Perhaps baseball, once our national pastime, should return to that position. After all, in what other sport does stealing (and cheating) become celebrated? The cheating part I will come to a bit later in this column. For now, anyone who follows baseball even but a bit knows that stealing bases is a plus, not a negative. Our Capitalist system has always been ‘greased ‘ by stealing. Companies, for as long as we have been a republic, seemed to always steal designs and formulas from other companies or individuals… for gain AKA Profit. There have been rumors going on now for decades that Microsoft may have stolen ideas and designs from young computer geeks. Saddam Hussein most likely was correct in 1990 that Kuwait was stealing Iraqi oil by ‘Angle drilling’. This, along with US Ambassador April Glaspie telling him we do not get involved in disputes between two other nations (yeah right!), gave Hussein license to then invade Kuwait. This cheat factor transcended into Bush Sr. (with a push by Margaret Thatcher of the UK) making war with Iraq . This then set in place a decade of destructive sanctions that helped lead the way to Bush Jr. and Cheney’s horrific preemptive attack and occupation of Iraq. Yes, stealing and or cheating has such repercussions.
Cheating or the use of cheating in baseball was front and center a few years ago when the Houston Astros were found out as to their cheating. One only has to go back to the 1951 playoff game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and NY Giants to realize that cheating has always been part of Americana. The Giants, after a dramatic 11th hour home run by Bobby Thompson off of pitcher Ralph Branca in the bottom of the ninth inning at the Polo Grounds, were revealed to have been cheating. They had a confederate positioned in the outfield scoreboard with binoculars, able to steal Dodger pitching signs. Everyone remembers the home run… few remember the cheating. So it is. Fast forward to the mid 1960s with yours truly playing on a sandlot baseball team in Brooklyn , N.Y. My manager, a cagy veteran of organized Pony League baseball, Mike Achiron, was patrolling the third base coaching box that day. I had just stolen second base and was busy distracting the opposing pitcher. As the kid got a sign from his catcher, Achiron shouts out to the pitcher “Excuse me son, let me have a look at that ball.” The kid, doing what I would have done, obeyed and tossed the ball to Achiron. Achiron jumped out of the way, and as the ball rolled into foul territory, started yelling and waving to me “Come on GO!” I ran around third and scored standing up. The opposing manager was livid! He yelled at Achiron , calling him a ‘Bush leaguer’ (so apropos a term) as he demanded justice from the ump. The umpire could only stare back blankly that it was all ‘Legal’. Time out had not been called so…
Perhaps the ‘Crème de la Crème’ of baseball cheating came about a year or two later. I was playing second base on another Pony League team, with our shortstop being Frankie Grande, a year older and much more experienced in the fine art of cheating. A guy tried to steal second and Frankie was taking the catcher’s throw. I was secured behind the bag as backup. The ball arrived as the runner slid into Frankie’s lowered glove. It was one of those ‘Bang bang ‘ plays. The umpire raised the Out sign as the sandy dirt resembled a desert dust storm. As the runner was walking away Frankie shouts out to me “Come over here!” . As we stand face to face he says “Go find the **** ball!” I slowly back up to behind the bag a few yards and wait for the dust to settle. I see the ball and make like I’m tying my cleats as I quickly scoop it up. I trot over to him with the ball hidden deep within my glove. We pretend to slap each other five as I transfer the ball to his glove. He looks at me with this Cheshire Cat grin and says “That’s baseball!”
I don’t know who it was that said these famous words: “It isn’t cheating unless you get caught.”
Baseball Time 2021