Think steroids is biggest problem in baseball? Tyler Smith takes a humorous and slightly surreal look at baseball and cheating.
A-Roid. The Big Mac. Slammin’ Sammy. Melkey ”The Melk Man” Cabrera. We can accept these baseball players’ dumb nicknames, but can we, or should we overlook their steroid abuse? The way I see it, cheating has always been a part of baseball and it always will be. We are, of course, appalled by the current crew of baseball cheats, with their 29-inch biceps and their inclination to eat autograph-seeking children. But, is this any worse than, say, undefeated Pacific League left-hander Calvin “Scramblin’ Eggs” Oeuf, who in 1927 admitted to making home plate umpires an elegant Alice B. Toklas loaf and pipe bomb before every game? Maybe.
People often come up to me and ask, “Hey, old timer, what do you think about steroids?” But, before I can answer, they begin to shriek, “Juicers are killing the game!” Well, these folk are welcome to their opinions, but do you want to know what people used to say was killing the game? Mexican bees. That was actually one specific game, when Pancho Villa had already warned the AA White Sox once to get off his “field of dreams” in Chihuahua, but the point is the same: You can’t kill baseball. Baseball has weathered its share of cheaters, some of whom make Alex Rodriguez look like Honest Abe with frosted tips and leggings.
Take the case of Cuban upstart Django Octagon, the “Havana High-Heeler.” Django couldn’t be bothered with sharpening his baseball spikes to get an edge like a Ty Cobb or Hellraiser. No. Django was such a rotten cheat, he used to “slide” into second base with one long spike (almost a stilt, really) honed to a dagger point. The second baseman would then dart into center field with a jock full of ordure, screaming, “you’re going to kill someone some day!” and sure enough, the next day, an umpire threw Django Octagon out of the game for cross-dressing, and then do you know what happened? Django Octagon beat that umpire to death, but it was with a different shoe and like 30 years later—behavior that is not necessarily cheating, but certainly not sporting. As for cross-dressing in baseball, I’m not sure if it will happen in our lifetime, but that’s what they said about a dinner theater remake of Hair set in the Boer War and baby, I am doing it.
The list of ball-doctoring pitchers and baseball mutants is long and storied, (Gaylord Perry, Don Sutton, Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown, et al.) but one hurler stands head and shoulders above the rest: Sir Barrett “The Ox” Oiphant, of Amarillo, Texas. On the mound, The Ox was seven feet of albino dynamite, which we all found curious, because off the field he stood at barely five feet and was black. But it wasn’t just his shape-shifting that baffled hitters.
The Ox was known to throw something called the “hot pumpkin,” which involved smearing a dab of napalm from under the bill of his cap all over a pumpkin he’d painted to look like a baseball. Now there are fat pitches and there are fat pitches, but the hot pumpkin was irresistible. Of course, a gelatinous ball of fire engulfed the catcher, umpire, on deck hitter and the batter as soon as he made contact with this devious pitch, thus, Oliphant’s trick pitch dispatched not one, but two opposing batters. Unfortunately for The Ox, umpires and managers eventually caught on and, after a 3-0 start, The Ox finished the year 3-29 with an ERA of 88.02 and no hat.
On the offensive side of things, corking one’s bat has always been popular with players looking to gain a little added bat speed. Does it work? No, not really. But, nothing ventured, nothing gained. As one of baseball’s most infamous bat-corkers, perennial strikeout victim and award-winning enologist, Dr. Michel Mathieu, “The Alsace Inebriate,” noted during a disastrous 1969 game against Detroit, “The Comte de Vogüé 1955 is noted for its tertiary aroma, but tres pourri when poured into a bat.” Indeed, “Michel” is still a name that makes New Englanders wince, because it’s a sissy name for a boy, and because one recalls Dr. Mathieu’s notorious blunder at Tiger Stadium where they caught him nude and snoozing off of third base during “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Of course, once Dr. Mathieu recognized that cork might be preferable to wine for filling his bat, his batting average soared to .043, and he then found himself demoted to the Phillies farm system, then finally to Cordon Bleu to finish his training in Paris.
So, you may think this current batch of pumped-up troglodytes is turning the baseball world into a travesty, but remember, it could be worse and it’s been worse. In fact, we need look only so far as the alleged inventor of the game of baseball, Union General Abner “Chubby Bubble” Doubleday. Doubleday himself was known as baseball’s first cheat. An avid sign stealer and pine tar enthusiast, Doubleday was replaced by General Meade at the Battle of Gettysburg after announcing that he’d spied Gen. Lee signaling a pickoff play (this turned into the horror of Pickett’s charge) while huffing from his pine rag. Doubleday earned a one-year suspension from his own game and the bloodiest war on American soil would rage on for another two long, senseless innings.
photo: adapted from blenderdiplom / flickr