A history of truly absurd (and possibly true) baseball conspiracy theories

October 31, 2017
Derek Jeter and A-Rod

Jim McIsaac

Editor's Note: This article was originally published in the fall of 2017. None of the following theories are any closer to being proven or debunked than they were four months ago.

If Twitter’s number-crunching coalition of baseball apologists are to be believed, the 2017 World Series has been not only one of the best in recent memory, but the best ever. Full stop. When things go “right” in post-PED baseball, however, the question is always “what’s the catch?”, and in the case of this year’s moonshot-pocked Fall Classic, the answer is the same no matter who you ask: Juiced baseballs. Baseballs that are just a little too slick to throw sliders with. Baseballs that fly just a couple feet farther than they have any right to.

The MLB has patently denied this of course, both now and over the course of the last two seasons, but as any major league conspiracy theorist will tell you, that’s the surest sign it’s probably true. From simple equipment violations to elaborate fabrications that would make the WWE blush, baseball history is littered with folktales and conspiracy theories, and this new super-ball hypothesis is no different. Don’t trust us? Good. As baseball’s most memorable half-truths prove, DON’T TRUST ANYONE.

Orioles cancel game for “lighting malfunction” to save Cal Ripken Jr.’s streak

The Theory: On Aug. 14, 1997, a little more than a year before the official end of Cal Ripken Jr.’s 2,632 consecutive game streak, Ripken called Orioles management to let them know he wasn’t going to make that evening’s game. An intrepid Orioles employee then took matters into his own hands, sabotaging the Camden Yards lights in a (successful) attempt to postpone the game. But why was Cal MIA? Rumor has it he was busy beating the sh*t out of Kevin Costner after catching the Field of Dreams star in bed with his wife.

Truth Probability: No Kevin Costner: Very Likely. Kevin Costner: Significantly less likely.

MLB and Players Union collude to prevent the Expos from winning the 1994 World Series

The Theory: In 1994, the Montreal Expos were the best team in baseball. In 1994, the World Series was not played for the first time since 1949, due to an allegedly orchestrated strike designed to rob the Expos of their last, best shot. A purported response to plummeting American TV ratings following the Toronto Blue Jays’ back-to-back titles in ’92 and ’93, many now view the strike—intentional or not—as the beginning of the end for the Montreal Expos.

Truth Probability: Remote. This was the eighth MLB work stoppage in the preceding 23 years. That’s A LOT of brick laying just to keep the Expos out of the World Series.

Barry Bonds blacklisted

The Theory: Following a home run record-setting season in which he batted .276/.480/.565 with 28 home runs, 66 RBI, and 132 walks, Barry Bonds wasn’t invited to a single training camp the following spring and was eventually forced to retire. Bonds claims he was blacklisted by the MLB for his involvement in the BALCO scandal. An independent arbitrator found no such evidence. Baseball’s second biggest villain probably had it coming, but the issue remains unresolved to this day.

Truth Probability: Very likely. Just ask A-Rod.

Derek Jeter’s "rigged" career-ending walk-off

The Theory: Hold on to your butts, this one gets elaborate. First, Yankees closer David Robertson intentionally grooves pitches to the Orioles, turning a relatively droll 5-2 waltz into a dramatic 5-5 tie. Then, in the bottom of the ninth, Orioles reliever Evan Meek—also allegedly in cahoots—returned the favor, tossing a turkey to Derek Jeter in his final major league plate appearance, who obviously smacked the pitch through the gap and into MLB lore. And you thought the real theater happened on Broadway?

Truth Probability: Before Meek’s post-game comments: Remote.

After Meek’s post-game comments:

“What better way to go out here at Yankee Stadium, than to do what he did? I can’t be upset about it. It was a great day for him. Great day for Yankees fans, great day for baseball.”

Umm, yeah, wayyyyy less remote.

