The Enumerative: Biggest Sports Confessions

Welcome to our incredibly innovative feature, The Enumerative. ↵Because lists are awesome, plus effective time killers, in this space ↵we'll provide a top five based loosely on something that has recently ↵occurred in the sporting world.
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The truth will set us free, or so said A-Rod the Guru yesterday to Peter Gammons, said it many times actually without ever bothering to confront that ancient conundrum whereby truth-seekers often seem to find this particular brand of freedom only after they have been caught red-handed doing something wrong. ↵

↵Nevertheless, A-Rod’s truth-telling has sent shockwaves through the sports world, with so much juice on the Q factor of daily news that even Obama spoke to the issue in his first prime-time press conference. That has to be a first. Any of you presidential scholars out there want to weigh in on whether Harding or Coolidge ever addressed the Black Sox Scandal in a formal setting? I damn well know myself that Reagan never made a peep about the travails of baseball in its Bygone Era of Blow, and I don’t recall Bush Sr. ever saying anything about the many hustles of Charlie Hustle. ↵

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↵Which is what makes this A-Rod situation strange to me, because as far as I’m concerned, his bloodletting yesterday doesn’t even make my list of the Top Five Biggest Sports Confessions of All-Time. Check it out and see if you agree: ↵

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↵5. Diego Maradona
↵It’s one of the most famous goals ever scored in the history of soccer in a game that was a microcosm of geopolitical conflict. Argentina met England in the quarter-finals of the World Cup in 1986, just four years after the Falklands War. To put it mildly, tensions were high on the pitch. Then Maradona leaps and pokes the ball with his hand past English goalkeeper Peter Shilton, an infraction that was witnessed by everyone in the world apparently except for the Tunisian referee, Ali Bin Nasser. Argentina went on to win 2-1 (after Maradona scored another goal, this one possibly the greatest ever netted) and after the match, Maradona said that the first goal was scored “un poco con la cabeza de Maradona y otro poco con la mano de Dios" -- or “a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the Hand of God.” It was a coy confession, one that made headlines around the world and gave the infamous goal a title forever afterwards. In 2008, Maradon finally came completely clean to the British press, admitting that he had used his hand on the goal and expressing regret for the incident, a confession and apology that ended years of British rancor towards the diminutive legend. ↵

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↵4. Jason Grimsley
↵Whereas most of the confessions on this list are here because of their grandiosity of scope and implication, this one is here for the scope of its sheer awesomeness. In a game between the Indians and the White Sox in 1994, Sox manager Gene Lamont alleged to umpire Dave Phillips that Albert Belle was using a corked bat. Phillips confiscated Belle’s bat and put it in his locker to be investigated later by MLB. Later on, when Phillips went to get the bat after the game, he found an uncorked bat emblazoned with the name of one of Belle’s teammates, Paul Sorrento. Clearly, there had been a switch, but who … and how? ↵

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↵In 1999, Jason Grimsley, a reliever with the Indians at the time, admitted that he had pulled the switcheroo by crawling 100 feet through a ceiling vent in the clubhouse of Comiskey Park to drop into the umpire’s locker room and do the deed. To which I say, BRAVO MATE! I mean, the size of the cojones on the man. Guy’s got basketballs in his pants. ↵

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↵3. Pete Rose
↵On one hand, the Rose confession could be disqualified on the same index that for me keeps A-Rod off this list, for in the same way that it is common knowledge that many of baseball’s greatest players doped their way to gargantuan stats in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, so was it common knowledge that Rose gambled on baseball, and even gambled heavily on his own team. These charges were indisputable from the get-go, from the days of Bart Giamatti and the notorious Dowd report. The case against Rose was as iron-clad as the Lusitania. ↵

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↵But Rose, of course, stonewalled on the issue of his baseball gambling for years, continuing to cling to the provisions of the bizarre non-admission pact that he agreed to with Giamatti, one that banished him from baseball for something that he refused to admit to and of which baseball refrained from accusing him. Not until his autobiography in 2004, rather bombastically titled My Prison Without Bars, did he openly confess that he had gambled on baseball games and specifically on Reds games. He made this confession with an eye towards being reinstated to baseball and making it into the Hall of Fame in his last year of eligibility, and he claims that Bud Selig told him prior to the book’s release that if he came clean publicly about his baseball gambling, his reinstatement would follow. But it never happened, and thus did Rose’s long-awaited admission of guilt further indict him while earning him nothing in return. ↵

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↵2. Doc Kearns
↵In 1919, Jack Dempsey became a national hero by absolutely annihilating the giant Jess Willard in three rounds to win the heavyweight championship of the world. The manner in which the comparatively tiny Dempsey (6’0”, 185 pounds to Willard’s 6’7”, 260) brutalized Willard’s face and body immediately fostered a legend of Dempsey’s superhuman punching power that would persist throughout the career of the so-called Manassa Mauler. ↵

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↵But in an article that ran in the January 20th, 1964 issue of Sports Illustrated, Dempsey’s manager at the time of the Willard fight, Doc Kearns, confessed that prior to the bout he had applied Plaster of Paris to Dempsey’s wraps before putting his gloves on, and that these loaded gloves were the reason that Dempsey had hurt Willard so badly. This confession has been the source of tremendous controversy ever since, in that Kearns and Dempsey had a massive falling-out and Kearns had sued the champion for millions of dollars. Many believe that Kearns’ confession was actually the dirtiest kind of retrospective slander, and if that’s true, it certainly worked wonders, because to this day there are many who believe that Jack Dempsey felled Jess Willard with the artificial power of Plaster of Paris. ↵

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↵1. Sal Yvars
↵Sal Yvars would have been forgotten by history had he not been the one who spilled the beans about “The Shot Heard Round the World.” Now he is forever linked to the most famous moment in baseball history. ↵

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↵Bobby Thomson’s three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth in Game 3 of the Giants/Dodgers 1951 playoff won the pennant for the Giants and won the moment an instant place in baseball immortality. But early in the 1990’s, a backup catcher for the Giants, Sal Yvars, started making some noise about a sign-stealing scheme that the Giants had used throughout their pennant push that season. In 2001, Yvars finally confessed the extent of the scheme to Joshua Prager of the Wall Street Journal in minute detail, telling how Giants’ manager Leo Durocher had stationed a utility infielder with a telescope in a secret spot in center field with an electrician sitting beside him. The infielder (usually Hank Schenz) would pick up the opposing catcher’s signs to the pitcher and then tell the electrician, who would relay through with a series of buzzes through a rigged cable to the dugout what the pitch would be. Yvars would listen for these buzzes -- one for a fastball, two for a curve -- and then relay them to the batters with his own signs, usually conveyed with a baseball he held in his hands. ↵

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↵When asked whether Thomson knew what pitch was coming from Ralph Branca when he hit the fateful home run, Yvars said absolutely. For his part, Thomson admitted that there was a sign-stealing scheme but that on that particular pitch he hadn’t looked over at Yvars, which seems a little like the modern equivalent of the “I never knowingly used steroids” defense. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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