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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. Lawrence From Plattekill - Mar 1, 2010 at 3:50 PM

    Oh, and one more thing. We’ve got individual data on steroids, so we can, in part, isolate their effects ina given player. We saw McGwire’s and Bonds’ homer-hitting shoot upwards suddenly. that didn’t happen because they changed parks, or because the league expanded. Is there any comparable data for amphetamines?

  2. Tom - Mar 1, 2010 at 3:50 PM

    If amphetamines didn’t work then why did players do them?

  3. Josh in DC - Mar 1, 2010 at 3:53 PM

    They had a pair of binoculars in the outfield. It wasn’t glamorous or cute, really — only with time and distance.

  4. Danny - Mar 1, 2010 at 3:55 PM

    if it didn’t work, why was it used so much????
    People used it because it worked. Just like steroids, just like HGH. They work. Even they slightest advantage at that level is huge. Heck, I even see softball players in so called recreation leagues popping pills and using illegal bats. Its talked about like you talk about Sports Center.
    The players of the 50′s and 60′s would have taken streroids. They just didn’t have them. And it wasn’t because they didn’t want to ruin the game, thy were scared of steroids back then!

  5. YANKEES1996 - Mar 1, 2010 at 3:56 PM

    The times change the mindset stays the same, athletes are constantly looking for an edge. Greenies, steroids or whatever else comes along there is always an athlete somewhere who will give it a try. They don’t see it as cheating or it being an unfair advantage it is pushing the envelope.
    A couple of years ago Jimmy Johnsons’ crew chief Chad Knaus got suspended in NASCAR for altering the back window / trunk area of Johnsons car in qualifying, his response was “it is my job to push the limits and determine the rules and if I am cheating then it is their job to catch me”. It does not matter what sport you talk about or what collection of athletes everyone is looking for an edge and it all comes down to money. It is regrettable and sad but no matter what era you look at in baseball there was always some form of cheating or corruption going on, it is never right but it has always happened.

  6. Josh in DC - Mar 1, 2010 at 3:57 PM

    Are the old-timers’ apologists really giving a pass for cheating with amphetamines because they weren’t effective enough? I mean, the argument is that the cheated, but ineffectively, so it’s all okay.
    I’ll remember that the next time I get pulled over for speeding, when I point out that I’m still running late.

  7. Jonny5 - Mar 1, 2010 at 4:02 PM

    Because they weren’t the smartest people on the planet, they never actually studied the effects, all they knew is they felt better. What do medical professors say about these drugs once they actually studied the effects?
    “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.”

  8. JJS - Mar 1, 2010 at 4:13 PM

    Just because they may or may not have cheated in the past STILL does not make it right or even OK today.

  9. jack coppersmith - Mar 1, 2010 at 4:13 PM

    The only thing that Jim Bunning did was to win baseball games by pitching a spitball, which unlike steroids was illegal in baseball at the time he used it, yet CHEATER BUNNING is in the Hall. After he got in he bragged that he had used it all the time in tight situations. It also “worked”! Other pitchers could have used the spitter, but didn’t, because they weren’t willing to cheat like Bunning. He got away with it, but in his way, he did as much to hurt baseball as any CHEATER.

  10. The Common Man - Mar 1, 2010 at 4:14 PM

    Johnny, are you angry with steroid users because they cheated or because their cheating worked? It seems to me the intent between steroid users and amphetamine users is exactly the same: to cheat. The consequences may have been different, but that’s hardly the fault of the players who didn’t have access to steroids yet. If they had been available, is there any doubt that players in the ’60s and ’70s would have used them, when they’ve already demonstrated their intent to circumvent the rules?
    And I again point out that increased wakefulness and alertness (and increased self-confidence) are in fact, benefits that can enhance performance. So amphetamines are Performance Enhancing Drugs. Again, the only distinction I see between greenies and steroids are that steroids weren’t commonly known about and easy to acquire in the Amphetamine Era.

  11. Brian - Mar 1, 2010 at 4:28 PM

    Isnt Gaylord Perry in the HOF for Cheating?

