clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

If You Ain’t Cheatin’, You Ain’t Tryin’

The Houston Astros have taken a lot of flak over the past few seasons.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

MLB: Houston Astros at Los Angeles Angels Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

If you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’.

It’s a saying that’s been around for years. I tried to track the origin of the phrase, but each lead pointed me towards a separate rabbit hole.

“If you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’” is an old NASCAR expression. - Bleacher Report

The “if you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying” quote was in Scarbrough’s story and was attributed to SMU Head Coach, Sonny Dykes. -

The first time I heard the saying, “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying hard enough” — made famous by former Chicago Cubs first basemen, Mark Grace — I was a freshman student-athlete at UCLA. -

If you ain’t trying to cheat a little, you ain’t likely to win much. - Richard Petty

It goes on. And on.

What’s clear is that cheating is a time-honored tradition in sports. In baseball, specifically, every team has been stealing signs in some form or another for even longer than you probably suspect. Every team. There are none without sin.

According to Christy Mathewson (yes that Christy Mathewson),

I told Tommy Corcoran that I thought they must be getting the signs from the third base coaching box…He went over and started pawing around in the dirt and water with his spikes and fingers. Pretty soon he dug up a square chunk of wood with a buzzer on the under side of it.

“‘That ought to help their hitting a little,’” he remarked as he kept on pulling. Up came a wire, and when he started to pull on it he found that it was buried about an inch under the soil and ran across the outfield. He kept right on coiling it up and following it, like a hound on a scent…Tommy was galloping by this time across the outfield and all the time pulling up this wire. It led straight to the clubhouse, and there sitting where he could get a good view of the catchers signs with a pair of field-glasses was Morgan Murphy. The wire led right to him…

The preceding passage was taken from Pitching in a Pinch, by Mathewson. It was regarding the Philadelphia Phillies method of sussing out opposing signs, in 1899.

In 1980, Rosie Ruiz won the 1980 Boston taking a ride on the subway.

Tonya Harding conspired to kneecap rival skater Nancy Kerrigan at the 1994 Olympiad.

Doping is rampant in all sports, not just MLB.

“Stealing signs has been around for 100 years.” - Bud Selig

The California Angels conspired to use their speed as an advantage in 1975:

Remy said, during his rookie year with the California Angels, manager Dick Williams realized that speed on the bases was one of his few assets on a weak roster. Remy, Tommy Harper, Mickey Rivers and Dave Collins were all accomplished base-stealers, so Williams had groundskeepers move second base six inches closer to first base, thus shortening the distance a base-runner attempting to steal second would have to cover.

“It was that way all year,” Remy said. “Nobody ever noticed.”

The Angels also were recently found for using doctored balls:

“Hey Bubba, it’s Gerrit Cole,” the text reads. “I was wondering if you could help me out with this sticky situation [winky face emoji]. We don’t see you until May, but we have some road games in April that are in cold weather places. The stuff I had last year seizes up when it gets cold ...”

The Oakland Athletics famously got ahead with The Bash Brothers in late-80s and early-90s:

In his best-selling memoir “Juiced,” Canseco claimed he “single-handedly changed the game” by introducing steroids and growth hormones to fellow players.

The Toronto Blue Jays have been suspected of stealing signs a few different times:

Back in 2011, the Blue Jays were the focus of the discussion around sign stealing thanks to a report from ESPN about a ‘man in white’ sitting in the outfield bleachers. To quickly sum up the story, some members of the opposing bullpen noticed that this individual would raise his arms above his head whenever an off-speed pitch was about to be thrown, but would sit motionless whenever a fastball was on the way. Although they didn’t know how he knew what pitch was coming (they suspected the info was being relayed to him), the four unnamed members of the opposing bullpen noticed that his accuracy in calling pitches was nearly perfect, and his routine was consistent.

The Atlanta Braves were recently heavily sanctioned after using illegal methods to gain the services of their choice of Dominican prospects, including human trafficking. Here’s another pretty good look at it.

On the matter of international free agency, the Braves were also subject to an FBI human trafficking investigation. Obviously, the Braves then GM, who was banned from baseball, has been replaced, and he was replaced by Alex Anthopoulos.

The Milwaukee Brewers were evidently just as guilty as the Astros during the same time period.

The St. Louis Cardinals had their own Correa in trouble in 2017:

Correa knew the passwords one of his former bosses used, so he was able to see everything in the Astros’ scouting system for several years.

The FBI finally caught up to Correa in 2017, now the Cardinals’ director of scouting, and he was sentenced to almost four years in federal prison. The Cardinals lost two draft picks in the 2017 draft and were fined $2 million for Correa’s actions.

The Cubs authored “Weathergate” in 2017.

This isn’t darkening up the ball with spit and dirt or putting bowls of amphetamines in the clubhouse or excluding African Americans — which was all previously acceptable across all MLB organizations and created a level playing field league-wide. The weather forecast is sacred in baseball. And the Cubs deflated it.

Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Caleb Smith was suspended last year for using a foreign substance.

Smith came into last Wednesday’s game against the Philadelphia Phillies in the 6th inning. His glove was checked after that inning and passed inspection. However, when it was checked after the 8th inning, an umpire found two suspicious spots on the inside of the glove.

Smith’s glove was then confiscated and sent to MLB for testing, where it tested positive for a foreign substance.

