Bamberger says Leary's cheating act just needs little spit, polish

June 25, 1992|By Bill Madden | Bill Madden,New York Daily News

NEW YORK -- Now that the evidence has been scrutinized and presumably digested, two things are certain about this Tim Leary cheating tempest: The New York Yankee pitcher needs to change his eating habits and he needs a new cheating coach.

George Bamberger, an admitted practitioner of the fine art of cheating, was thinking the same thing the other night. He watched Leary's apparent devouring act with amusement from his home in Redington Beach, Fla. The former New York Mets manager still isn't sure whether Leary actually was cheating, but, if not, then what was he doing?

"If I were Leary," said Bambi, "I'd start practicing a little in front of the mirror. I hope he was just decoying. Otherwise, he needs to learn."

Still, Bamberger understands. There are any number of retired pitchers who, if the truth were told, could attest to extending their careers with Bamberger's notorious "Staten Island sinker." Baseball people often tell the story of when Bamberger, then pitching coach for the Orioles, went to the mound to console Ross Grimsley, who was getting rocked.

"Do you know how to cheat?" Bamberger asked Grimsley, who shook his head.

"Well, in that case," Bamberger said, "I suggest you start learning right now."

Perhaps there wouldn't have been such a furor the other night had Leary's pitches not hit two Orioles in succession and knocked one of them, catcher Chris Hoiles, out of commission for six weeks.

Baltimore manager Johnny Oates as much as conceded that spitballs and scuffballs are part of the game but maintained the reason they have been outlawed is as much for safety as for honesty or even sanitary reasons.

"A lot of time pitchers can't control them," Oates said. "We lost our catcher for six weeks because a pitcher couldn't control where the ball was going."

Hogwash, says Bamberger.

"I'd say if I threw 300 spitballs, 299 of 'em went where I wanted 'em to go," Bamberger said. "I didn't scuff the ball because it didn't do anything for me. I used to use slippery elm. It's a little piece of wood that you'd chew like bubblegum. Sometimes you'd almost start throwing up because your saliva would get so gummy.

"I'd get a good load on, then go to the resin bag to satisfy the umpires I was clean, but I'd still have plenty to throw my 'sinker.' I was accused of having stuff on my shirt, my hat, everywhere, but I was getting it right from the resin."

It is Bamberger's contention -- and Leary may be on to this -- that the most successful cheaters are those everyone suspects of cheating. "That's the secret," Bamberger said. "When the other team is sure you're cheating, they're looking at your every pitch. Gaylord Perry was a master at psyching out the other team before the game even started."

"Never go out there on stage alone," said the late comic Joe E. Lewis, whose "prop" for success was usually a fifth of bourbon. Perry admits he forged a Hall of Fame career out of petroleum jelly. And Cubs coach Chuck Cottier, who managed Perry in Seattle at the end of his career, said it was no secret where the renowned "grease man" hid his stuff.

"Everywhere," said Cottier. "He had this routine he went through in the clubhouse before the game where he'd rub Vaseline on his cap, his collar, his arm, his right leg and on his neck and face."

According to Cubs announcer and former Cy Young winner and Orioles pitcher Steve Stone, Perry was willing to teach his cheating secrets, too -- for a price.

"He'll probably deny this today," said Stone, "but when I was a rookie with the Giants in 1971, making the major-league minimum, Gaylord comes up to me and offers to teach me the spitter. 'But it'll cost you $3,000,' " he says. "I told him, 'Gaylord, that's 40 percent of my salary. I can't afford that.' You know what he said? 'It may seem like a lot now, but in the long run, think how much it'll be worth to your career.' "

Perry may have had a point. Some of the most revered pitchers in the game -- Whitey Ford, Tommy John, Don Sutton, even Nolan Ryan -- have been accused of extending their careers through illegal means.

A few years ago, John and Sutton were dueling when WPIX cameras caught Sutton putting something in his glove between innings, prompting George Steinbrenner to phone manager Lou Piniella in the Yankees dugout from Tampa.

"Damn it, Lou," Steinbrenner screamed, "Sutton's cheating and everyone in the ballpark knows it. Why aren't you out there getting him thrown out of the game?"

"What's the score of the game, George?" Piniella asked calmly.

"It's 2-0. We're winning. What's that got to do with anything?"

"What it means, George," said Piniella, "is that our guy is cheating better than their guy."

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