In a Mets-Dodgers game a week ago in Los Angeles, Mets third baseman Todd Frazier leaped into the stands to catch a foul ball. Climbing out, he quickly showed the umpire his glove with the ball in, the umpire signalled an out, and then Frazier tossed the ball to a fan. Did I say the ball? I should have said a ball. The ball Frazier showed the umpire wasn’t the ball hit by the Dodgers’ Alex Verdugo, but a white rubber ball, presumably belonging to a spectator, that he grabbed after the real one rolled out of his glove during his fall. Frazier claimed that first he thought it was the real ball, but when he realized it wasn’t, tried to sell the non-catch anyway. And it worked!
“It is Hollywood,” Frazier said later in the week. “Sometimes you’ve got to act out a little bit….I was trying to get out of there as quick as possible. I saw someone pointing at the right ball and I was like, ‘All right, I’m just going to have to play this off.’ I got in the dugout and was telling people I was flabbergasted that I even got away with it.”
There are gray areas is baseball gamesmanship. I wrote an essay about the topic several years ago, and ruled what Frazier did clearly unethical, for several reasons. It was not like the common situation when a player traps a ball in the outfield and acts like he made the play. If the umpire calls an out, the fielder has no more obligation to correct the umpire to the detriment of his team than a batter has an ethical duty to say, “No, ump, that wasn’t a ball four, it was strike three. You missed the call. I’m out.” Frazier actively deceived the umpire by placing the dropped ball in his glove out of the umpire’s sight. Worse, he even used a fake ball to sell the deception. With the exception of the rubber ball, the trick was reminiscent of a famous World Series cheating controversy:
” In the 1925 World Series, Hall of Famer-to-be Sam Rice of the Washington Senators disappeared over the center field fence as he tried to catch a potential home run hit by Pirates catcher Earl Smith. Rice climbed back onto the field ten seconds later with the ball in his glove. Smith was called out. The game was in Pittsburgh, and Pirates’ fans who were in that section of the ballpark signed sworn statements that Rice had not caught the ball, but placed it in his glove after landing. Rice went to his grave swearing that the catch had been legal. The controversy is fun for baseball historians, but the specter of a World Series game being decided by a quick-thinking cheat is a scar on the game’s integrity.”
Using props, like a fake ball, to fool the umpire makes Frazier’s version even harder to defend.
One of the sure signs that a baseball maneuver is cheating is that a player tried to hide what really happened. Frazier was finally forced to admit that he had tricked the umpires after a sportswriter reviewed video evidence and wrote about the ball switch.
“It was one of those things where I think any third baseman or any player trying to win would do it,” said Frazier. Maybe so, but this is just an “Everybody does it” rationalization. He cheated. I don’t know why Major League Baseball hasn’t fined or suspended him.
One umpire, however, took his revenge for Frazier making his colleagues look incompetent, and it looks like he might be fined. Tom Hallion stood on home plate in a game later in the week when Frazier hit a game winning, walk-off home run against the Marlins, blocking Frazier’s team mates from celebrating. MLB officials are investigating whether this was intentional, and unprofessional, payback.