This is a crackdown?

Liam Hendriks

If MLB’s worried about near-universal foreign substances while still monkeying around with baseballs, why doesn’t MLB develop and approve its own new fashioned medicated goo, as White Sox pitcher Liam Hendriks suggests? Easy—it makes too much sense, and it’s probably way above Rob Manfred’s pay grade.

Does baseball’s government really prefer the symbolic slap on the wrist over the far more symbolic realistic discipline? Did anybody really think a game administration that can’t bring itself toward realistic suspensions of headhunting pitchers was going to bring itself toward a realistic approach to the pitching stickums, sauces, and syrups?

This is baseball government’s idea of a crackdown: ten-day suspension, with pay. For a relief pitcher that could hurt a little bit more, since he usually pitches a short spell on three, maybe four days out of seven. For a starting pitcher, it could cost one start at minimum, two maximum, depending on when he was frisked, busted, and booked.

“This pitcher shakedown,” Thomas Boswell told an online chat with readers Monday, “is going to be a hoot.”

“One objection raised by some players and managers was the league’s listing of rosin as the only substance permissible for pitchers who want to create additional tackiness on the ball,” writes Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. ” . . . A combination of rosin and sunscreen can be more effective in enhancing grip without producing the massive jumps in spin rates that occur with pine tar and especially advanced substances such as Spider Tack. But the [MLB crackdown] memo explicitly lists sunscreen as a prohibited substance.”

“Don’t think everything is going to be perfect,” says umpire Joe West, a man about whom it could be said in that context that it takes one to know one. “It doesn’t happen that way.”

Indeed. And then there was the little matter of Rays pitcher Tyler Glasnow suffering a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament Monday night—after he quit using mere sunscreen to help him grip this year’s dubiously made baseballs and changed his normal motion to accommodate.

“Injuries already are a major problem in 2021,” Rosenthal writes. “It’s possible some pitchers will stay healthier if they adjust to the diminishment of their stuff by throwing with less effort to gain more command. It’s also possible others, perhaps trying to make up for lost spin, will suffer a fate similar to Glasnow, who is one of the top pitchers in the sport.”

The memo says the only acceptable substance helpmate for putting a little more friction on the ball is rosin, but Athletics manager Bob Melvin told Rosenthal not so fast: “Rosin on a cold night doesn’t work.”

One of Boswell’s Monday chatters posted a real money question: “Would severely restricting pitchers’ ability to doctor balls be as simple as requiring them to pick up and deposit a cap into a bucket before and after each inning?” Would it? And maybe a better question might be, if the pitchers are stripped of their syrups, will that mean automatically that the hitters are going to abuse them all over again?

These days pitching can be problematic enough. Too many hard-throwing pitchers with speed to burn and no clue of exactly where to put their pitches. With 861 hit-by-pitches as of this morning, one batter’s getting drilled every twenty innings pitched on average. There’s one wild pitch every twenty innings played, too.

And, with the three-batter minimum still in force for relief pitchers, unless they came into a jam and finished the previous inning, managers are throttled from getting a particularly wild pitcher out when it’s obvious he has no control but might inflict serious damage with a ball. Even a de-juiced baseball can cause serious injuries.

Padres reliever Austin Adams leads the Show with eleven hit batsmen. With 24 innings pitched as of this morning, that’s 46 percent of the time a batter’s taking one for the team against him. Numerous position players have told several writers in recent weeks that if the syrups are keeping pitchers from wildness the syrups don’t really bother them. Not even if they’re looking as though they swing pool noodles instead of bats.

That’s the pitchers who aren’t trying to put holes in hitters’ heads. But baseball hasn’t exactly been that firm on the genuine headhunters, either.

If the Show’s government isn’t willing to send stronger messages against the real headhunters—suspending starting pitchers ten starts instead of ten days; or, suspending such relief pitchers according to their average weeks’ work assignments—what made anyone think it was going to do something truly substantial against pitchers brewing syrups not to handle the ever-monkeyed-around-with baseball more reasonably but to get every last little subversive edge they can get?

