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The Astros Scandal Is The Latest Cheating Case In Sports History


The Houston Astros face wide condemnation for using video monitors to steal signs. But our friend A.J. Jacobs points out that cheating and sports have often gone together like baseball and nachos. A.J., of course, is the author of too many bestsellers to count and an expert on, well, things we often don't care about. But this I care about. He joins us from New York. A.J., thanks for being with us.

A.J. JACOBS: Thank you, Scott, for having me. By the way, I did spend a lot of time searching for dirt on the Cubs. But you guys are squeaky clean. So you dodged a bullet.

SIMON: Well, you know, you lose for 108 years, it's going to be...


JACOBS: That's true. They should have been cheating in those...

SIMON: Right? Cheating - yeah, cheating would be a little more effective. So let's begin with baseball. You know, the spitball seems like a quaint little kind of cheating on the sly. Tell us about the great Yankee pitcher Whitey Ford, who made it an art form.

JACOBS: Yes. He was very creative in what he put on the baseball to make it harder to hit. My favorite - his gunk ball. And the gunk in question was a combination of baby oil, turpentine and resin. And he would keep it in a roll-on dispenser. And the legend is that Yogi Berra once mistook the gunk for deodorant and accidentally glued his arms to his sides. (Unintelligible)...

SIMON: Which, for a catcher, is counterproductive, right?

JACOBS: There you go.

SIMON: Long history of cheating in bicycling - most famous, of course, being Lance Armstrong. But you say this goes back almost to the beginnings of cycling as a sport.

JACOBS: Oh, yeah. The Tour de France has been a hotbed of cheating from the very start. 1903 - the first race was won by a chimney sweep named Maurice Garin. And during the race, one of his opponents claimed Garin forced him off the road and then stomped on the opponent's back wheel until the bike was destroyed. And the following year, Garin got his comeuppance because he was beaten up by a mob of stick-wielding thugs during the race. It was just chaos.

SIMON: And there's been Olympic-level cheating, hasn't there?

JACOBS: Oh, a long history of the Olympics. One of my favorites is the 1904 marathon. It was in St. Louis. And there was a bricklayer from New York named Fred Lorz. And he came in first in the marathon - 15 minutes before anyone else. Turns out he had been driven in the back of a car for 11 miles. So he was sort of the spiritual godfather of Rosie Ruiz, who, if you remember, in the 1980 Boston...


JACOBS: ...Marathon. Yeah.

SIMON: Of course. Who actually won that race? Would you know?

JACOBS: I happen to know, thanks to my minutes of research. It was Thomas Hicks, another runner from the United States. But his gold medal was also suspect because during the race, he drank a cocktail of brandy, egg whites and strychnine, the rat poison. I mean, they thought it was a performance-enhancing drug. I think he should get a gold medal just for surviving drinking poison during the marathon.

SIMON: Could you tell us about a couple of other Olympic cheat athletes?

JACOBS: Sure. This is my wife's favorite. It was a long jumper and track star from Puerto Rico. This was in the 1984 Los Angeles games. Her name was Madeline de Jesus. And she hurt her leg and had her twin sister secretly compete in her stead in a qualifying heat. So that was...

SIMON: That's a Disney movie.

JACOBS: Exactly. I'm going to option it if you don't.

SIMON: A.J., once again, you've been, well - about three and a half minutes. Thanks very much for talking to us.


JACOBS: Thank you. Next time I want four.

SIMON: Maybe you'll get it this time. A.J. Jacobs, the author, most recently, of "Thanks A Thousand: A Gratitude Journey." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.