  12. Joey B - Mar 1, 2010 at 4:30 PM

    “Are the old-timers’ apologists really giving a pass for cheating with amphetamines because they weren’t effective enough? I mean, the argument is that the cheated, but ineffectively, so it’s all okay.
    I’ll remember that the next time I get pulled over for speeding, when I point out that I’m still running late.”
    It’s not a pass. It’s saying that the advantage provided by speed a couple of times a month is a fraction of the advantage of HGH. There are no immediate side affects to HGH. If you took speed everyday, you’d be dead in a year.
    Or using your analysis, it’s like saying the guy doing 57 is as guilty as the guy doing 120.

  13. IDidntCheat - Mar 1, 2010 at 4:30 PM

    Everyone needs to understand that baseball is traditionally a cheating sport. Whether it is stealing signs, scuffing a ball, spit balls, corked bat etc. So to say that one type of cheating is ok, but not steroids is just a lame arguement. Baseball needs to get over itself and its revisionist history. The game is based on getting an advantage on the other team. Period. So all this talk about numbers and changing the game are just a distraction for fans. Teams and players know that cheating is part of the game, always has been, always will be.
    I want my team to win, and I want to watch an entertaining game. I don’t look up to players or hold them to some pedestal. They are atheletes, entertainers. I don’t care if my favorite actors become drug addicts, as long as they make good shows or movies. These are just atheletes people! Nothing else.
    I would prefer my atheletes on doctor/team prescribed steroids or HGH. If it makes them healthier and recover faster, then great. How many of us have not taken a mild steroid prescribed by your doctor for an ailment. I took it at age 12 to heal a knee that popped out during a ski trip. Rather than surgery, the doctors recommended rehabilitation and steroids. HGH is a great drug for healing and recovery. But we don’t care when an athelete shoots up with some pain killer so that they can play another game while shredding the body part that has been numbed by the pain killer. Isn’t that performance enhancing?
    All this holier than thou talk is makes me want to puke.

  14. The Common Man - Mar 1, 2010 at 4:30 PM

    Not to my knowledge, precisely because we don’t know who was using them from those days and who wasn’t. This, of course, is primarily because the media culture and the relationship between the media and the players has changed so much since that time. Nobody wrote about Mickey’s drinking or about Willie’s “red juice.” And frankly, we don’t have anything approaching a comprehensive list of players who used steroids or HGH either, or when precisely they were using them (and when the players started reaping the benefits), so our efforts to quantify the effect of steroids on overall numbers is incomplete at best, hopeless at worst. That doesn’t even account for the fact that I’m sure steroids and HGH affect different people and different body chemistries differently.

  15. Lawrence From Plattekill - Mar 1, 2010 at 4:35 PM

    Yes. Some of us (I won’t speak for everyone) are upset about steroids. Basically, we’re not upset because they’re illegal, we’re upset because they screwed up our appreciation of records, which we’re into. You ask why we’re not upset about amphetamines, and the answer is because they didn’t have the same effect, and becase we didn’t know about them.
    Why is that so hard to understand?
    You want to disagree, feel free. I’ll even be happy to listen to your arguments, if their civil and/or interesting. But why is it so hard to understand this particular motivation?
    We’re not trying to deal with everything that’s every been done on a baseball field. We’re just ocmplaining about the people who screwed up our fun. It makes perfect sense.

  16. Lawrence From Plattekill - Mar 1, 2010 at 4:47 PM

    True enough, but that shouldn’t stop us from learning what we can. After all, you said that amphetamines did change the game. You were basing that on something, even though, oibviously, it wasn’t complete evidence. I’m willing to consider that amphetamines had a big effect, but if we just decide we can’t know anything and give up, we’d have to reject that theory right now.
    But I don’t want to. You made an intersting point, and I’d like to see if we can find some evidence to understand what was happening.
    I’ve been a medical editor for 25 years, and I know that you can do analyses like this without having complete accounts of everything. There are ways to analyze effects and extrapolate, to some degree. Really, half the medical news you hear on TV is based on less than this.