Where do you draw the line? It doesn’t appear Manfred and his crew have so far. If blending rosin and sunscreen alone improves a pitcher’s grip without giving a shot of rocket fuel to his pitch spin rate, as Rosenthal observed, why on earth did the anti-syrup memo show the crew decided sunscreen should be on the verboten list?

Manfred’s critics often enough accuse him of knowing about as much about baseball as a butcher knows about neurosurgery. This crackdown, such as it might be, is liable to get him as many further such accusations as it might damnation with faint praise.

There was already a rule in the book against foreign substances on the ball. What took Manfred and his crew this long to decide to enforce it, when the new syrups were around before this season? But then you’d have to ask such questions as why Manfred and his crew can’t order umpires to call and enforce the written strike zone and knock it off with their individual zoning laws.

Regardless of such conditions as the balls themselves, or the actual or alleged approaches and attitudes of batters at the plate, there’s one thing that’s as much a baseball tradition as the ballpark hot dog—pitchers will look for any break they can get against batters, whether it’s actual subterfuge or just planting the ideas into the batters’ heads that they’re up to something subversive on the mound.

Even the mere allegation that this pitcher or that pitcher has something more than his fingers on a pitch can knock points off a hitting average and an earned run average alike. Hall of Fame Gaylord Perry once claimed he had extracurricular help almost any place he could think of around his uniform, but he wasn’t above putting the spitter on the brain first and foremost, either.

Maybe you won’t believe this, and maybe I can’t blame you, but when Candy Cummings first came up with the curve ball baseball’s overseers actually debated whether it was a newly-discovered skill or a deceitful trick. Imagine what they must have debated when the first knuckleball performed its first salsa on the way to the plate.

To this day, though maybe this coming “crackdown” might change it just a fragment (and that could be a big maybe), managers are as Boswell told his Monday online chatters: “Managers never ask—the guy could be on another team the next day, so why would he tell you his secrets. But managers always protect their pitchers—because there are so many skeletons in closets.”

That’s usually the main reason why managers aren’t in that big a hurry to swear out a search warrant for the other guys’ pitchers, too. The guy you had frisked, arraigned, cuffed, and stuffed today might be the guy joining your pitching staff at the trade deadline if not sooner.

Don’t forget: managers and their designated partners in crime (grounds crews and so forth) haven’t been immune to a little tricking and treating themselves. “Freezing the balls overnight to help your bad pitching staff, sloping the foul lines to help or hurt bunts (as suits your team) and turning the base path between first and second into a swamp with overwatering to inhibit base stealing have been around forever,” Boswell wrote sixteen months ago. “That slippery slope from brainy to gamesmanship to cheating exists in every sport.”

It also happens when the criminal mind spots an opportunity provided with the best of intentions. MLB installed replay rooms in both dugouts at the ballparks mostly because it was embarrassed by the blown Jim Joyce call at first base that denied Armando Gallaraga his perfect game. It turned to using the replay rooms as helpmates for old-fashioned sign-stealings (they still depended on baserunners sending the purloined numbers to the batters), and in due course to the flagrant extremities—the illegally-used computer algorithms, the illegal additional cameras, clubhouse monitors, and trash cannings—of Astrogate.

There’s a point to be taken when White Sox relief pitcher Liam Hendriks says, well, if MLB is concerned that mere grip enhancement on constantly monkeyed-around-with baseballs is turning into a few pitchers crossing the line to cheating, why doesn’t MLB do something substantial about it—and develop and distribute its own acceptable grip goop?

“I still think a universal substance needs to be added,” said Hendriks, who applauds the crackdown-to-be, to yet another Athletic writer, James Fegan. “Because if you’re coming into the ninth inning of a game, these balls have been sitting down for however long and they’re just pretty much dust. It’s interesting how everything is kind of ‘follow the rules, this way, this way, this way,’ but the balls are kind of left out the entire time and it’s controlled by the home team.”

There’s only one problem with Hendriks’s call. It makes too much sense. Of course, it would make a lot more sense if Manfred hadn’t misapplied his sacred pace-of-the-game crusade and decided the balls themselves have needed remaking/remodeling the past few seasons. Among other steps that make a klutz resemble Joe DiMaggio.

