Cheat sheet

Breaking the rules? In sports, it's nothing new

The Kickoff

February 16, 2007|By KEVIN VAN VALKENBURG | KEVIN VAN VALKENBURG,SUN REPORTER

Cheating, whether it occurs in sports, war, politics or academia, is as old as time. The Iliad and The Odyssey, two of mankind's oldest and greatest works of literature, are full of tales of deception and trickery, and most of it is done in the pursuit of victory.

So can we really blame Michael Waltrip, the sandy-haired, aging NASCAR driver with Hasselhoff good looks, for allegedly turning a blind eye this week as his race crew tried to sneak, according to the Associated Press, a jet fuel additive into his stock car during qualifying for the Daytona 500?

Cheating, like cockroaches, can never be eradicated, only controlled. And in sports, some will always argue that cheating is part of the game. It's up to the athletes and coaches to bend the rules until they break, and it's up to the rule makers to police them. (Except in golf, where players must police themselves and hold themselves to the highest moral and ethical standards, unless, of course, a fan so much as sneezes during Tiger Woods' backswing, because then Woods' caddie, Steve Williams, gets to choke them and drown them in a pond.)

Sometimes, like with Waltrip's team, cheaters are caught right in the act, hanging their head, and reeking of jet fuel. Other times, decades and generations must go by before the guilty party is either exposed or comes forward. But in honor of Waltrip, here are our top five favorite cheating scandals (non-steroids-related, because we're not here to talk about the past) in sports history.

5. Rosie Ruiz and the 1980 Boston Marathon

Running a marathon, in case you haven't heard, is not a pleasant experience. There is a reason why the first person to ever run one, the Greek solider Phidippides, died shortly after he finished. It's two hours of hell. So when Ruiz looked adorably dashing and barely sweaty after she was the first woman to cross the finish line, sort of like Natalie Portman after a tough Pilates workout, suspicions started to arise. Ruiz, it should be noted, has never confessed to cheating (and still won't return her first-place medal), but the fact that she wasn't found in any of the photographs during the race and that she couldn't remember any Boston landmarks along the race route proved she was either a daytime vampire or lying.

4. A-Rod helps slap down the curse

Even Alex Rodriguez's numerous apologists have trouble explaining away the time he completely and sadly emasculated himself in front of a national audience by slapping the ball out of Bronson Arroyo's glove with his left hand on the way to first base during Game 6 of the 2004 American League Championship Series. The sad thing is, he nearly got away with it, even though it called to mind images of Paris Hilton, wearing designer gloves made by Minnie Mouse, swatting Lindsay Lohan's Blackberry to the ground in a fit of jealous rage. Thankfully, the umpires quickly convened and declared Rodriguez out, which may have been the final morsel that helped complete the Yankees' choke and reverse the Curse of the Bambino. In a similar situation, you just know Derek Jeter would have spiked Arroyo, been declared safe by the umpires, and then winked at Jessica Alba in the bleachers while he stood, grinning, on first base.

3. Albert Belle, a corked bat, and Jason Grimsley's impression of John McClane from Die Hard

Belle, throughout his career, had all the personality and integrity of a third-world dictator. And Grimsley - long before he decided to go all Sal "Big Pussy" Bonpensiero on the Orioles and sing to the feds - had nerves of steel. In 1994, when the two were Cleveland Indians teammates, it was the perfect combination the night Belle was accused of swinging a corked bat. Grimsley snaked his way through a crawl space inside the stadium, much like Bruce Willis did when terrorists seized the Nakatomi Plaza in the original Die Hard, and slipped into the umpires' room to steal Belle's bat and replace it with a clean model. One problem: Grimsley replaced it with one of Paul Sorrento's bats, which had Sorrento's name stenciled on the barrel. It's a shame Grimsley didn't try to pull off a similar trick with Rafael Palmeiro's tainted urine. Then again, maybe he did.

2. Danny Almonte and the Little League World Series

Forget notarized birth certificates and signed affidavits, which we hear about every year. Here is the best way, from now on, to determine eligibility for the LLWS, which is 12-and-under: If you have a mustache, you can't play.

1. The Shot Heard Round The World That Bobby Thomson Probably Knew Was Coming

How did the New York Giants, in 1951, make up a 13 1/2 -game August deficit to the Dodgers? By stealing signs, of course. With a telescope. Several Giants confessed as much to the Wall Street Journal a few years ago, saying one of their coaches, Herman Franks, would sit behind the center-field fence in the Polo Grounds and relay signs to Giants hitters through a system of bells, buzzers and hand signals. Bobby Thomson, who hit a home run off Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca to give the Giants the pennant, said he didn't know what pitch was coming on his famous and historic game-winning blast. And even though that's like a journalist admitting he fabricated every article during his career except for the one that earned him a Pulitzer, I believe him.

My bookie told me, and he got this from a good source, rumor is the Giants were using jet fuel instead.

kevin.vanvalkenburg @baltsun.com

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