Before the onslaught of performance enhancing things, cheating used to be so much more fun. Because of baseball's hard line stance against these performance enhancing things, we are forced to look at long standing folksy forms of cheating in a new light.
Two of the more famous (and fun) folksy forms of cheating (corking and the juiced ball) are profiled in an article at Smithsonian.com. Alan Nathan, a professor emeritus of physics at the University of Illinois, elaborates:
This is not really a new assertion, but the research is fun (for lack of a more inspiring word). There has always been a sort of stigma with the corked bat, but the vitriol came with a wink and a nod. The player in question was just doing what he needed to do to help his team win. After similarly rigorous testing, Nathan came to much the same conclusion with regard to the idea of the juiced ball:
"There was some anecdotal information from players that there’s something like a ‘trampoline effect’ when the ball bounces off a corked bat," says Nathan, one of the authors of the new study. So the researchers hollowed out a bat, stuffed it with bits of cork and fired a ball at the bat from a cannon. If anything, the ball came off the corked bat with a slower speed than off a normal bat. Less velocity means a shorter hit. Their conclusion: the trampoline effect was bogus.
To test the speculation that something had changed with the balls, the researchers compared the bounciness of balls from 2004 with a box of unused balls from 1976 to 1980. They shot the balls at a steel plate or a wooden bat at 60, 90, and 120 miles per hour and measured their bounciness after a collision—what physicists call the coefficient of restitution.
The result? "There was no evidence that there was any difference in the coefficient of restitution of the different balls," says Nathan.
The research, while far from perfect, tells us what we sort of already knew: these things really don't matter much. In reality, bumps and dumps in offensive production are generally the combination of a myriad of different elements: cleaner, better treated baseballs in the twenties and thirties, the trickle (and subsequent pour) of an entire subset once banned from competition, strength, diet, varying interpretations of the strike zone, amphetamines, Lasik, performance enhancing things, Tommy John, the raised mound, the ionic titanium necklace... some things can be measured, while others are mere feathers in trunks used to give rest, build confidence, or place blame when things happen that we don't really understand.
All I know is that there was a time in little league when we decided to put the corked bat theory to the test. I went down to the local Thrifty Drug Store with two friends. The season was in full swing. We had a roll of quarters. I remember buying an ice cream while one of my friends pumped the quarters into a machine that held several dozen brightly colored bouncy balls.
We left with our pockets full. My friend's younger brother launched one of the balls across a busy street. We ran and screamed things at him. We swore a car stopped. It freaked us out. The ball bounced and ricocheted with reckless abandon. When we got back to my house, we began breaking the bouncy balls up with a hammer and a screwdriver. We took the chunks and filled the hollow inside of an old Easton. The bat was silver with green writing. I still have it. We bring it to bachelor parties and use it as a chalice.
We took the bat to practice the next day. The top popped off on the first swing and the insides spilled onto the field. We all laughed. The whole process was a little insane, but good in the grand scheme of all things associated with being a kid and playing baseball. We, too, wanted to be flawed.