The Future of Cheating in Baseball

Doctored baseballs, doctored fields, corked bats, stolen signs, greenies, steroids and PEDS,--all the stuff of baseball lore when it comes to cheating. even created a list of the biggest cheaters in baseball.

And these were just the guys trying to gain an advantage.

What about the temptation of "throwing the game" for, shall we say, monetary gain? I'm not the only one who's thought of the infamous 1919 Chicago White Sox and Pete Rose. As long as people, money and gambling are involved--the possibility exists.

When will it all end?

Most likely, never.

And while new designer drugs continue to be created in labs trying to keep one step ahead of testing policies, other "fields of dreams" are beginning to emerge and may present themselves to those in baseball seeking a competitive edge.

I think a new era of cheating in baseball is on the horizon as new applications are found in materials technologies, biotechnology and nanotechnology. In turn, important questions will need to be asked about what is legal and what is not.

Three years ago, people thought tinted contact lenses might give certain ballplayers and unfair advantage. Not much is heard about it today and it's hard to think something like a tinted contact lens would be cheating. However, this year in mikeA's Science DLD, monkeyball (h/t) linked to a story about contact lenses with virtual displays.

There are many possible uses for virtual displays. Drivers or pilots could see a vehicle's speed projected onto the windshield.

Who's to say that someday a batter won't be wearing a pair of contacts or sunglasses that instantaneously tell him how fast a pitch is? Is that cheating? Or not?

In this 2002 study, bioengineers at Brown University concluded metal bats significantly outperform wooden bats.  And last year, with the help of a nanotechnology company, Easton introduced the Stealth Comp CNT bat with claims that it has the largest "sweet spot" ever. Even though metal bats are illegal in MLB (and most likely always will be), does the use of nano-bats at the collegiate level constitute an unfair advantage? Is it cheating?

What if genetic engineers develop trees that produce wood that, when made into baseball bats, delivers superior performance than "traditional" wooden bats? If you're a baseball player and this bat allowed you to hit the ball harder and farther than ever before, you'd use it in a heartbeat. But would it constitute cheating? Suppose you're the first one to use such a bat and no one else has it? Are you cheating because the playing field isn't "level" or are you just ahead of the curve?

Materials scientists have come up with a synthetic sticky tape made out of carbon nanotube hairs that mimics and improves upon the gecko's ability to climb walls and run across ceilings. What if this technology can be applied to baseball gloves to help "catch" a ball that grazes or is tipped off the mitt? Could such a material on gloves help you climb an outfield wall to make a catch? Or give you a better grip when wielding a bat? Would it be cheating?

What about technology that may actually improve and strengthen your body? In January, the International Association of Athletics Federations ruled that South African runner and double amputee Oscar Pistorius would be ineligible to compete in the Summer Olympics because his prosthetic racing legs gave him a "clear competitive advantage over able-bodied runners." So at what point do you decide if a ballplayer has an advantage because of artificial technology? Do metal screws or plastic pins to repair a damaged ankle or wrist give an unfair advantage? It doesn't seem so in today's world. What about a metal rod in arm or leg? I'd still give that player a pass.

But what if ballplayers electively choose to go "bionic" in the offseason because synthetic materials will help them run faster, throw farther, hit harder or pitch better? How will we determine if it's cheating or not?

And finally, in the wake of the New England Patriots getting caught spying on and videotaping its opponents last year, where will this brave new world of spying and listening devices take baseball? The new Cisco Field comes with the promise of the latest technology. Does this include covert listening devices in the visitors' dugout and clubhouse to divine their strategy or intentions? Will impossibly small micro cameras be set up around the stadium and in the field to help steal opponents' signs?

How will baseball deal with a new generation of cheaters?

If Bud Selig is still commissioner, the answer is: not very well.

For someone who's turned a blind eye to steroids until he had to do something, the something's he's done, i.e., the Mitchell Report and putting in place a steroid testing policy, has been a case of too little, too late.

They say you can sit around and be reactive to what's going on around you or you can anticipate what's coming and be proactive about it.

The World Anti-Doping Agency decided to be proactive and has come up with an HGH test for the upcoming summer Olympics in Beijing. Why doesn't baseball have an HGH test?

In the future, when an outfielder scales half way up the Green Monster at Fenway Park to rob a sure home run from a genetically engineered bat wielded by a contact lens-aided batter who perfectly read the 110 m.p.h. fastball that came from the bionic arm of an ace pitcher who never tested positive for a drug in his life, the crowds (and I along with them) will cheer and ooh and ahh. A small part of me, however, will cast an eye towards the commissioner's office and wonder if the smiling faces nodding their heads in approval are really paying attention.

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