Manfred also doesn’t get that pitchers looking for edges with foreign substances (where have you gone, George Frazier: I don’t use foreign substances—everything I use is made in the U.S. of A.) have been around since the days of pitching underhand departed major league baseball.

“Only now, as the sport returns to its first full 162-game season since 2019, with a new baseball, does MLB find itself in hot water for years of feigned ignorance and not enforcing its own rules,” wrote yet another Athletic writer, Brittany Ghiroli, earlier this month.

This time though, the league hasn’t just been slow to stop the sticky substances, it has — perhaps inadvertently — made the problem worse.

Consider this: The players don’t get a say in the constant tinkering to the baseball, the latest version of which has higher seams and — as early as spring training — was already being buzzed about for its ability to favor pitchers with movement . . . [W]ho enabled the system that allowed these pitchers to cash in? Who decided to ignore the sticky stuff for years? Was the initial hope that the entertainment value—like performance-enhancing drugs — would perhaps translate into more eyeballs and excitement for the sport? Does anyone think asking professional athletes to police themselves and follow the rules when there are millions of dollars and livelihoods at stake would work?

. . . Here we are in early June, with the league moving quickly to resolve things, preparing to give umpires the power to inspect all pitchers without warning in order to not show any favoritism toward certain players or teams. The onus now, all of a sudden, is on upholding the integrity of the game. But what took so long?

Whatever new rules or regulations are put in place will be to enforce an existing rule. And while it’s easy to pile on the pitchers and pitching coaches and teams who knowingly broke the rules, the blame should not start there.

It should start with the league that allowed it, which — again — has waited and waited until a problem blew up to actually address it. Just like steroids. Just like the video review room.

How did we get here? By the sport closing its eyes and looking away from the problem, game after game, year after year.

Commissioner Nero thinks a ten-day suspension with pay is really going to fix the problem? I’d like to be proven wrong, but I have the feeling I got the first three words of that sentence wrong. Especially since, to most of us mere saps, there’s a word for ten days off with pay—vacation.

Strange brew? Or, Whitey’s great-grandchildren?

Whitey Ford

Could the late Hall of Famer Whitey Ford have been the great-grandfather of today’s scientific pitching brewers?

She’s some kind of demon messin’ in the glue
If you don’t watch out, it’ll stick to you–to you
What kind of fool are you?
Strange brew, kill what’s inside of you.
–Cream, in 1967,
the year before the Year of the Pitcher.

Oh. The horror. Pitchers looking for every last edge they can find—by hook, crook, and anything else they can get onto their hands and onto their pitches. What is this game coming to? It’s coming to a head that looks at once like a throwback and a future shock, that’s what.

Before the doctored ball was outlawed officially in 1920, pitchers did whatever they could think of to baseballs short of injecting explosives. Come to think of it, you could think of a few comedians who would have loaded a ball to go boom! on contact. Not the kind of boom! you associate with Babe Ruth, Henry Aaron, or Ronald Vladimir Tatis, Jr., either.

Almost two months ago I observed that today’s apparent metastasis of pitchers using some new old-fashioned medicated goo (assorted elixirs of pine tar, rosin, sunscreen, glue, and who knows what the hell else) was liable to create baseball’s next cheating scandal.

As for those who still think pitchers stopped looking for every last edge they could find just because ball doctoring was banned formally after the Ray Chapman tragedy of 1920, you may find many of them lining up to place bids on that Antarctican beach club.

Sports Illustrated‘s current cover story is headlined: “The New Steroids.” The photograph shows a pitching hand gripping a ball with something running down upon it that could be taken for anything from bee honey to Log Cabin syrup to teriyaki sauce and back. I’ve heard of certain pitchers having certain hitters’ breakfast, lunch, and dinner (and vice versa), but that’s ridiculous.

SI reporters Stephanie Apstein and Alexs Prewitt may quote an unnamed Show executive as saying, “This should be the biggest scandal in sports”—but is it hard to take seriously when it’s illustrated by something flowing down a ball that looks less like a sunscreen-rosin-tar froth and more like what you have on your breakfast pancakes.