Pete Rose had an agreement in place to be reinstated

The Theory: Pete Rose’s lifetime ban was mostly just for show, with Rose and then-commissioner Bart Giamatti reaching an agreement that, after a reasonable period of time, the expulsion would be rescinded. The problem? Giamatti died eight days after the ban was levied, leaving Rose to live out the rest of his days in baseball purgatory.

Truth Probability: Likely. Rose has always acted like his ban was more misunderstanding than punishment…then again, the only thing the MLB loves more than “tradition” is setting unflinching, knee-jerk precedents and this is the grandaddy of them all.

The pine tar incident

The Theory: That Royals third baseman George Brett—who on July 24, 1983 had just smashed a go-ahead ninth-inning homer off legendary Yankees reliever Goose Gossage—had just a wee bit too much pine tar on his bat. The Yankees immediately pointed this out to the umpire, who subsequently pulled the run off the board, causing Brett to go thermonuclear and get himself ejected. The Royals protested the game with the league, who upheld the protest, ordering a replay of the game’s final inning a few weeks later. The Royals came out on top by the same score of 5-4, as if it even mattered by that point.

Truth Probability: Very likely. It’s clear from photos that Brett had a Christmas tree farm’s worth of pine tar on his bat. That the game was eventually replayed has more to do with the umpire’s botched call than Brett’s innocence.

Indians Impossible

The Theory: After umpires confiscated one of Albert Belle’s bats, locking it in their dressing room on the suspicion that is was corked, Belle hatched a heist scheme for the ages: Have relief pitcher Jason Grimsley climb through the locker room drop ceiling and lower himself into the room in order swap the bat with teammate Paul Sorrento’s non-corked slugger. In what must have resembled a Three Stooge’s reenactment of the laser scene in Mission Impossible, Grimsley left behind a trail of destroyed ceiling tiles that eventually led the MLB back to Belle, who they then suspended for seven games.

Truth Probability: Definite. Like The Pine Tar Incident, this one is more fact than theory at this point, but this story is simply too good not to tell.

Jon Lester lubes up for the World Series

The Theory: First captured by Cardinals minor leaguer Tyler Melling as he watched the game from his couch, this conspiracy suggests former Red Sox pitcher (and noted d-bag) Jon Lester hid a foreign, Vaseline-like substance in his glove during Game 1 of the 2013 World Series. The Red Sox won the game 8-1, and the Series in six, with Lester posting a 0.59 ERA across 15 1/3 innings of World Series baseball. Lester wasn't punished, but never has a grainy screengrab seemed more incriminating.

Truth Probability: Likely, because Jon Lester.

Bobby Thomas steals an iconic moment

The Theory: That one of the most cherished moments in baseball history—the so-called "Shot Heard 'Round the World"—was the product of an elaborate sign-stealing scheme that tipped Bobby Thomas off to the pitch.

Truth Probability: Very likely. Sign stealing is as old as baseball, which brings us to…

Apple Watch-gate

The Theory: That the Red Sox’s video replay personnel relayed pitch information to trainers in the dugout via Apple Watch, who then passed on the information to the players. Neither aspect of this scheme would have been possible without the adoption of MLB video replay or the advent of smart watches, which begs the question: What was so bad about the Stone Age in the first place?

Truth Probability: Definite. The Red Sox confessed to the commissioner’s office and were summarily fined. Add this one to Boston sports’ scroll-length rap sheet and let’s move on.

Yadier Molina’s is Velcro Man!

The Theory: Following an incident in early April when future Hall of Fame catcher Yadier Molina blocked a pitch in the dirt only to have it stick to his chest protector in some sort Black Lodge-ian perversion of physics, one of two things immediately became true: A. Yadier moonlights as a vigilante superhero named Velcron. B. Yadier is slathering himself in Stickum to avoid the embarrassing, passed-ball fiasco thing. Since MLB’s rules on modifying catching equipment remain unclear (read: there aren’t any), we may never actually know Yadier’s true identity.

Truth Probability: Velcron: Remote. Adhesive-slathered chest protector: Almost certain.