David Letterman Once Did an Amusing Bit With a Journeyman Pitcher Who Doctored Balls


Back in August of 1987 Twins journeyman pitcher Joe Niekro was caught red-handed doctoring a baseball with an emery board in a game against the Angels. I vaguely remember watching this on SportsCenter before heading off to second grade. If memory serves, everyone involved on the ESPN set tended to laugh about it since Niekro’s cheating was so blatant — it doesn’t get much more obvious than throwing an emery board out of your own back pocket.

Maybe it’s because doctoring a baseball goes all the way back to the 19th Century and falls under the auspices of “gamesmanship,” or perhaps the late 80s were a simpler time, but the outrage and hot takes generated from Niekro’s shady tactics were minimal.

At the time Niekro even admitted carrying an emery board and sandpaper because, as a knuckleballer, sometimes he’d had to file his nails. I can only imagine what quotes like this from Angels manager Gene Mauch would have done inside the 24/7 Twitter-Outrage cycle. Niekro likely would have been run out of baseball 140 characters at a time.

Via the Los Angeles Times:

“Nobody ever suspected Joe Nemekro (of scuffemng the ball),” Mauch saemd. “Everybody always knew emt.”

For the purposes of this all-important post let’s try — stress try — to agree that tinkering with the PSI of an NFL football is at least comparable to doctoring a baseball with a nail file, although the reactions to Tom Brady’s four-game suspension are diametrically opposite what happened with Niekro.

In the wake of his 10-game suspension Niekro appeared on David Letterman’s old NBC show and yucked it up with a winking nod that he never did anything intentionally untoward to a baseball. Then again, he wore shoes with sandpaper on the soles in order to show Dave how to doctor the ball. Oddly enough, Letterman did ask a relevant question if the umpires had the “legal power” to ask Niekro to empty his pockets, somewhat akin to the Ted Wells investigation asking Brady to hand over his cell phone. Maybe.

Watch for yourself.

Suffice to say, despite his better than average sense of humor, Brady will likely not appear on Jimmy Fallon with a bike pump strapped to his waistline any time soon. Guess we’ll have to leave all the humor from Deflategate to the joke wizards at the New York tabloids.