It’s also hard to take seriously, above and beyond the apparent extra creation that goes into this 21st Century version of gunkball, because the wet one has been called “the biggest scandal in sports” more than once over baseball’s life. When Roger Angell lamented the Year of the Pitcher when it finally ceased, he mentioned, not quite in passing, “the persistence of the relatively illegal spitter.”

And that was in 1968. A decade later, the advent of Hall of Fame relief pitcher Bruce Sutter and his split-fingered fastball (really a refinement of the forkball Pirates relief legend Elroy Face made a work of art) caused some inside and outside the game to believe the pitch’s spitter-like break made the real spitter superfluous—even while they couldn’t decide whether to condemn or laugh with Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry’s actual or alleged grease balls.

What the hey, there were those who thought Hall of Fame reliever Mariano Rivera’s devastating cutter—the “cut” was in Rivera’s grip—made the spitter superfluous if you could learn and throw it the way The Mariano did. You could also fill a stadium with the hitters who’ve thought pitchers who owned them while getting murdered otherwise were treating them in particular to a few little tricks.

Nobody doubts that pitchers today have an upper hand—whatever they happen to have in hand, in glove, or under their hats. Apstein and Prewitt get all manner of comment about it, from a very few willing to speak on the record to an awful lot who insisted on anonymity for possible fear of hitting the unemployment line.

No one doubts that advancements in pitching analysis and mechanical applications have led to the present fetish with the rates of spin the balls take out of the pitchers’ hands. Apstein and Prewitt round up a considerably widespread belief that, whatever that new-fashioned medicated goo is, it’s turning hitters already believed undoing themselves with the concurrent launch-angle fetish into guys who look like they’re swinging pool noodles and not bats.

It’s turning professional full-time hitters into pitchers at the plate, for crying out loud!

“More recently, pitchers have begun experimenting with drumstick resin and surfboard wax,” the SI pair write. “They use Tyrus Sticky Grip, Firm Grip spray, Pelican Grip Dip stick and Spider Tack, a glue intended for use in World’s Strongest Man competitions and whose advertisements show someone using it to lift a cinder block with his palm. Some combine several of those to create their own, more sophisticated substances. They use Edgertronic high-speed cameras and TrackMan and Rapsodo pitch-tracking devices to see which one works best. Many of them spent their pandemic lockdown time perfecting their gunk.”

We’ve come a long way from Pud Galvin, Happy Jack Chesbro, Ed Walsh, Eddie (Shine Ball) Cicotte, and Burleigh Grimes. Not to mention Preacher Roe, Lew Burdette, Whitey Ford, Mudcat Grant (who got away with a soap ball—it was said—until he once rubbed too much inside his gray road uniform and the warm sun foamed it too visibly through the flannel), Phil (The Vulture) Regan, Gruesome Gaylord, Don (Black & Decker) Sutton, Mike (Scuff) Scott, and Joe (Emery) Niekro.

Just picture assorted pitchers in their garages or even their kitchens throwing this stickum, that spray, the other glue, and some particularly choice liquids otherwise into the Mixmaster. (From your ancient history: that’s what we old folks called a food processor in the mid-20th Century.) With Vincent Price grins on their faces and Dr. Frankenstinker tightening the bolts in their necks.

Apstein and Prewitt cited numerous personnel saying the new gunkballs might help pitchers keep a grip on the new, reputedly lighter baseballs in use this season, but they also tend to sound as though they’re being ripped out of the pitchers’ hands. Kind of the present fraternity of hard, bullet-throwing pitchers is ripping the bats right out of the hitter’s hands, so it is alleged.

One unnamed American League manager swore to the pair that, “You can hear the friction.” They cited an unnamed, “recently retired” relief pitcher as comparing it to ripping a particularly adhesive Band-Aid right off the skin. “A major league team executive,” they add, “says his players have examined foul balls and found the MLB logo torn straight off the leather.”

