By Lance Tominaga, ESPN Honolulu Web Editor.
The Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal of 2017 and 2018, it turns out, was nothing new. Stealing signs in baseball, in fact, dates back to 1876, when the Hartford Dark Blues hid someone in a shack to tip off their hitters whenever the opposing pitcher was about to throw a curveball. Some twenty years later, the Philadelphia Phillies had a player hide in a clubhouse with a binocular and telegraph to alert the manager on opposing pitches.
Cheating, of course, isn’t limited to the game of baseball. We scoured the Internet to find some of the most infamous cheaters in sports. Take a look:
GOTTA HAND IT TO HIM – In a 1986 World Cup Soccer match against England, Argentina’s Diego Maradona went up for a header near the goal. Instead of hitting the ball with his head, however, Maradona touched the ball with his hand and pushed it into the goal for a score. The referee didn’t see it, but players and spectators were up in arms. Argentina won the match. Maradona later described the play as, “A little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God.” In 2005, Maradona finally admitted that he purposely hit the ball with his hand.
ILLEGAL JABS – At the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, Soviet pentathlete Boris Onischenko was disqualified after he was caught using a rigged épée (dueling sword) to illegally score points. (In fencing, points are awarded via a light that indicates weapon-to-body contact.) Onischenko rigged his épée’s grip to activate the light manually. The media immediately labeled Onischenko as “Boris the Cheat.” It’s said that Soviet Union leader Leonid Brezhnev later called the disgraced athlete in for a “personal scolding.”
FULLY LOADED – In January 2009, former welterweight boxing champion Antonio Margarito and his trainer were suspended for a year after it was discovered that Margarito used loaded glove in his title defense against “Sugar” Shane Mosley. The illegal substance was liked to plaster of Paris. Ultimately, it didn’t matter, as Mosley scored a TKO victory over Margarito in the ninth round.
SHORT CUT – In perhaps the most notorious cheating incident in the history of long-distance running, novice runner Rosie Ruiz captured the 1980 Boston Marathon in a time of 2.5 hours. Later, it was revealed that Ruiz disappeared into the crowd and then returned to the course just a half-mile from the finish line.
SHADES OF ERIC CARTMAN – At the 2000 Paralympics in Sydney, Australia, the Spanish basketball team soundly beat all comers en route to winning the gold. It turned out that 10 of the 12 team members were not handicapped at all. They used fake medical certificates to pose as mentally disabled players.
BREAK A LEG – In one of the most infamous sports scandals of all time, figure skater Tonya Harding hired a thug to injure rival Nancy Kerrigan’s leg with a police baton the night before the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. The U.S. Figure Skating Association later banned Harding for life.
FENCED IN – Cleveland Indians groundskeeper Emil Bossard used to move back the portable outfield fences at the stadium 12 to 15 whenever the New York Yankees were in town. He also watered the outfield to slow down fleet-footed opponents. Bossard was affectionately known as the “evil genius of groundskeepers.”
WHEEL WINNER – New Yorker Fred Lorz was declared the winner of the 1904 Olympics marathon event in St. Louis – that is, until it was discovered that he actually covered 11 miles as a passenger in a car. He later claimed that it was a practical joke.
ENHANCED CHEATING – The list of professional athletes who lied about using performance-enhancing drugs is as long as, well, Pinocchio’s nose – and probably still growing. Bonds. McGwire. A-Rod. Sharapova. Ben Johnson. Etc., etc. But perhaps the most notorious of them all is American cyclist Lance Armstrong, who won seven Tour de France titles in the 1990s and 2000s. For years, he vehemently denied any involvement in doping. In 2012, however, an investigation revealed that Armstrong had used performance-enhancing drugs for most of his career. As a result, all his victories were stripped from the record books. In January 2013, he finally admitted that he had used PEDs.
THIS SOUNDS FAMILIAR – The 1961 New York Giants baseball team was once called the biggest group of cheaters in the history of the game. After a slow start to the season, the Giants concocted an elaborate system where they would steal signs given by opposing catchers and quickly relay them to their hitter before the pitch was thrown. The system supposedly involved a telescope in centerfield, and a buzzer or bell. The scheme was engineered by famed manager Leo Durocher, whose autobiography was titled, Nice Guys Finish Last. The system worked: The Giants went 50-12 in the final 62 games of the season, forcing a three-game playoff against the Brooklyn Dodgers to decide the National League pennant. Remember “The Shot Heard Around the World”? Some skeptics today ask: Did Bobby Thomson knew what pitch was coming?
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