A recent tweet from a friend asserted that “DeflateGate” is one more reason that baseball is better than football. After all, baseballs cannot be deflated, as the New England Patriots are being accused of doing in their win over the Indianapolis Colts in last Sunday’s AFC championship game.
It was a joke based on selective memory, as baseball’s history is filled with players using foreign substances to try to secure an edge, not to mention grounds crews leaving infield grass long, overwatering infields and doctoring baselines.
Teams have also directly helped their players via pre-game preparation of the ball. In this case, the 2009-2010 incidents between the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds immediately come to mind.
In his final late-season 2009 start at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, future Hall of Fame and then-Cardinals pitcher John Smoltz complained that the baseballs were still shiny. The accusation was that they had not been rubbed up properly before the game by the home team’s clubhouse crew.
“I’ve been pitching a long time,” Smoltz said. “It’s the worst baseballs I’ve ever pitched with in my life. The other guy was pitching with them, too. He did a nice job. It was part of the battle. I went out and battled. I had no feel for the baseball. That’s about the worst thing you can have as a pitcher. They were brand new. They were absolutely not rubbed up. You can blame it on the weather but the balls were not rubbed up.”
“I’m sure he had pine tar on his cap,” Duncan said about Arroyo. “He didn’t have any problem getting a grip. Balls like that can generate a lot more movement than a slick ball that hasn’t been rubbed up.”
The issue resurfaced in the Queen City on Opening Day, 2010. Before the game, Cardinals starter Chris Carpenter approached the umpires with a complaint that baseballs were again slick, like “cue balls.” The contest was eventually won by the Cardinals over the Reds by an 11-6 score.
As a result of the negative publicity, MLB asked its umpiring crew chief to inspect the balls prior to the follow-on games in the series. La Russa also took the issue directly to his former boss, Reds general manager Walt Jocketty, expecting it to end there.
While improperly preparing the baseballs may or may not have stopped, the bad blood between the two teams clearly escalated. Perhaps Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips had the above incidents in mind that August when he called the Cardinals “whiny little bitches.”
Further incidents between the two National League Central Division rivals followed, though the public swipes have died down since the two managers, La Russa and Dusty Baker, left their posts.
Though they would have been on opposite sides of their respective ball-doctoring controversies, it is worth noting that La Russa and Pats head coach Bill Belichick are long-time friends.
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