Burdette and even Perry were suspected just as often of playing mind games more than they played real spitball games. What was true in Chesbro’s day seemed true in their day and beyond. Let the hitter think you’re loading up, and you’ve got two strikes on him before you even throw the first pitch. Spitter on the brain beats tobacco juice (Burdette’s suspected lube of choice) on the hide every time.

Do today’s mad pitching lab rats have a spiritual great-grandfather? It might be Hall of Famer Ford himself. Forget the legends of his late-career mud ball, ring ball (a rasp in his wedding ring enabling him to cut balls: “It was like I had my own tool bench out there”), and buckle ball. (His later catcher Elston Howard would scrape a ball on his shin guard buckles before returning it to him.)

He also had his own strange brew. The Cooperstown Casebook author Jay Jaffe, then writing for SI himself, described Whitey’s secret sauce as a blend of rosin, turpentine, and baby oil. The lefthander was believed to keep the blend in an emptied-out roll-on deodorant bottle (Ban, perhaps?), claiming to use it for a better grip on his breaking ball, hee hee hee.

(Ford’s worst victim may not have been an enemy batter but his own Hall of Fame teammate Yogi Berra. Thomas Boswell once recorded that, knowing Berra was prone to nicking personal products like deodorant whenever he ran short, fellow Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle moved Whitey’s sauce to a shelf spot where Berra couldn’t miss. Minutes later, Yogi ran screaming into the trainer’s room to have his arms shaved free of his sides.)

Have Apstein and Prewitt unlocked the true secret to this season’s hitting crisis—you know, all homer/all the time, nobody settling for measly singles, blah-blah, woof-woof—if a crisis it truly is?

I spent Friday morning looking it up. There were 1,672 major league games played at the end of business Thursday night. There were 13,061 hits in those games—an average of 7.8 hits per game. Sixty-four percent of those hits were singles; thirty-six percent were extra base hits; fifteen percent were home runs. There was an average 5.0 singles per game and 2.8 extra base hits per game.

Maybe they’re not hitting as often as they used to, but I’m having a hard time believing that whenever the hitters are making contact they’re coming out exclusively as all-or-nothing bombardiers, too. Eight percent of all 2021 plate appearances through Friday morning ended in bases on balls; 21 percent of them ended in hits.

Maybe the pitchers and their goo, gunk, glop, and sticky balls are tying them up at the plate. But brace yourselves—24 percent of all 2021 plate appearances through Friday morning ended in batter strikeouts. They’re hitting almost as often as they’re striking out, ladies, gentlemen, and miscellaneous.

“I’m tired of hearing people say that players only want to hit home runs,” Rockies rightfielder Charlie Blackmon has told Apstein and Prewitt. “That’s not why people are striking out. They’re striking out because guys are throwing 97 mile-an-hour super sinkers, or balls that just go straight up with all this sticky stuff and the new-baseball spin rate. That’s why guys are striking out, because it’s really hard not to strike out.”

Let’s have a parallel awakening. There just might be another, legitimate reason why the hitters can’t buy base hits no matter how they shake off the launch angling and just make contact—which they’re actually doing 47 percent of the time. The reason isn’t coming strictly from the pitcher’s mound . . . or his kitchen, garage, laboratory, double-secret research facility, or friends at Dow Chemical.

You heard me. Now hear Baseball Prospectus writer Robert Arthur, who published an essay Friday morning with the following headline:


It doesn’t say “hundreds.” Arthur’s acute research also doesn’t say it’s all or even mostly the fault of those human Green Monsters crowding either side of the infield in shifts, either.

“Across the board, fielders at every position have backed away from home plate, a change so pervasive and consistent it was unlikely to come from chance alone,” Arthur writes. “I found that two positions were affected more than any other–third basemen and center fielders–and that those two positions, perhaps not coincidentally, have also driven the greatest share in the decrease in [batting average on balls in play] since 2015.”

Arthur’s findings include an analysis in which he discovered that third basemen and middle infielders have tended to play deeper with or without shifting and that outfielders are generally playing somewhat deeper almost regardless of whether the man at the plate is a spray-hitting savant or a bombardier—and not just in such alignments as the so-called “no doubles” defense, either.

