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Willie Mays: serial cheater

Mar 1, 2010, 2:20 PM EDT

Joe Posnanski got off the phone with the Royals’ ticket office and banged out a hell of an essay this morning on Willie Mays, greenies and cheating that flows quite nicely with what some of us were discussing in the Hall of Fame thread this morning:

Baseball in Willie Mays time, like baseball in every time, was rife
with cheating and racism and alcoholism and small-mindedness. You know,
people love to talk about the players of the steroid era cheating the
game. But did anyone in baseball history more willfully and brashly
cheat the game than Leo Durocher and the 1951 Giants, who rigged an
elaborate sign-stealing system that undoubtedly helped the Giants catch
the Dodgers and win the pennant, win the pennant, win the pennant.

There’s much more to it than that — amphetamines mostly — and it’s worth a full read.  After doing so, I would ask that someone please explain to me the basis for withholding a Hall of Fame vote from, say, Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens.

  1. jonny5 - Mar 1, 2010 at 2:35 PM

    “I would ask that someone please explain to me the basis for withholding a Hall of Fame vote from, say, Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens. ”
    Craig, it’s personal. Duhhhh. I mean if you wanted to vote for the Phillie Phanatic for the oval office, well it’s your right. As I well know from personal experience btw. I think he’d do much better than the last 3 dudes anyway…. Just imagine The Phanatic vetoing your pork barrel laden bill??? Oh it would be grand…. Whoops, back on topic here. It’s their right to vote for who they will, and if it’s because Barry’s whining (not to be confused with winning) get’s on their nerves, so be it…. Or if they can’t stand Clemens, because it reminds them of a mini orange, and they hate mini oranges….. Well you know what I’m trying to say. if they give you the right to vote how you wish, then they will.

  2. lardin - Mar 1, 2010 at 2:38 PM

    I would vote for Clemens, Bonds, Sosa, Palmerio but not McGuire. I will tell you why. McGuire only did one thing well, hit home runs. In my mind there is no doubt that he hit all these home runs with the use of PEDS. Take out McGuire’s ridiculous HR totals and its clear that to me that he is not a hall of famer. I am one of those guys who does not believe in the 500hrs or 3000 hits as automatic inclusion.
    To me, the other guys I mentioned were more all around players. Clemens was the best pitcher in baseball from 1986-1994. Bonds was a hall famer when he went to San Fran. Sosa and Palmeiro were very good all around players(by the way, weren’t Sosa and Palmeiro Traded for each other)?
    I have a hard time voting players in to the Hall fame, based on doing one thing. Now if he is so good at that one thing (Mo Rivera) then I would vote for him. But like I said before, knowing the only thing McGuire did well was hit homeruns, when you factor in the PEDS, he becomes just an average player to me.

  3. tadthebad - Mar 1, 2010 at 2:42 PM

    I brought this argument to my friends, and the response I got was basically this: greenies represent a misdemeanor, steroids represent a felony. Nevermind that both scenarios involve blatant cheating while using the drugs that were available – nope, those players from the sixties knew that someday steroids would come along and they would REALLY be bad for the game. Even after acknowledging that, yes, greenies are performance enhancing drugs, they still tried to make that distinction.

  4. Ace - Mar 1, 2010 at 2:43 PM

    Did anyone happen to read Pete Hamill’s review of the new Willie Bays biography in last week’s NY Times? Hamill leads with the line, “A long time ago in America, there was a beautiful game called baseball,” and continues later, “long before the innocence of the game was permanently stained by the filthy deception of steroids.” Preaching to the choir here, but when was baseball EVER innocent? Gambling, cheating, and rampant corruption were right there from the beginning.
    As a fan born in the 1980’s, I also really resent the implication that the pastime I grew up loving is somehow less than the one Hamill grew up with. Hey, he got to see Mays then, and I get to see Pujols now. Let’s call it a draw.

  5. tadthebad - Mar 1, 2010 at 2:45 PM

    McGuire’s career OBP is .394. Pretty sure that demonstrates McGuire was really good at reaching base. So, McGuire did the two most important things a hitter can do: not make outs, and hit the ball far.

  6. Jonny5 - Mar 1, 2010 at 2:54 PM

    Anyone who thinks speed is a performance enhancer is clueless!!! It doesn’t make you stronger. It doesn’t make you faster. It makes you think you’re better, and keeps you alert, that’s it. Your friends are correct in the Misdemeanor/ felony aspect.

