Maybe not deflated, but doctored balls have long history in MLB

Evan Glantz

Evan Glantz

You may or may not have heard, but Tom Brady, the quarterback of the New England Patriots, was recently suspended by the National Football League for his role in “DeflateGate.” According to lead investigator Ted Wells, it was determined that the Patriots “more probabl(y) than not” tampered footballs.

So what does this have to do with baseball? Well, when one sports league has a crisis on their hands, the other leagues take precautions to make sure their sport isn’t negatively impacted as well.

This week, MLB announced increased security measures to make sure baseballs aren’t tampered with on their way from the clubhouse to the field. And while it would be awfully difficult to deflate a baseball (nay, impossible), there are plenty of ways in which they could be doctored. Here are some of the most infamous examples:

Whitey Ford and the 1963 World Series (1963)


You name it, Ford tried used it to doctor baseballs. His wedding ring. The buckle on his catcher’s shin guard. He also made a concoction of baby oil, turpentine and resin to make what he called a “gunk ball.” Against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1963 World Series, Ford created mud pies and used them to load the baseball. According to Ford, he “used enough mud to build a dam.”

Gaylord Perry and his Spitball (1982)

Long known for his spitballing and Vaseline-applying ways, Perry was finally nabbed in 1982 – his 21st of 22 big league seasons. He was suspended for 10 days and fined $250 dollars. Perry would amass 314 wins and 3,534 strikeouts (eighth all-time) in his Hall-of-Fame career. Perry’s character was staunchly defended by Cleveland Indians owner Gabe Paul who said, “Gaylord is a very honorable man. He only calls for the spitter when he needs it.”

Joe Niekro and the Nail File (1987)

Umpire Steve Palermo probably put this situation best. He said, “Niekro’s doctoring of baseballs was as obvious as a person carrying a bottle of booze down the street during prohibition.” When Palermo and his crew came out to confront Niekro, he casually (and comically) tossed a nail file from his pocket. He also had sandpaper on his finger for good measure.

Kenny Rogers and “The Smudge” (2006)

Familiar to Cardinal fans, Rogers had a mysterious substance on his pitching hand that was picked up by TV cameras during the first inning in Game 2 of the 2006 World Series. Rogers claimed it was just dirt. Manager Tony La Russa opted not to press the issue and merely asked umpires to have Rogers clean his hand. After the game, which was won by the Detroit Tigers, umpire supervisor Steve Palermo pointed out that “if you see the following innings, (Rogers) pitched fine without the dirt.”

Pitchers have been finding creative ways to get a little extra something on their throws throughout the entire history of baseball. This latest rule from MLB provides another safeguard against such cheating. But as pitchers have proven in the past, if there’s a will (or a bit of Vaseline), there’s a way.