The Los Angeles Dodgers are also cheaters, according to Josh Reddick and Evan Gattis:

“There’s people in our clubhouse who have had to call other people from the Dodgers clubhouse and say, ‘Hey you need to clean up your shit, because, yo, we know, bro. Why you gotta be like that?,’” Gattis said

And from 2018:

The Brewers felt that the Dodgers knew what was coming in the sixth inning of Game 5 of the NLC Series at the home of the Dodgers. While the Brewers had no issue with the conduct of the Los Angeles franchise, the Milwaukee organisation believed that the Dodgers were using electronic equipment to decipher the signs, which is illegal.

The Cleveland Guardians had an incident from a while back:

The Indians went all out in 1948, setting up a station in the scoreboard of Municipal Stadium that included a telescope, Bob Feller, and some creative arm placement.

The Mets, of course, are currently in a spot of trouble with their cross-town rivals for collusion in the case of Aaron Judge. Also, just a couple of months ago:

The Baltimore Orioles have a colored history of PEDs:

The Orioles have had several players suspended for using PEDs, most notoriously Rafael Palmeiro, who was suspended in 2005 for a failed drug test. More recently, Chris Davis was suspended 25 games for testing positive for PEDs in 2014, a year after hitting a career-best 53 home runs. -

San Diego Padres superstar Fernando Tatis Jr. is serving an 80-game suspension related to PEDs:

“It turns out that I inadvertently took a medication to treat ringworm that contained Clostebol,” he said. “I should have used the resources available to me in order to ensure that no banned substances were in what I took. I failed to do so.”

Joel Peralta was found to have a substantial amount of pine tar inside his glove in 2012 while with the Tampa Bay Rays:

Rays manager Joe Maddon tried valiantly to flip the script and blame the Nats for “underhanded” tactics and said it’s “common practice” for pitchers to use pine tar. “Go ask their players what they think about all this,” he said. “Go ask every team … what they think about this and how it came down and what they believe would be the right way to go about that.”

The Boston Red Sox stole signs using electronics in 2018.

Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred concluded an investigation that began in January by finding Boston used its video replay monitor to decode opponents’ signs during the 2018 regular season, a violation of Major League regulations.

Pete Rose was banned for life while managing the Cincinnati Reds.

After months of investigation, in August, Rose accepted a permanent place on baseball’s ineligible list.

The Colorado Rockies were doing something very similar to the Astros, the year after Houston was cheating.

“The Colorado Rockies were doing the exact same thing in 2018, and we caught them, and we played them in the playoffs,” said Kratz, a member of the Milwaukee Brewersteam that knocked off the Rockies in the NLDS, according to’s Brendan Kuty. “They used to take a Theragun and bang it on their metal bench. And they were doing the exact same thing, from the TV. So, there you go. “

The Kansas City Royals were allegedly cheating in 2015 by doing something similar as well.

It always boggled my mind how the Royals were able to make #contact with EVERY FUCKING PITCH the Mets threw despite having some of the hardest throwers on the planet. However, if you know what is coming, suddenly it’s a lot more understandable if you can gear up for the cheddar or offspeed shit in order to stay alive. Then all you gotta do is figure out a way to get the ball in play and let the Mets Met themselves on defense.

This year, the San Francisco Giants were caught red-handed trying to steal:

The Giants had their first base coach out of the coach’s box in that last series, apparently trying to sneak some signs from catcher Will Smith.

The Texas Rangers got the worst-behaved years of Alex Rodriguez’ career:

Whether it’s gambling in an illegal black jack ring—possibly doing blow with Matt Damon?—or cheating on his ex-wife (or giving the opposition his team’s signs), Alex Rodriguez should change his number to “1” because that is clearly all he’s concerned with.

Oh yes, and Texas Rangers fans love the fact that he supposedly only tried steroids while he was playing for them.

The Detroit Tigers have a colorful history, but they also have some grey area in their past:

“The next day we decided to test his (Bridges) ability to read the pitches and sure enough he sat up in the stands with Pinky. When the pitch was signaled for a fastball or a curveball, they had arranged a predetermined signal to relay it to the batter. It didn’t have to go to the coaches or the bench; it went directly to the batter. Strangely enough, you could look right over the shoulder of the pitcher and look out there in the stands and see the signal.”

The Minnesota Twins are also not exempt:

In 1987, Minnesota Twins pitcher Joe Niekro was caught using one to change the dynamics of his knuckleball against the Angels. After the Halos complained, the ump took action.

The New York Yankees have a long and glorious history of cheating, punctuated most recently (excepting the Judge deal I mentioned earlier) by the “Yankee Letter.”

the Yankees used a similar scheme to that of the Red Sox to decode opposing Clubs’ signs and relay them to the batter when a runner was on second base. [Redacted] — who initially noticed that the Red Sox were using a smartwatch to pass information to their players — admitted to the Department of Investigations that during the 2015 season and the first half of the 2016 season, [Redacted], provided information about opposing Club’s signs to players and members of the coaching staff in the replay room at Yankee Stadium, who then physically relayed the information to the Yankees’ dugout.

And of course, the Chicago White Sox, and maybe the most famous incident of foul play in baseball history with the Black Sox scandal of 1919. Watch Eight Men Out if you would like more information.

That leaves the Washington Nationals, the Seattle Mariners, and the Pittsburgh Pirates as (mostly) innocent bystanders. Or maybe they’re just the only ones good enough to not get caught. Either way, you’ve got to give them credit.

I found all of this in what I would consider a pretty shallow dive into the world of cheating in baseball. It took about two hours, with no special credentials to find all of these things, only about half of which I was previously aware.

All that to say the Houston Astros aren't the only team worthy of outright disrespect as they travel the baseball landscape each season — That human trafficking thing from the Braves comes to mind — fans of other teams should be careful of their own glass houses when they throw stones at the Astros.

There are many other examples. Feel free to add to the list in the comments below.