Earlier this month, against the Dodgers, Todd Frazier made a spectacular non-catch that was ruled a catch. The Mets’ third baseman had raced over to the stands in foul territory while chasing a foul pop fly, and he dove into the stands. Frazier then emerged holding the ball high, and the batter was called out. As we all know now, Frazier did not actually catch that ball. It squirted out of his glove as he hit the seats, and he then scooped up a ball lying adjacent to him. It was actually not the game ball but a rubber one that some fan had brought to the game, and Frazier quickly tossed it back into the stands when he realized it was a toy.
So the question is, was Frazier cheating on that play? As in any sport, occasionally cheating does happen in baseball. Examples would include corking a bat, a pitcher loading up a ball with a foreign substance, and a player absorbing banned steroids to enhance his performance, often distorting his body as well. Most baseball fans would agree that these cited instances would fall into the realm of cheating. Please note that they all have one fact in common… all these illegal acts were premeditated. However, in the Frazier case, there clearly was no premeditation, Frazier did not tumble into the stands planning to grab the rubber ball, he was trying valiantly to catch the game ball. When he could not hold on to it, he held up what he thought was the real ball.
It is not Frazier’s job to determine whether the ball was caught or dropped, there are umpires for that task. If we are to consider Frazier’s action to be that of a cheater, then any time a player is ruled safe at a base when he knows he was out by a fraction of an instant, that player would have to be considered a cheater. It is unlikely a that a player has ever argued with an umpire saying the call was wrong when the player benefitted from the call.
Probably the most common situation encountered in baseball that is analogous to the Frazier catch/non-catch would be diving outfield catches. Specifically when the outfielder stretches out and snags the ball just as it hits the turf, he invariably holds up the ball even in cases when he knows it was not a true catch. Nowadays, most of the time replay will show if its a real catch or not, but not always. Are we to consider all the outfielders who have done this to be cheaters? If you consider Frazier to have cheated, then all those players would have to be considered such as well.
Quite telling is the fact that the MLB authorities were questioned about the play after the details were known. The response from MLB was “No plans to look at it further.” That statement should put the cheater/non-cheater controversy to rest.