Did Babe Ruth really call his shot? Is it true New York Mets outfielder Kevin Mitchell beheaded - not accidentally killed, but beheaded - his girlfriend's cat? Have some of the biggest events in baseball history been staged because of grooved pitches?
Welcome to the life of a conspiracy theorist, one that is almost as bad as the life of a New York Jets fan. At least with believing in conspiracies, there's some hope you'll find what you're looking for and the payoff will be great. There's not much payoff with being a Jets fan.
Today, we're going to look at some of the more infamous conspiracy theories in baseball history and examine what exactly happened. We can talk about how Ruth called his shot, but what did the Sultan of Swat (although he really wasn't a Sultan) actually say?
Really, our only ground rules for these theories is that they have to be interesting. Something like "Alex Rodriguez spurned the New York Mets because they didn't offer him enough money as a free agent" isn't quite what we're looking for. However, if there was a theory that "Alex Rodriguez spurned the New York Mets in free agency because the escort hired by the Wilpons tried to rob him to pay off their debts", we'd include that. I doubt that happened, but with the Wilpons, who knows?
If you're ready to replace your New Era cap with one made of tinfoil and prepare to make your thoughts felt on every message board known to man, join me on this journey to explore conspiracy theories.
15 David Ortiz Took A Man's Life
Theory: According to Reddit user HOST_hater, Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz and former utility infielder Abraham Nuñez killed someone in the Dominican Republic. What?
"That's not a rumor. It happened in the 2002-2003 finals between Aguilas and Escogido (Ortiz's team in DR). Basically the fan threw something at them and the players got pissed and it became a f***** mess with Ortiz and Abraham Nuñez kicking the living s*** out of the guy and who eventually had to be carried away by the cops and to a hospital. Guy suffers from brain damage and Ortiz had to pay off the family so his passport could be cleared to go out and join the Red Sox."
Reality: Apparently, this theory gained a bit of traction, but there's absolutely nothing to back this up. I know countries like the Dominican Republic and Venezuela have iffy legal systems and governments, but to think Ortiz got away with murder? Next..
14 Cal Ripken Jr. delays game to hunt Kevin Costner
Theory: In August 1997, well after breaking Lou Gehrig's consecutive games streak, an Orioles game was cancelled because Cal Ripken Jr. wasn't going to make it? The reason? Ripken was out on a hunt for actor Kevin Costner, who had slept with Ripken's wife while staying with Cal and his wife. When the Hall of Fame shortstop found him, Ripken punched Costner in the face, breaking his nose.
Reality: During a 2008 appearance on NPR, Ripken shot down the rumors, but there is a more interesting part to the story.
"Cal told [the Orioles owner] it would be impossible to come in, so there went the streak. The owner told him not to worry, he would take care of it. That night, the game was canceled because of "electrical failure," even though hotels and restaurants that were a part of Camden Yards were fine and running."
Ripken and his wife, Kelly, did divorce last year, but the greater theory lies in what Major League Baseball would have done if they figured out that's why the Orioles cancelled a game.
13 Prince Fielder was traded by the Tigers because his wife slept around
Theory: While with the Tigers in 2013, Fielder learned his wife of nearly a decade, Chanel, was sleeping with teammate and current Chicago White Sox outfielder Avisail Garcia. Fielder and Miguel Cabrera engaged in a clubhouse fight with Garcia, who was traded to the White Sox in a three-way trade that July.
Reality: While there hasn't quite been a confirmation of what truly happened, it is worth looking at some timeline dates. Fielder and his wife filed for divorce in May (though they reconciled in early 2014, after Fielder was traded to Texas) and Garcia was traded in July; Cabrera reportedly aggravated an injury in the fight, likely the same Grade 2 or Grade 3 strain that lingered through the postseason.
Is it possible that all of this happened? Of the theories we've explored so far, it definitely makes the most sense.
12 Kevin Mitchell Harmed his girlfriend's cat
Theory: In his 1999 autobiography Heat, Dwight "Doc" Gooden claimed Mitchell, a teammates of his with the 1980s Mets, beheaded his girlfriend's hat after an argument.
Reality: Over the years, Mitchell has denied the accusation and actually confronted Gooden, but there's been no real clarification or answers about what happened. Teammate Daryl Strawberry hasn't done much to fan the flames, remarking in 2014 that Mitchell was a "great guy. Super teammate. Great person — (but) he was from San Diego and he was affiliated with gangs quite a bit, and I guess he figured his girlfriend was acting a little crazy so he thought, ‘I’ll kill her cat.’"
Well, the 1980s were certainly a crazy time, so who knows? Let's just hope the cat didn't feel anything...
11 Tommy Lasorda traded Glenn Burke because he was gay
Theory: Following the death of his son Tommy Lasorda Jr. from AIDS (although Lasorda claimed it to be cancer), Tommy Lasorda Sr. traded Glenn Burke - a gay outfielder - who had become friends with the young man.
