In the middle of the so called “Steroid Era,” cheating accusations in baseball are abundant. When star players are suspended year after year when they test positive for Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs), the sports world is rocked. Some, like Ryan Braun or Melky Cabrera have been linked to clinics known to distribute PEDs; others like Carlos Ruiz get slapped with a 50 game suspension for testing positive for the banned substance Adderall. However a recent cheating accusation was neither of the above. Clay Buchholz never tested positive for PEDs or any other banned substance, Buchholz has been accused of channeling his inner Gaylord Perry and throwing spitballs during Wednesday’s start against Toronto.
A spitball, a bit of a misnomer, is a pitch in which a foreign substance (saliva, rosin, petroleum jelly, etc) has been applied to the baseball. Now illegal, players such as Gaylord Perry and Whitey Ford were infamous for doctoring their baseballs to allow them to increase the break on their off speed pitches. After a dominating performance against the Blue Jays Wednesday, two Jays announcers and former pitchers claimed Buchholz was cheating, applying some foreign substance to the ball to increase its break. In fairness, Buchholz has been throwing the ball better this season than he has in the past. His fastball has the speed of a four-seam fastball with the break of an insane two-seamer. Buchholz has since denied any accusations of cheating.
Proving that someone has cheated in baseball isn’t as easy as it sounds. No test is foolproof, when Ryan Braun was first accused of testing positive his test was thrown out because the sample wasn’t handled properly. The man who collected the sample didn’t follow the guidelines set by Major League Baseball when he failed to take Mr. Braun’s urine to FedEx the same day it was collected. FedEx was closed by the time the sample was taken, delaying it by a day and rendering the test useless. Braun’s case was thrown out and he was never suspended.
Major League Baseball is only starting in-season Human Growth Hormone (HGH) testing this season, and deceptive practices like spitballs aren’t always easy to spot. Brady Anderson hit 50 home runs in 1996, despite not only never having hit more than 21 in a season before, but also never surpassing 24 after. Anderson was never suspended by Major League Baseball; in his own defense, his single season of incredible power hitting was because of the “culmination of all [his] athleticism and baseball skills and years of training peaking simultaneously.”
Buchholz is simply the most recent “cheater” in a long, long history of cheating in baseball. Although steroids are used in almost all professional sports, the sheer number of accusations, positive tests, and suspensions in baseball have tarnished the sport. Roger Maris’s record 61 home runs in 1961 stood until 1998, when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, two steroid users, hit 70 and 66 respectively. The man who famously broke McGwire’s record with 73 home runs is prolific steroid user Barry Bonds. To this day, no clean player has ever hit more than Maris’s 61 in a season.
Was Clay Buchholz cheating during Wednesday’s start in Toronto, I have no idea. The fact of the matter, however, remains that cheating is rampant in baseball. Whether It be anabolic steroids, Human Growth Hormone, Adderall, or some SPF 40 applied to a baseball, the game has been tarnished by accusations left and right. When the Baseball Writers’ Association of America voted on Hall of Fame inductions for 2013, it became the first season ever that no player was inducted. No Barry Bonds, no Craig Biggio, no Roger Clemens, no Mike Piazza. The Steroid Era is in full swing and the public is well aware of it. Every needle filled with steroids that Roger Clemens had injected into his butt by his loyal trainer is another scandal that Major League Baseball could do without.
Every steroid using player feels the need for that extra kick, the extra muscle that will jump them from 15 homers in a season to 30 badly enough to risk health issues, suspensions, public humiliation and a putting a bad name on the sport they “love”.