  7. The Common Man - Mar 1, 2010 at 3:01 PM

    Right, because reading a fastball away or a slider down and in in 1.4 seconds (or being a little quicker to 1B on a pickoff, or able to block out thoughts about your fight with the wife last night, or pick up a slicing line drive off the bat, or locate a very high popup against a white roof) doesn’t require a significant amount of alertness and concentration. You’re totally right. There is no performance enhancement there.

  8. Jamie - Mar 1, 2010 at 3:01 PM

    I haven’t seen anyone clamoring to induct Ryan McGuire into the Hall of Fame. I don’t think he hit very many home runs, either.

  9. Lawrence From Plattekill - Mar 1, 2010 at 3:02 PM

    I don’t know why it’s so hard for you to understand that people rected to their perception of how much steroids affected the game, compared to amphetamines. It looks like steroids broke a lot of records and amphatemines didn’t change a thing. You want to bring out so evidence that the perceptions aren’t accurate, go ahead (actual evidence, not just screaming about it). But if you can’t understand what people are reacting to, it’s you, not them.
    And by the way, I don’t have the link handy, but someone did an analysis of the ’51 Giants and the fact is that during their 36-7 run, they didn’t hit any better as a team, nor did any of the players hit particularly better, than during the rest of the season. What improved was the pitching. So this sign-stealing thing is just a bunch of crap.

  10. Lawrence From Plattekill - Mar 1, 2010 at 3:09 PM

    I tried to post, and I got the confirmation screen but the comment hasn’t shown up. I won’t repeat what I said, but I found a link I’d mentioned–an analysis of the 1951 Giants and their sign stealing. Someone did the work and found that the Giants’ hitting didn’t improve at all when they went on their run. What changed was the pitching. So the whole sign-stealing thing is bunk.
    Here’s the link:

  11. CharlieH - Mar 1, 2010 at 3:09 PM

    So you are trying to compare being over caffinated, hungover, smoking, chewing tobacco, and the other things that always go on to the use of steroids, hgh, etc. Why. There is no comparison.

  12. Ben - Mar 1, 2010 at 3:16 PM

    You would be extremely hard pressed to find a “pure” era of baseball.
    start of baseball to the 1950’s- everyone was cheating, home teams would make their base path’s crooked if they were a good bunting team, the Giants wouldn’t cut the outfield grass short and would hide an extra baseball in the outfield in case a ball went way over their head, there was the whole sign stealing fiasco, also back then African American’s weren’t allowed in to baseball right? There were blacks in baseball before Jackie Robinson, they were just officially Native American’s or foreigners or something, so that’s breaking the rules as well. I’m not even going to mention spitballs, corking the bat, and scuffing the ball.
    1960’s and 1970’s- Greenies, these speak for themselves.
    1980’s to around 2002/2003- Steroids
    2004 to present day- this is the cleanest era right now as far as we know.
    I wrote an eight page report on steroid’s affecting home run totals. My conclusion was that if they helped at all, it was for an increase in home runs under 1 percent. A livelier ball, new homerun-friendly ballparks, and expansion teams were all brought in during the “steroid era”! These things have a huge impact on home runs! If you want I can post the report.

  13. Lawrence From Plattekill - Mar 1, 2010 at 3:18 PM

    Yes, I would very much like to see it. Please let me know where you post it, or e-mail to me if you’d rather ( That’s exactly the kind of thing I think should be done more.

  14. gary - Mar 1, 2010 at 3:19 PM

    Of course, it’s quite possible that without the sign stealing the Giants would have hit even worse than they did. We’ll never know.

  15. The Common Man - Mar 1, 2010 at 3:22 PM

    I love this line of reasoning. Nothing changed? Do you realize that during the amphetamine era both the single-season and career home run marks were broken? Also, pitchers routinely began striking out 300 batters in a season and pitched more than 300 innings/season at a far higher rate than they did in any period since the Deadball Era? Maybe none of those changes are solely due to amphetamines, but baseball players didn’t start hitting homers solely due to steroids either (smaller parks, less foul ground, juicier baseballs, Colorado and Arizona entered the league, overall expansion diluting the pitching for a couple years).
    Here’s the reason you don’t think anything has changed: These changes happened a long time ago (1960 is 50 years ago now!) and we have lived with them for so long. The changes brought on by steroids only changed the changes that amphetamines made.

  16. Rays fan - Mar 1, 2010 at 3:25 PM

    @ lardin and tadthebad: It’s McGwire. M-C-G-W-I-R-E.

