With so much talk in the media about "cheating" in baseball, whether it was the Houston Astros sign stealing scandal to the recent denial of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens into the Hall of Fame due to allegations of steroid use, there is no lack of material for a book on cheating in the game. This book covers just about every type of rule-bending in the game. Here is my review of "Intentional Balk."
“Intentional Balk: Baseball’s Thin Line Between Innovation and Cheating” by Daniel R. Levitt and Mark Armour
4 of 5 stars (very good)
Review: As any baseball fan knows, cheating has been part of the game for as long as the game has been played. No matter how one will define “cheating” – anything from breaking rules specifically documented in a rule book to some that are more vague and left for interpretation – its history in the game is quite interesting. This book by Daniel Levitt and Mark Armour explores the history of cheating in various forms and by various people in different roles.
One of the best aspects of this book for me was the authors’ detailed explanation in various chapters of why some people would get a pass for certain actions while others who may have committed the same or similar actions, most likely in a different era, were punished or scorned by the media and fans. An example that would be familiar to everyone would be the “steroid” era when some players decided to use performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) to improve their statistics compared to the use of substances in other eras such as amphetamines. The authors paint detailed stories of players using these drugs during both (and earlier) eras, but do note how earlier players, such as Pud Galvin, do not receive the same scrutiny as players like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.
This type of comparison is not limited to players who have been suspected of cheating. Owners and general managers are also included in this book and their actions may surprise some readers that they may have been considered cheating. Take Branch Rickey – he and several other owners at the time stashed players away instead of paying clubs for acquiring them from minor league teams, as was normal procedure in the early 20th century. So Rickey developed the farm system where specific minor league teams would develop players for the affiliated major league club – in Rickey’s case, the St. Louis Cardinals. This was considered “cheating” as it was against the rules, but unlike players, Rickey and others who developed this system get a pass and are credited as innovators.
These are just two examples of the manner in which Levitt and Armour write about the various forms of cheating – or innovation if you prefer – and nearly every type of rule infraction one can think of is included. Sign stealing – from telescopes to the trash can banging by the Houston Astros is one. So are foreign substances, corked bats, equipment alterations – it’s all there and makes for interesting reading. It should also be noted that the authors do a good job of staying neutral for the most part and not condemning or forgiving most of the people portrayed, instead choosing to simply report.
I wish to thank Clyde Hill Publishing for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.