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How much cheating is OK?

by Jack Hodgson

I think Barry Bonds is a cheater.

I think he broke the rules, and the law, in order to improve his performance. He didn't do this to be able to make a living, or to be able to be competitive in the major leagues, or even to become a superstar. He was naturally a superstar. He did it because he wanted to be, or appear to be, number one. He wanted to be seen as the best home-run hitter in baseball.

I have no respect for Bonds, and no sympathy for the "pressure" he was under to perform.

I'm also disappointed with my national league favorite San Francisco Giants for looking the other way in order to sell tickets.

I think Bonds should be out of baseball. He should never be allowed to reach the home-run record.

As you can see, I feel pretty strongly about this.

The problem I have with all this is, when it comes to cheating in baseball, I am a hypocrite.

Let's talk about golf for a moment.

In golf, refereeing is done through the honor system. Players are expected to self-penalize themselves when they violate the rules. Once a year or so, there's a sports story about a pro golfer who disqualifies himself from a tournament because he's realized that he broke a rule, and failed to assess the proper penalty on the spot. Many seem to think this is remarkable.

But in baseball it's different.

One of my favorite players is a Catcher who will remain nameless. He's a great player, and by all I can tell, a very honorable guy. But I've seen him cheat. I've seen him attempt a tag at home plate and clearly miss the tag. Video replays make it clear the not only did he miss the tag, but that he knew he missed it. Nevertheless he held up his glove, in an attempt to make the umpire believe the tag was made. The umpire called the runner out. My catcher knew the guy wasn't really out, but he didn't say anything.

This behavior is not condemned. It's applauded by many.

We've all seen outfielders trying to disguise a "trapped" catch as being an out. We've seen missed tags on steals to second being played up as actually made.

All these things are considered OK. Part of the game. If the umpires make a mistake in your favor, even if you know it, you'll accept the boon.

The are many baseball greats, including Hall of Famers, who have admitted to cheating (for example, spitball pitchers). But that's OK, kinda.

Some of the most popular baseball movies have glorified cheating. One had a chemistry wiz devising a substance which, when rubbed on a baseball, made it repel the bat. Then he secretly used this stuff to enter the majors and become a hometown hero. In another hugely popular baseball story an old fan makes a deal with the devil so his beloved Senators can beat the damn yankees. In another, a bunch of angels -- the kind from heaven -- help one little league team beat another.

Taking unfair advantage is good, so it seems.

So am I being too rough on Barry Bonds?

One thing I keep telling myself is that Bonds didn't need to cheat. He was already incredibly talented. He cheated in order to break the record of a great player who made it the old fashioned way.

Baseball, and all of competitive sports, are in the early days of a revolution. Performance enhancing science -- be it drugs, or exercise, or Tommy John surgery -- are changing the baseline ability of human beings. On the whole that is a good thing. But it's gonna wreak at least a little havoc on the world of sports, where the playing field ought to be level, and where comparing present performance to past performance is so valued. New rules will be required. New values.

And as for my catcher faking the tag? Well I guess I'm OK with that. If my team can gain an out by deke-ing the umpire, then more power to us. But if the other team does it, well, then they're bums.

written 2006-12-28 11:38:59EST