A week earlier, Arthur published another essay in which he argued, persuasively “[I]t’s hard to prove definitively, [but] improved defensive tactics look like they may be partially to blame for the historic falloff in BABIP. Just as batting average was drying up, teams look to have been repositioning their fielders across the board, pushing nearly every position back a few steps. The positions that moved back most—third basemen and center fielders—appear to be responsible for almost the entire decrease in BABIP in the last few years.”

Let Commissioner Rob Manfred and his lieutenants crack down on the goo-gunk-glop-stickum-ballers. Just be sure you’re going after the real Houdinis, not just the guys who want nothing more than a better grip on these ridiculously lightened balls in use this year. And use the discretion that (of all people) Joe West did near the end of May, when all he did was order Cardinals reliever Giovanny Gallegos to change hats and thus rid himself of the one with a little sunscreen on it.

Oh, sure, West ejected manager Mike Shildt for defending his player, and Shildt did fume post-game that they were picking “the wrong fight” because just wait until you see how much syrup is getting onto how many balls from how many pitchers. But at least Country Joe didn’t try suggesting Gallegos was up to anything more than either a good tan or ultraviolet protection, either.

You want to police some sunscreen and rosin? Go ahead,” Shildt challenged. “Get every single person in this league . . . Why don’t you start with the guys that are cheating with some stuff that’s really impacting the game?”

We’ve come a long way, too, from the day when Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver visited the mound during a jam to counsel his pitcher Ross [Skuzz] Grimsley—suspected of using his abundance of hair grease for subterfuge. “If you know how to cheat,” Weaver told Grimsley, “now’s the time.”

Don’t kid yourself that even an earnestly firm crackdown is really going to re-level the field. Especially when organisations still prefer to find human howitzers who can throw the proverbial lamb chops past a full pack of wolves without knowing where the balls are going in the first place. Especially, when wiping out today’s syrup balls won’t wipe out the tradition of pitchers looking for, finding, and deploying every last slippery cutting edge they can find to get one up on those naughty hitters—who aren’t as contact challenged as you think.

And, especially when fielders are being positioned with more deftness than even the U.S. Navy needed to win the battle of Midway.

The original spitball ban and the plain-language rule against ball-teration don’t stop the mound’s Jekyll Hydes. All a hitter can do for now—and maybe for all time—is call upon one tradition that’ll never be obsolete. Keep your eye on the ball. Wait for the one that doesn’t break. And hit it on the dry side.

“The contest cannot in its essence exist”


A. Bartlett Giamatti, as president of the National League, 1987-88.

Boys will be boys, but now and again we’re reminded that that doesn’t always excuse them when they mistake crime for high spirits. Come to think of it, baseball got one whale of a reminder in 1987, when the president of the National League found himself unamused about cheating with an appeal placed in front of him.

Phillies pitcher Kevin Gross was caught with sandpaper in his glove, surely not for on-the-spot glove repair, then ejected from the game and suspended ten days. Gross appealed the suspension, but A. Bartlett Giamatti found nothing appealing about it.

And Giamatti handed down a ruling he swore he worked as hard on formulating as he did any scholarly exegesis while he was the president of Yale University. Within that ruling—he upheld Gross’s suspension—the future (and tragically short-lived) commissioner laid down the law.

What Giamatti wrote about one pitcher with a piece of sandpaper can apply to part or even all of a team flouting the rules against deploying high technology, rather than on-the-field gamesmanship, to steal opposition signs.

There were those who thought as the New York Times‘s sports columnist George Vecsey once observed, that Giamatti as president of the National League was “the nutty professor on sabbatical.” What did they think about Gross and his representatives causing his appeal hearing to last five hours and include “exhibits of considerable breadth, two entailing nearly one thousand notations,” as Giamatti recorded at the beginning of his ruling?

Gross and the Players Association claimed the ten-day suspension was “excessive.” Giamatti observed that Rick Honeycutt and Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry had been awarded ten-day drydockings for foreign things in the glove but that Gross and his representatives, conveniently or otherwise, didn’t include those in their mass of exhibits.