Reality: Lasorda has denied everything from his son's sexuality to his son's death over the years, but Burke - who died in 1994 from HIV - was adamant that was why he was traded. Teammate Davey Lopes shared that sentiment in an interview that same year.
"I think everybody would agree with that – except management. That happens in all walks of life; not just baseball. There is that prejudice against gays, black people, women. Whether people want to admit it or not, it's there.”
Things didn't get much better for Burke, who was traded to the Oakland Athletics and had to deal with homophobic manager Billy Martin. But as for this theory, it remains unsolved and likely will never truly be answered.
10 The Yankees conspired against A-Rod's contract
Theory: In attempts to get out of Alex Rodriguez's massive contract after injuries, personal issues, and a looming suspension for steroids, the New York Yankees tried to keep him off the field and void his contract.
Reality: Given Rodriguez's 2015 comeback season, 2016 farewell tour, and him becoming a fan favorite at FOX Sports, this one is easy to forget. However, this was a very real incident that led to everything from public comments on both sides to Rodriguez, following his suspension for the entire 2014 season, going on Mike Francesa's WFAN show and blasting all parties involved.
Most likely, this was simply everyone frustrated at how events transpired: Rodriguez was upset he got caught being involved with an anti-aging clinic and the Yankees were upset Rodriguez was set to be suspended when they needed his bat in the lineup. But, the two were able to resolve their differences and Rodriguez will likely see his number retired in the coming years, so things ended alright.
9 Major League Baseball conspired against the 2003 Expos
Theory: In an attempt to keep the 2003 Montreal Expos out of the postseason not only to boost ratings, but to make sure the team could be moved to Washington, Major League Baseball - who owned the team at the time - prevented the Expos from making September call-ups.
Reality: Chances are, given Bud Selig's actions in other areas during his time as commissioner, there's some truth to this. Does anyone else find it suspicious that Selig claimed the other owners decided against spending what would be literally a small percentage of the team's $35 million to call players up and make a playoff run?
"It was a message to the players," Expos general manager Omar Minaya said in 2005 while with the New York Mets. "It was a momentum killer."
8 MLB blackballed Barry Bonds in 2007
Theory: After setting the league's all-time home run record and just 65 hits shy of 3,000 for his career, Barry Bonds claimed he was blackballed by Major League Baseball following the 2007 season because of his involvement with BALCO.
Reality: Well, there's technically two realities to this, with one of those being an independent arbitrator ruling in 2015 that there was no such collusion by the league and its owners. However, does anyone else find it suspicious that a player who had slashed .276/.480/.565 with 28 home runs, 66 RBI, 132 walks to 54 strikeouts, and a 3.4 WAR wouldn't even get an invitation to spring training?
Even if teams thought Bonds could only be a designated hitter at 43 years old (Bonds posted a -9.5 Ultimate Zone Rating in 2007 as the Giants' left fielder), no team was willing to make a phone call? What was a team like the Seattle Mariners going to lose? What about the Tampa Bay Rays? Something seems wrong here...
7 Bartolo Colon let Dee Gordon honor Jose Fernandez
Theory: When the Miami Marlins played their first game following Jose Fernandez's death last September, New York Mets pitcher Bartolo Colon grooved a pitch to Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon, who took it for his first home run of the season.
Reality: Naturally, this was bound to be a theory from the second it happened, but neither Colon nor Gordon gave any indication as to what happened. Do I think Colon grooved it? Not to the extent where he knew it was going to be a home run, but I do believe Colon would have been alright if that was the case because of the situation. That night was more about Fernandez than it was baseball.
And, regardless of how you feel about the details that emerged later about what happened with Fernandez, you at least have to respect Gordon's emotions and love for his teammate.
6 Flu-like symptoms equal hangovers
Theory: When players like Kris Bryant or Tim Lincecum are ruled out with flu-like symptoms for day games, it's actually because they're battling hangovers.
Reality: Though this is certainly possible in some instances, this is our only theory that is a case-by-case instance. I find it hard to believe players with flu-like symptoms in April that may be limited are all suffering from hangovers, especially with how cold it still is in parts of the country, but July and August are different stories. Tim Lincecum missing the 2008 All-Star Game for flu-like symptoms, for example, does seem a bit sketchy.
Last year, Bryant was accused of being hungover after being removed in the third inning of a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, but gave the perfect rebuttal.
"I think if you know the type of person I am, you know what I believe in," Bryant told reporters. "A trade would be more believable."
5 Michael Jordan pursued baseball because of a gambling suspension
Theory: Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan didn't pursue a baseball career so much because he wanted to honor his father, who had been killed in July 1993, but because NBA commissioner David Stern secretly imposed a gambling suspension on the future Hall of Famer.
