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Commentary : As Money Increases, So Does the Cheating

September 13, 1987|HAL BOCK | Associated Press

If baseball is really serious about this product purity campaign, it ought to distribute search warrants to the umpires and require them to run game bats through airport security screening devices before allowing them at the plate.

All this while they also watch out for potatoes being substituted for baseballs.

And you thought the job was easy.

Three players--pitchers Joe Niekro of Minnesota and Kevin Gross of Philadelphia, and Houston's Billy Hatcher--have been suspended this season for doing funny things with equipment. And minor-league catcher Dave Bresnahan's potato trick got him released. This baseball is serious business.

Bresnahan's stunt was just that, a stunt. However, there is a sinister side to the misdemeanors--emery boards, sandpaper, and cork--for which the others were punished.

Now this, of course, is brand new in baseball, which has never had comedians or cheaters soiling its landscape before. Casey Stengel once tipped his hat only to have a canary flutter out. He's in the Hall of Fame. Whitey Ford scuffed baseballs and he's there, too. Gaylord Perry was accused of putting everything but Elmer's Glue-All on balls and he won over 300 games.

So what's new?

Angel Manager Gene Mauch, whose sun-baked, leatherly look testifies to the time he's spent in the game, shrugs off all the investigations.

"Oh, I believe there may be a little more cheating than I remember in the past," Mauch said. "That's because there are so many dollar signs next to the numbers. The rewards for success are much greater."

It was against the Angels that Niekro was exposed. But Mauch had nothing to do with that particular search and seizure.

"Not once did we mention anything with Niekro," he said. "They'd probably heard enough or seen enough prior to that game."

And Mauch has yet to confiscate a bat for the fashionable cork inspection. He wasn't even tempted when he saw Dan Pasqua of the New York Yankees hit a change-up into the bullpen over the weekend.

"That was in the second inning," he said. "Suppose I challenge the bat then. Then I can't challenge again. It's an invitation to the other guys to get the cork. That's if there's any cork over there. I don't know that there is."

In the same game that Pasqua hit his homer, the Angels' Jack Howell split a bat, shattered it, really, on a ball that reached the right field seats at Yankee Stadium. Might there have been a temptation to sneak a peek at the insides, now that the bat was wide open, available for inspection.

"I wish they had," Mauch said. "That kid doesn't cheat and he wouldn't know how to cheat."

But a broken bat home run?

"I saw Johnny Callison do the same thing 20 years ago," Mauch said. "The next day, Cal Koonce threw him a pitch that bounced in front of the plate and Callison golfed it for a double. He just had it going."

Mauch said that as he stands in the infield during batting practice, he is aware of balls zipping past him with greater velocity in the last decade than they did in the years before.

Livelier ball? Maybe? Corked bats? Perhaps. Stronger players? Probably. "I think it's really a combination of things," Mauch said.

A year ago, though, Mauch thought he had caught himself a cheater.

"We were sure we had (Jorge) Orta," he said. "(Catcher Bob) Boone said his bat sounded funny."

So the manager complained. Orta, however, was found innocent, simply because the evidence was gone.

"He had broken the bat in his previous at-bat," Mauch said.

Sherlock Holmes never had problems like that.

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