cleveland Indians pitcher Gaylord Perry's cap for an illegal substance in 1973
Home plate umpire John Flaherty checks Cleveland Indians pitcher Gaylord Perry's cap for an illegal substance in 1973 AP

On Tuesday, the Associated Press published an article that said Major League Baseball had a new security plan to further safeguard baseballs: an MLB representative watches them get carried from the umpires’ room to the field.

This is a subject of discussion because of Tom Brady and “Deflategate” — and don’t you love the creativity that the media shows by adding the word “gate” to any scandal 42 years after the original scandal happened?

OK, where was I?

Oh, yeah: MLB is making sure baseballs are not tampered with between the umpires’ room and the field — good job guys, because that’s not when it happens. If someone is going to doctor a baseball, generally speaking, it happens on the field, right in front of the umpires and fans.

If you’re a baseball fan you already know about pitchers that hide substances on their body — pine tar, Vaseline and for the adult crowd, K-Y Jelly — and then add that substance to a baseball in order to change the ball’s flight; but there may be a few tricks you haven’t heard of.

Ever see a pitcher walk behind the mound and rub up a baseball while he ponders the meaning of life and the perils of throwing the next pitch? Dan Quisenberry once told me that some pitchers are actually using their thumbnail to raise the seams on the ball while they rub it up.

Want that next curve or slider to be particularly nasty? Rub up the baseball and raise the seams while you do it.

Another trick is for the catcher to bounce the throw down to second base between innings. If the umpire sees the throw bounce, he’ll switch out the baseballs, but if the umpire is talking to a manager or chatting up a fan (umpires have groupies, too) the pitcher will have a baseball with a nice scuff on it.

But not all pitchers want one.

Spend time talking to pitchers and almost every one of them will admit to throwing a scuffed baseball at some time or another. After all, MLB makes a big deal out of removing any ball that hits the dirt when thrown by a pitcher, but then lets baseballs that have been whacked off a chain link fence stay in play. Sooner or later a pitcher is going to be holding a scuffed baseball in his hand, even if he didn’t scuff it. Guys who know what to do with a scuffed ball have an advantage; guys who don’t want a new ball.

That’s when catchers want to go out and choke pitchers: the catcher scuffed a baseball for him, but the pitcher doesn’t know what to do with it. Learning how to use what the good Lord and a wily catcher gave you is part of being a big-league pitcher.

And sometimes it’s not the pitcher that doesn’t know what to do with a scuffed ball.

When the Cleveland Indians were in town, their catcher bounced a between-innings throw. When the ball was thrown around the infield, the third baseman decided it was too scuffed to play with and asked for a new one.

Dude: give that ball to the pitcher and let him decide.

And as long as we’re talking about catchers aiding pitchers; check out some catchers’ shin guards — they’ve got pine tar on them. I’m pretty sure the catcher isn’t going to go up to the plate swinging a shin guard, so why would it have pine tar on it?

Maybe it’s an accident, but it might be one more way to help out the pitcher; swipe your shin guard, get a bit on your fingers and after you throw the ball back to the mound, the pitcher will have a better breaking pitch.

OK, that’s some of the ways pitchers — and those who play with them — cheat. But here’s one you won’t see anymore: remember those metal eyelets that baseball gloves used to have where the laces held the glove together?

Gloves don’t have those anymore because some genius figured out that if he got a pair of needle-nosed pliers and bent one of those eyelets up, he’d have a nice tool for slicing a baseball. That’s one on-field trick that can’t be used anymore, but there are plenty more tricks that can.

And watching the baseballs travel from the umpires’ room to the field isn’t going to stop any of them.

To reach Lee Judge, call 816-234-4482 or send email to ljudge@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @leejudge8.

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