There's a difference between being underhanded and cheating. Cheating is unimaginative, brutish, and plain. Underhandedness, on the under hand, requires a certain moustache-twirling panache—a boldness that beguiles us, no matter what the rulebooks say!
1. Gaylord Perry: Spit Shine
(Image credit: Flickr user Insomnia Cured Here)
When it comes to being underhanded, baseball pitcher Gaylord Perry set the bar pretty low. Throughout his long, successful career, Perry cultivated his reputation as a spit-baller, hoping it would intimate opposing batters. Perry bragged about his KY Jelly ball, his Preparation H ball, and he even commemorated his 300th win by wearing a t-shirt that read “300 is nothing to spit at.” Of course, what makes Perry such an intriguing case is that he may have talked about cheating more than he actually cheated. He wash;t ejected from a game for throwing a doctored ball until his 21st season of a 22-season career. But, is claiming to be a cheating cheating? The Baseball Hall of Fame doesn’t seem to think so. It inducted Perry in 1991.
2. Kid McCoy: Taking Advantage of the Bell Curve
Seeking to psych out challengers in the days leading up to big fights, Hall of Fame boxer Charles "Kid" McCoy frequently feigned illness or spread rumors of an injury. Then, when the bout came around, McCoy would show up in perfect form. (This supposedly prompted reporters to wonder whether they'd be seeing "the real McCoy" in the ring.) But McCoy's lowest blow? In 1893, when he fought a deaf mute. Toward the end of the fourth round, McCoy simply dropped his gloves and walked back to his corner as though the bell had sounded. When the deaf fighter turned to do the same, McCoy ran over and knocked him out.
3. Mr. Martin: My Kingdom from a Horse
In 1898, a man calling himself Mr. Martin walked into the office of The Sportsman and asked the British newspaper’s editors to publish the program for the upcoming Trodmore Hunt Steeplechase. The editors agreed, and promised to print the outcome after the race, as well. Later, it turned out that an unknown horse name dReaper had taken the Trodmore Hunt after going off at five-to-one odds, leaving bookies to pay out sizable sums to daring bettors. The sneaky part? There was no such thing as the Trodmore Hunt Steeplechase. It was all a scam constructed by the mysterious Mr. Martin, who took his winnings and vanished.
4. Rick Barry: Function Over Form
Basketball Hall of Famer Rick Barry epitomizes success in underhanded athletics. Immune to charges of “looking goofy” and “being a big sissy,” Barry shot his free throws literally underhanded, using a cringingly uncool style that involved holding the ball in both hands and swinging it between his legs before lobbing it at the basket. But the technique was as successful as out was dorky. Barry retired in 1980 with a combined ABA/NBA average of 89.3 percent at the free-throw line -the best in history.
5. Red Auerbach: Host From Hell
Coach Arnold "Red" Auerbach, the cigar-chomping mastermind behind the great Boston Celtics teams of the 1950s and 1960s, wasn't one to let any advantage go unused. Auerbach knew his home stadium inside and out and manipulated it to create one of the greatest home court advantages in the history of sport. To foster a feeling of alienation among opposing players, he would assign visiting teams a different locker room in the Boston Garden each time they came to town. To foster a feeling of nausea, he reportedly made sure at least one toilet in the visitor's quarters was stopped up and overflowing. And finally, to foster a feeling of "it's so hot I'm gonna die," he contrived to have the building's boilers stoked and steaming right before tip off and again at halftime.
6. The Spanish Paralympic Basketball Team: Playing Dumb
The grand champions of sport ethics obliteration have to be the members of the 2000 Spanish Paralympic basketball team. How low could they go? After the team snagged a gold medal, it was revealed that 10 of the 12 players had never been tested, and were, in fact, not mentally challenged.
7. Eddie Stanky: The Stanky Maneuver
One of the all-time greats at probing the limits of sports rulebooks was second baseman Eddie "The Brat" Stanky. The best evidence of Stanky's creative rule interpretations came in 1950, when baseball commissioner Ford Frick had to forbid Stanky from using what had become known as the "Stanky Maneuver," a dubious defensive tactic in which he took advantage of his position behind the pitcher by "jumping up and down while waving wildly in an attempt to distract opposing batters."
8. Donald Crowhurst: Smooth Sailing
When 36-year-old Donald Crowhurst entered the British Sunday Times Golden Globe round-the-world yacht race in 1968, all he had going for him were an experimental plywood sailboat, a little sailing experience, and a gift for underhanded improvisation.
Crowhurst set out with good intentions, but soon encountered problems with his ship. Dubious about his craft's chances in the brutal Southern Ocean near Antarctica, Crowhurst simply detoured across the Atlantic and holed up off the coast of South America at a position much farther along the course. As he waited for his competitors to catch up, Crowhurst sent out bogus radio reports claiming he was in second place. The scheme came to a tragic end, however, when he learned that Nigel Tetley, another racer, had capsized in an all-out attempt to catch him, or, at least, his reported position. Overcome with remorse, Crowhurst scratched out a confession, stepped off the side of his vessel, and committed suicide by drowning. We didn't include this story to depress you; we included it so that you couldn't accuse us of endorsing cheating.
9. Jason Grimsley and Albert Belle: The Ol' Bat-and-Switch
When suspicions arose that Cleveland Indians slugger Albert Belle had been corking his bat, it made for a cloak-and-dagger spy-fest. Tipped off about Belle's bat during a 1994 game against the White Sox, umpires confiscated it and took it to a locker room for later investigation. Knowing Belle's bat was doctored, and not wanting to lose their best offensive player to a suspension, the Indians dispatched pitcher Jason Grimsley to sneak into the room and switch out the bat for a legal model. Grimsley climbed through about 10 feet of ducts and a false ceiling to pull the switch. The plan might have worked, if only he hadn't replaced it with an autographed Paul Sorrento model. The caper was quickly discovered, and Belle soon found himself suspended.
10. Gene Bossard: Field of Streams
(Image credit: Rdikeman)
For groundskeeper Gene Bossard, lending the Chicago White Sox an underhanded hand was the family business. Gene managed the turf at Comiskey Park from 1940 to 1983, and when he stepped down, his son Roger took over operations. Together, the Bossards were known for doctoring and dampening the diamond to give the Sox a true home field advantage. In fact, opposing teams took to calling the infield "Bossard's Swamp," because Gene kept it watered down to benefit the Sox's sinkerball pitchers and to slow opposing baserunners.
Bossard's most infamous trick, however, seems to be inventing the "frozen baseball." Perhaps Roger Bossard explained the phenomenon best: "In the bowels of the old stadium my dad had an old room where the humidifier was constantly going. By leaving the balls in that room for 10 to 14 days, they became a quarter- to a half-ounce heavier." The Sox manager during the frozen ball era in the late 1960s? Number 7 on this list, Eddie Stanky.
The article above, written by Chris Connolly, is reprinted with permission from the September-October 2006 issue of mental_floss magazine.
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