Reality: There are so many different theories that range into this - Jordan was suspended for gambling, Jordan's father was killed as punishment for Jordan's gambling, Jordan made a deal with the NBA that he'd play baseball with the White Sox of all people for extra publicity (fine, that last one is a joke) - that I don't know where to start.
Here's what we do know:
- Chicago radio personality Norm Van Lier, once a Bulls player, began the conspiracy theories.
- People then began to believe James Jordan, Michael's father, was killed for the debts despite court evidence showing it was nothing more than a random roadside murder.
- Jordan does like to gamble as much as he does play golf, but if he really was serving a suspension, wouldn't David Stern have let Bud Selig and Major League Baseball know?
And, if Jordan was gambling, wouldn't Stern have given him a lifetime ban regardless of his impact? This is David Stern we're talking about.
4 The Juiced Ball Theory
Theory: At times where league-wide offense was down, including the 1960s and the mid-2010s, Major League Baseball allowed ball to be "juiced." There are also theories that the ball was juiced following the 1994 strike-shortened season to revive interest in the sport.
Reality: I'll let you read this fantastic piece from The Ringer that all but confirms the balls are juiced, but of note is this part:
"We know that some hitters in recent seasons have intentionally tried to hit more balls in the air, and several of them have made themselves much more dangerous at the plate. The idea of elevating the ball isn’t new, but in the past year or two it seems to have made major headway in combating the common belief that it’s better to hit down on the ball. That could be because hitters are trying to avoid increasingly common infield shifts, or it could be because Statcast has made it easier to identify hitters who could benefit from lifting their launch angles."
Even then, I still think Aaron Judge would have hit as many massive home runs as he did this year.
3 David Robertson, Evan Meek conspired in Derek Jeter's final home game
Theory: In Derek Jeter's final home game on September 26, 2014, Yankees closer David Robertson intentionally grooved pitches to turn a 5-2 lead into a 5-5 tie. In the bottom half of the ninth, Orioles reliever Evan Meek then intentionally allowed Jeter to hit a walk-off single, giving the Yankees a 6-5 win.
Reality: Well, let's look at what the parties each had to say, shall we?
Robertson: “He definitely didn't thank me. What can you say? It created another Derek Jeter moment. As much as I wished that I hadn't created it, I was glad it happened.” (Proof of this theory being true scale: 8/10)
Meek: “When he stepped up, it was just, ‘Ok, let’s go, let’s do this.’ Threw him a cutter away. 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. Obviously, you don’t want to be the guy out there that gives up the game, but you kind of feel like today was – it wasn’t about me, it wasn’t about anyone else. It was his day.” (Proof of this being true: 9/10)
Orioles manager Buck Showalter: "We don't like losing." (Proof of this being true: 6/10)
Meek: "What a career he’s had. It was really an honor and a privilege to just be out there and share the field with him.” (Proof of this being true: 10/10)
2 Marlins Man is working with Major League Baseball
Theory: A lawyer based in Miami, Laurence Leavy - also known as Marlins Man, the superfan who attends every sporting event possible from regular season MLB games to the Super Bowl in his signature orange Marlins clothes - is working with Major League Baseball for Marlins exposure and to promote being a superfan.
Reality: Can the reality just be that Marlins Man has a lot of money and flaunts it? This theory gained more prominence in 2016 when Leavy announced his idea to "pay it forward" by renting out sections to strangers and having the only catch be that they go alone and make friends with other people - therefore promoting fandom, which would benefit the league - but I can't see it.
But, with how often we see Marlins Man around, we're likely to get an answer sooner rather than later.
1 Babe Ruth's Called Shot
Theory: In Game 3 of the 1932 World Series, New York Yankees outfielder Babe Ruth pointed to the right field seats at Wrigley Field and promised to hit a home run there in response to taunts from players and fans. On the next pitch, Ruth hit a home run to the exact spot.
Reality: We know that Ruth pointed, but we don't know what he was pointing at. Was it indeed the seats? Was it Cubs pitcher Charlie Root? Was it the Cubs' bench? Let's ask Ruth and what he said in his 1948 autobiograpy:
While he was making up his mind to pitch to me I stepped back again and pointed my finger at those bleachers, which only caused the mob to howl that much more at me.
"While he was making up his mind to pitch to me I stepped back again and pointed my finger at those bleachers, which only caused the mob to howl that much more at me. Root threw me a fast ball (sic). If I had let it go, it would have been called a strike. But this was it. I swung from the ground with everything I had and as I hit the ball every muscle in my system, every sense I had, told me that I had never hit a better one, that as long as I lived nothing would ever feel as good as this."
Which of these unconfirmed theories do you think has the best chance of being real? Make sure to let us know in the comment section below.
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