SI Vault
Steve Wolf
April 13, 1981
Loaded bats, phantom DPs and balls doctored with everything from flour to fly-line cleaner may be illegit, but they're as much a part of the grand old game as, well, the spitter
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April 13, 1981

Tricks Of The Trade

Loaded bats, phantom DPs and balls doctored with everything from flour to fly-line cleaner may be illegit, but they're as much a part of the grand old game as, well, the spitter

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The one current player who has admitted to swinging a bogus bat is Andre Thornton, a first baseman/designated hitter for Cleveland and a very religious man. After the 1978 season, Thornton made his confession: "I was approached to use a corked bat. I used it two weeks. It gave me a tremendous emotional problem. I hit one home run with it. But I couldn't find peace with that, even though a lot of players use them. I just couldn't use something illegal and live with myself. It was a dark bat, and no one would ever have known.

"I felt so much joy when I discarded that bat, you can't imagine. My flesh told me to go ahead and use it. All men face such decisions, in any walk of life. Do you cheat? Or do you rise above it?"

So guess what most baseball players would answer.


Thornton is so honest that he's probably the only first baseman not mentioned by players when they discuss who cheats while tagging the bag, i.e., pulls his foot off before the fielder's throw arrives. This is intended to make the umpire believe that the throw got to first before it really did. The list is long, but the best at the cha-cha are Cooper, Jim Spencer, Willie Montanez Rod Carew, Eddie Murray, Keith Hernandez and the old guard of Rose, Willie Stargell, Tony Perez, Carl Yastrzemski and Lee May. Rose has been playing the position for only two years, but he picked up the knack about two minutes after he became a first baseman. He says Willie McCovey was the best he has ever seen. "He was so good at it," says Rose, "that I was hesitant to try and bunt for base hits on him, because you could be safe by a step and a half and he'd still make you look out." Old-timers say that nobody could compare to Gil Hodges of the Dodgers and Joe Ad-cock of the Braves for cheating on the bag. Darrell Johnson, the former Seattle and Boston manager and now a coach with the Rangers, says all first basemen do it. "But like Orson Welles says, they only do it when it's time."

"We don't cheat as much as second basemen do on the double play," says former Second Baseman Rose. Bump Wills. Willie Randolph, Jim Morrison, Frank White, Davey Lopes, Mike Tyson, Joe Morgan and Rich Dauer are considered the best—or worst, depending on one's point of view—second basemen at studiously avoiding the bag on the pivot. The phantom double play is sometimes a matter of survival, which is why the umpires rarely acknowledge it, but there are other times when it's just plain cheating. The second baseman hopes to cover up for all manner of faux pas—bad throws from the shortstop, bad timing on his own pivot and the like.

When asked last season what percentage of the time he cheats on the DP, Phil-lie Infielder Ramon Aviles said, "All the time. Last Sunday I participated in four double plays. I cheated on three of them. What happens is that when I play second base, I'll put my left foot on top of the bag as I'm waiting for the throw. When the ump sees my foot on top of the bag, he figures I'm there the whole time. But by the time I catch the ball, I'm not there."

Bobby Grich, the Angels' second baseman, is sometimes cited for cheating on the double play, but he says it ain't so. "I'm a former football player, so I like contact. Besides, I'm bigger than most second basemen. The guy, though, who gets away with it more than anyone is Randolph. He was even doing it during infield practice at the All-Star Game. He straddles the bag. I don't know why he does it that way, but he does it often."

The shortstops most frequently accused of ignoring the bag are Fred Patek, Tim Foli, Larry Bowa, Dave Concepcion and Rick Burleson. "Guys like Phil Garner say I cheat," says Concepcion. "I no cheat. I'm just quick." Retired Umpire Hank Soar says. "Burleson is a master at cheating on the bag. So you have to call it on him to make him stop. I did one time in something like a 15-2 game, and he told me, 'I'll get your job for this.' "

Grich is a wizard at many infield tricks. Three or four times a year on flyballs he will fake fielding a grounder to the detriment of the runner going from first to second on a steal or hit-and-run. "If the runner's not watching the ball." says Grich, "he'll get confused. I learned that trick when I was a 9-year-old bat boy on my father's softball team. I love stuff like that. It breaks up the monotony of the game and. after 14 years in pro ball, sometimes I need it." Grich is also adept at positioning his feet to block a runner from getting back to the bag. "It's just as much mine as his," he says. Grich is very good at sneaking up behind runners on pickoff plays, and he has faked more than a few runners into sliding into second when they should have been wheeling on to third.

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