  17. The Common Man - Mar 1, 2010 at 4:49 PM

    “Basically, we’re not upset because they’re illegal, we’re upset because they screwed up our appreciation of records, which we’re into.”
    It’s an interesting point, though I don’t subscribe to that viewpoint. Records are numbers. Yes, they have taken on mythical status in baseball in a way that they haven’t in other sports. Nonetheless, they are numbers that are only important insofar as they are created by people. So if you care about records, I assume that you have to care about them because you care about who holds them. After all, if Joe DiMaggio had hit in 55 straight games, or 57, would we care about that record any less? And those people have been just as flawed and prone to cheating as players today. So, again, I don’t see the distinction.

  18. bill - Mar 1, 2010 at 4:51 PM

    Yep;
    Mr. “spitball” himself. although I was a fan when he was with the Giants.

  19. Alex - Mar 1, 2010 at 4:52 PM

    There are baseball players playing right now that do everything they can to improve their perfomance. This may include cortisone shots, strong pain killers, high energy drinks, lasik eye surgery, allergy medications, anxiety medications, sports psychologists, contact lens, specialized training, extra batting practice, lots of caffiene, specialized diets, and on and on. Are in of these considered cheating. I would imagine that many players from past eras took certain pills just to recover from partying and drinking. Do we label aspirin, pepto bismol, and coffee as PEDs or as hangover remedys.

  20. Jonny5 - Mar 1, 2010 at 4:53 PM

    I think you have me wrong here. I’m not angry with the guys who did roids. I may have done them if I were in a similar situation as they were. I do feel it was cheating and unfair to guys who followed the rules, therefore i feel this should be taken into consideration for induction into the HOF. And you’re wrong about the greenies too. Just because it made them feel more alert and confident doesn’t make them better. Put trained mice in a maze on and off your “greenies” here, then get back to me. Or just listen to the experts who say “Amphetamines do not create extra physical and mental energy. Moreover, they are notable for distorting the user’s perception of reality and impairing judgment”. Just because they feel better doesn’t make it so. I’m just saying “greenies” are not a PED, since they actually don’t improve performance. They give the illusion of improved performance to the user.

  21. Roger Moore - Mar 1, 2010 at 4:54 PM

    That kind of “stealing” is more art than theft. We are not talking about illegal videotaping or stealing playbooks.
    No, we’re talking about using a telescope in the clubhouse to look at the catcher’s signs and signaling it back to the players by moving something in the scoreboard. That kind of sign stealing has been considered cheating since the 19th Century.

  22. The Common Man - Mar 1, 2010 at 4:59 PM

    “True enough, but that shouldn’t stop us from learning what we can.:
    Agree, though I’m reliant on others to generate that data. I don’t want us to stop looking; I just want us to acknowledge that our knowledge will never be perfect. We have an unfortunate tendency to speak in absolutes they cannot support. By the way, I really appreciate this discussion; you bring a thoughtful perspective and open-mindedness to it that is often lacking.

  23. lardin - Mar 1, 2010 at 5:04 PM

    I blame it on spell check. My bad

  24. The Common Man - Mar 1, 2010 at 5:11 PM

    That’s fair. Assuming the characterization of Greenies you cite is accurate, I can live with the fact that they’re not PEDs.
    But I think the characterization of them as “misdemeaners” and steroids as “felonies” is unfair, given that the intent behind taking one or the other is the same: to improve performance. In that case, more accurately, it seems like the analogy should be something like attempted robbery and robbery (again, assuming both that amphetamines do not work to improve performance, and that the use of steroids and HGH had a significant effect). Ethically, they are exactly the same, just distinct in their effectiveness.

  25. Bear - Mar 1, 2010 at 5:17 PM

    Steroids were put on the banned substances list of the MLB in the early 90′s by Faye Vincent. Testing didn’t begin until 2004, so the ban was worthless, but none the less in effect. I guess when Canseco used from 1986 until 1990, that wasn’t specifically against the rules.

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