  17. Joey B - Mar 1, 2010 at 3:26 PM

    “Anyone who thinks speed is a performance enhancer is clueless!!! It doesn’t make you stronger. It doesn’t make you faster. It makes you think you’re better, and keeps you alert, that’s it.”
    It’s the last thing they can hold onto. Speed does nothing more than make you more alert. For about a day. Use it for more than that and your reactions are shot. Maybe some of those equating speed with HGH should try it. Stay out all night. Wake up with 4 hours sleep, and pop one. You’ll feel great, but you don’t come down that easily. You go to bed late again, because you feel great, so you’re even more tired the next day.
    If one were to do it occasionally, maybe a pitcher every 5th day, or maybe the day following a DH or home from a WC trip, it might have some benefits. To think someone could continue to pop speed every day and survive is nonsense, imho.

  18. Jonny5 - Mar 1, 2010 at 3:26 PM

    Once again, they don’t make you any faster or any stronger. At all. It releases endorphines which don’t help you to see the ball better either. Seriously though they’re uppers that will take a toll on your body much more than it will help.

  19. Jonny5 - Mar 1, 2010 at 3:34 PM

    “They are controlled substances commonly called “uppers” and induce false feelings of power, strength, self-assertion and enhanced motivation.”
    “The main psychic effects of the amphetamines include wakefulness, alertness, a decreased sense of fatigue, mood elevation, increased self confidence, and a decreased appetite. Amphetamines do not create extra physical and mental energy. Moreover, they are notable for distorting the user’s perception of reality and impairing judgment, which may cause an athlete to participate while injured, possibly leading to worse injuries and putting others at risk.”
    : Dr. Gary Wadler, a New York University School of Medicine professor and lead author of the book “Drugs and the Athlete”,

  20. Jerseytarzan - Mar 1, 2010 at 3:35 PM

    Anyone who compares stealing signs to steroids does not know much about sports. That kind of “stealing” is more art than theft. We are not talking about illegal videotaping or stealing playbooks. It really is part of the game. The players know it and that is why they cover their faces when they talk to other players. A “sportsman” who does not understand this most likely has hemorrhoids from sitting on a bar stool, staring at a TV screen and thinking they know anything about sports.

  21. Lie-awyer - Mar 1, 2010 at 3:35 PM

    Major League Baseball doesn’t have a criminal code, therefore there are no misdemeanors and felonies–just cheating. The argument’s a ridiculous one that basically says “steroids are worse because they work better.” The people who feel that way do so because they value home run records more than base hits and stolen bases, and ignores the fact that pitchers used both types of drugs too.
    In the federal law system, having either amphetamines or steroids without a prescription is a misdemeanor. Dealing either one of them is a felony.
    Let’s also not forget other factors that contributed to the home run explosion (in no paricular order): expansion to the point that pitchers who would never have sniffed the majors in the 1960’s were now on the roster, body armor allowing crowding the plate with impugnity, pitchers getting ejected for throwing high and tight in response to the plate crowding, lowered pitcher mounds, smaller strike zones.

  22. JayZee - Mar 1, 2010 at 3:37 PM

    Yes, the taking of amphetamines would be considered a form of cheating and a performance enhancer.
    However, take a look at the bodies on Mays, Aaron, Mantle, Killebrew, Maris, and all of the other home run hitters of that era and then look at McGwire, Sosa, Bonds, and the other home run stars of the immediate past and present, and you will see the real effect of performance enhancers.

  23. Luis - Mar 1, 2010 at 3:41 PM

    Don’t worry about it man. I’ve found that people who punctuate their points/arguments with multiple exclamation points are either 12-year-old girls or have no idea what they’re running their mouth about.

  24. Lawrence From Plattekill - Mar 1, 2010 at 3:46 PM

    Now, that’s an interesting argument. I’d like to see some studies on that. Of course, it superficially still doesn’t seem like the same amount of change–the single-season home run record was broken, but only in a freak year by a guy who bever came close before or after, and no one else came close, either. There’s a huge difference between that and there being so many more 50 and 60 homer seasons.
    Still, that’s only a superficial feeling. I’d like to see someone run some numebers in depth. Maybe I’d change my mind on amphetamines.
    The reason people didn’t react to amphetamines at the time, is because they didn’t know about them. If someone had pointed out that Hank Aaron had used them, they probably would have.
    “The changes brought on by steroids only changed the changes that amphetamines made.”
    It sure doesn’t seem that way. People were not breaking homer records in the 50s. Again, let’s see if someone can analyze the numbers and find out.

  25. Jerseytarzan - Mar 1, 2010 at 3:48 PM

    Or someone familiar with gramatical devices.

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