Ex-minor leaguer says baseball cheating lives

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 25, 2013 at 1:43 pm •  Published: May 25, 2013
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Garrett Broshuis was starting his sixth season in the minors, his career at a crossroads.

He was 27 and still had never pitched in the big leagues. The 2009 minor league camp for the San Francisco Giants didn't offer much hope. There seemed no way to boost his flagging strikeout totals.

That's when he got a bit of advice.

"I didn't have an 'out' pitch. One way you can develop an 'out' pitch is by cheating," he said. "One of the coaches kind of suggested that to me."

Broshuis tested a spitball, with eye-opening results. But, he says, he couldn't bring himself to use it in a game — the pitch is banned, after all.

Broshuis soon took up a new line of work — law school. Neither he nor his conscience ever made it to the majors.

But his time in the minors was not an entire loss. He wrote a paper on cheating in baseball while at the Saint Louis University School of Law, and it's been floating around the Internet. The paper adds to a debate about bending the rules, a practice that may be as old as the game itself. And it gives readers a chance to learn a few of the sport's darker arts.

"I would work my tail off, trying to refine, trying to work on my command — do all these little things to try to get better. And then, I can just use a little foreign substance, and all of a sudden, it could have possibly been the best pitch that I had," Broshuis said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. "When something seems too easy, it probably is too easy for a reason."

In recent years, cheating in baseball has become synonymous with performance-enhancing drug use, but Broshuis observed a broader array of ways to skirt the rules. He calls it a "culture of deception" — and is in the camp that believes a spitter here and a Vaseline pitch there wind up creating an atmosphere where some players feel it's OK to take steroids. Others don't think it's that serious.

"I don't get all that caught up in it. Guys used to cut the ball. That was the big thing. I used to think, 'If you're good enough to cut it and make it do something, good for you,'" said Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona, who was also a first baseman during a decade-long playing career in the majors. "You still have to be able to pitch."

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DEEP ROOTS

The game's duplicitous roots can be traced back well over a century.

Before he became an accomplished manager, John McGraw was a rough-and-tumble infielder for the Baltimore Orioles during the 1890s. Derek Zumsteg honors those Orioles with an entire chapter in his 2007 book "The Cheater's Guide to Baseball" — a lighthearted look at the game's ball-doctoring, bat-corking, sign-stealing legacy.

There's plenty in there about the spitball, that lubricated pitch with a strange flight path that can drive an opponent crazy, but some early examples of cheating were as primitive as they were brazen.

"Even the clean teams dabbled in blocking runners, occasional tripping, and constant heckling," Zumsteg wrote. "The dirty teams, like the Reds, the Spiders, and particularly the Orioles, would take full advantage of a single umpire by running directly to third from first, holding runners forcefully at their base, using the pretense of a tag to sock a player with a ball, and running into fielders trying to make plays."

But as Zumsteg points out, those Orioles were masterful innovators, using tricks like the hit-and-run, which would become an accepted element of baseball strategy. McGraw and the Orioles tried to win at pretty much any cost — and that's not always a bad thing. Sometimes it makes the sport more exciting.

For example, in real life a thief ends up in jail. In baseball, he ends up in scoring position.

"We permit a thing called 'stealing' to take place," noted baseball historian Ken Burns, whose epic documentary series about the sport debuted in 1994.

Of course, other slippery tactics have been outlawed — but that doesn't mean they disappeared. Broshuis grew frustrated with what he saw as lax enforcement of some of baseball's prohibitions.

He says players become exposed to more cheating as they move through the minors.

"At the lower levels, it's not as prevalent, I don't think. Guys haven't had the opportunity to learn it then. As you advance to higher levels, it becomes a little more prevalent," said Broshuis, who graduated law school this month. "That'll be kind of the journeyman guys that have been around for a long time. Some of them will be doing it."

In other words, a scene from "Major League" — in which a veteran tells an incredulous young teammate some of his secrets for loading up the ball — may not be all that far-fetched.

"Once you get a little older, a lot of them try to do every little thing they can to get an advantage — and you can understand it," Broshuis said. "I completely understand why they do it. It's just the game they've known their entire life. It's the game they love, and it's their livelihood. Your career is always in jeopardy at that point — when you're in that journeyman position."

Since he never pitched in the majors, Broshuis has less firsthand knowledge of what goes on there — but he can watch games with a more trained eye than most.

"Probably at least once a game when I'm watching, there's something suspicious," Broshuis said. "At least one pitcher is doing something."



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