In due course, Giamatti told The New Yorker‘s Roger Angell why he approached his Gross appeal ruling with the kind of effort by which he laboured his writings and thinkings at Yale, where his academic specialty was Dante. “It was challenging,” Giamatti told Angell, “to try to be clear about cheating and what it meant, and to be fair at the same time.”

Challenge met with success. You can read the entire ruling in A Great and Glorious Game: Baseball Writings of A. Bartlett Giamatti. Here, though, is the critical point therein. Acts of cheating, Giamatti wrote in denying Gross’s appeal, are . . .

not the result of impulse, borne of frustration or anger or zeal as violence is, but are rather acts of a cool, deliberate, premeditated kind. Unlike acts of impulse or violence, intended at the moment to vent frustration or abuse another, acts of cheating are intended to alter the very conditions of play to favour one person. They are secretive, covert acts that strike at and seek to undermine the basic foundation of any contest declaring the winner—that all participants play under identical rules and conditions. Acts of cheating destroy that necessary foundation and thus strike at the essence of a contest. They destroy faith in the games’ integrity and fairness; if participants and spectators alike cannot assume integrity and fairness and proceed from there, the contest cannot in its essence exist . . . Cheating is contrary to the whole purpose of playing to determine a winner fairly and cannot be simply contained; if the game is to flourish and engage public confidence, cheating must be clearly condemned with an eye to expunging it.

Substitute “one team” for “one person.” Now you get why the Astros caught running a high-tech sign-stealing operation in 2017, against the rules prohibiting such operations, sent baseball, its fans, and its observers into the proverbial tizzy, after a former Astro in position enough to know (pitcher Mike Fiers) blew the whistle on and the covers off the Astro Intelligence Agency.

Reality check: The Astros—or whomever among them created their AIA—aren’t the only such electronic thieves, merely the latest to be caught red Octobered. If you ask whether Astrogate taints their run of three American League West titles and two pennants, you might also ask why a team that great, with as forward-thinking an organisation as theirs, needs technocheating in the first place.

These Astros are sharper than chefs’ knives at the plate and in the field. They exploit the slightest opposition mistakes with minds over matter. Tip your pitches? They sautee you. Slip out of position? They broil you. Hang a breaking ball? They slice, dice, and puree  you. They needed to take up high-tech heisting about as badly as Superman needed a gym membership.

Further reality check: When Giamatti rejected Gross’s appeal, he wasn’t foolish enough to ignore that cheating was (and is) baseball’s oldest sub-profession. Neither was Giamatti naive enough to believe denying one pitcher caught, frisked, arraigned, indicted, and convicted would put cheating in its grave.

Placed in the appropriate position, he could and did demonstrate that at least one baseball official could and did pronounce officially, when the case presented itself, that fair was supposed to be fair. Given the chance to take a stand and make it stick, for however long, Giamatti took the stand with firm eloquence. Saying, essentially, “If not now, then when?”

Unfortunately, even baseball’s most lyrical thinker this side of Sparky Anderson couldn’t make it stick. Neither could a Hall of Famer writing a syndicated newspaper column in 1926 who understood, and enunciated in plain English, the distinction between on-field sign-decoding and off-field high- or even low-tech espionage:

There is another form of sign stealing which is reprehensible and should be so regarded. That is where mechanical devices worked from outside sources, such as the use of field glasses, mirrors and so on, are used . . . Signal-tipping on the fields is not against the rules, while the use of outside devices is against all the laws of baseball and the playing rules. It is obviously unfair.

That was Ty Cobb. Whose reputation as the dirtiest most rules-be-damned player of his era came mostly from one writer whose Cobb-ographies have been debunked completely. If beyond-the-playing-field technological theft was bad enough for Cobb, it should be bad enough for us.

What Cobb called “obviously unfair” is obviously cheating. The Dante scholar who grew up to become president of the National League and baseball’s commissioner should have the last word on cheating, so far as anyone who genuinely loves the game should be concerned. Should but probably won’t. Unlucky us.