By Ken Reed

Is cheating part of baseball’s foundation?
It certainly seems that way. Baseball seems to give us one scandal after another. Cheating seems to be an ongoing part of the game. Spitballs, corked bats, steroids, illegally stealing signs, etc.

Cheating, in various forms, has been part of baseball since the early days. But the powers that be have always tended to look the other way, with a wink and a nod.

During the steroid era, when McGwire, Sosa and Bonds were hitting moon shots, attendance and TV ratings were up, and commercials proclaimed “Chicks dig the long ball,” baseball authorities didn’t really care about cheating.

But today’s situation is different. Stikeouts are at record levels and action is way down. A typical team batting average in the National and American Leagues is in the .230s. No-hitters are becoming commonplace.

One of the primary causes of the pitching dominance appears to be pitchers who are illegally doctoring baseballs with foreign substances to increase a ball’s spin rate. These foreign substances can make balls move a couple inches in ways that increase the already difficult task of trying to hit Major League pitching.

“The data is clear that foreign substances are having an impact on the game,” Theo Epstein, a consultant for Major League Baseball (MLB), who has been charged with addressing baseball’s problems, wrote in a text.

“As the prevalence and sophistication of the substances have grown, we are seeing more strikeouts, less contact, less balls in play, and an imbalance between the pitcher and hitter.”

Major League Baseball has collected thousands of game baseballs this season and a forensic investigation found that a majority of those balls had some kind of illegal foreign substance on the ball.

“This is going to be the next steroids of baseball ordeal, because it is cheating, and it is performance enhancing,” says Minnesota Twins third baseman Josh Donaldson.

But unlike the steroid era, baseball is ready to get tough with cheaters this time. Baseball’s umpires have been given more clout to crackdown on pitchers who are doctoring balls. A new array of penalties, including ejections, fines and suspensions — for pitchers and potentially other club employees— have been announced.

The New York Yankees’ Aaron Judge believes 95% of the pitchers he faces are cheating in some way. Even if the actual number is only half of that, baseball has a real problem.

And it’s not just doctored baseballs, it’s a culture in which cheating is baked into the product.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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