August 10, 2011
On August 10, 1987, Kevin Gross secured his name in the annals of baseball history as more than just a pitcher with an MVP mustache. He forever joined ranks with the likes of John McGraw, Gaylord Perry, Joe Niekro and Whitey Ford as one of the biggest cheaters in the game.
The Phillies were leading the Cubs at the Vet by a score of 4-2 in the top of the 5th inning when Cubs manager Gene Michael had a word with home plate umpire Charlie Williams. Williams gathered the rest of his crew and paid a visit to Gross at the mound. They asked to see his glove and after a quick inspection, Michael’s suspicions were confirmed: Gross had a strip of sandpaper glued to the heel of his glove to scuff balls. Although no doctored balls were discovered, Gross was immediately ejected.
Even though he was caught red-handed, Gross wouldn’t admit to his wrongdoing after the game: “There was no reason to come out and check the glove for anything. I’m not saying anything.” After he was told the umps found the sandpaper, Gross said “I don’t know. I don’t need anything in my glove. I’ll have something to say tomorrow. I don’t know what’s going on.”
The day after the game, Gross was called into Commissioner Giamatti’s office for a 4-hour hearing after which the league handed down a 10-game suspension. By this time, Gross came around and admitted that he did have sandpaper in his glove, but that he “didn’t use it.” The pitcher said, “I was not scuffing any ball in the game last night.” Instead, he was “just fooling” with the sandpaper.
It was later reported that Gross, who had lost 5-6 mph on his fastball, was using sandpaper to compensate. Gene Michael actually suspected Gross was scuffing balls in a previous game that year, but waited until the August 10th match-up to raise the issue with umpires.
Gross obviously wasn’t paying much attention to the league if he thought he was going to get away with the stunt. The night Gross was caught, Twins pitcher Joe Niekro was in the midst of a 10-day suspension for having sandpaper and an emery board in his pocket during an August 3rd game against the Angels.
As an aside, I never understood why pitchers who scuffed balls or used foreign substances to get the ball to do wacky things are romanticized, while players who use steroids are vilified. Why is one considered part of baseball lore, while the other is downright evil? Pitchers who were notorious for doctoring balls are proud members of the Hall of Fame, but I don’t see Barry Bonds or Manny Ramirez ever being inducted. I’d argue that doctoring balls is just as bad, if not worse, than using performance enhancing drugs. Both are against the rules of the game, both are clearly unethical, and both allow the player to do things he couldn’t naturally do. However, while taking steroids may make you a little stronger, a little faster, and recover from injury in a little less time, it won’t make the ball do impossible things. Just because it’s nostalgic, doesn’t mean it’s okay.