The Biggest Cheaters In Sports History
Here's a list you don't want your favorite athletes to end up on.
Cheating. At the highest levels of sports, there may be no dirtier word. Players secretly using unfair and illegal means to help them win is obviously as old as competition itself, but it’s still shocking when we hear about an athlete taking a shortcut to get to the top.
We’ve looked back through some of the most egregious cheating scandals in history and picked out the people who’ve most blatantly skirted the rules to get an advantage. Some sports are easier to cheat at than others — for example, you’ll notice no players from the NFL, NHL or NBA on our list — with baseball apparently being the easiest, given the high degree of control each individual player has.
Some of these athletes, and entire teams, were able to redeem themselves in the public eye later, but they’re all permanently marked with the stench of being labeled a cheater.
35. Danny Almonte
Every summer, the Little League World Series is singled out as one of the last pure examples of sports played simply for the love of competition. But the event hasn’t been without scandal. In 2001, a pitcher named Danny Almonte was the star of the tournament, helping lead his Little League team from New York to a third-place finish while dominating other teams from the mound. After the event ended, Sports Illustrated published a report revealing that Almonte was actually 14 years old, which made him two years older than the Little League age limit. His coach, Rolando Paulino, was likely also to blame for Almonte being basically a man among boys.
34. Emil & Gene Bossard
Some baseball lovers call it gamesmanship, but cheating is a more accurate term for what the father-and-son duo of Emil and Gene Bossard did for about 60 years at various stadiums.
When Emil Bossard, the father, worked as the groundskeeper for the Cleveland Indians starting in the 1920s, he would move the stadium’s portable fences back as far as 15 feet whenever Babe Ruth’s New York Yankees came to town, thus taking away home runs. When son Gene Bossard worked as the groundskeeper for the Chicago White Sox for more than 40 years, his tactics were even worse, including watering down certain parts of the field to hinder some runners and help some pitchers, and even keeping balls in a humid room for weeks to make them heavier.
Gene’s son, Roger (pictured below), served as the White Sox groundskeeper after his dad.
33. Sammy Sosa
Long suspected of using steroids, Sammy Sosa was never definitively proven to be a juicer, despite landing on that infamous 2009 New York Times report that revealed players who had allegedly tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs during the 2003 MLB season. But even if all the allegations about him using steroids were totally false, Sosa can’t deny he was busted with a corked bat during a game in 2003. He served a seven-game suspension for the incident, which he claimed was an honest mistake.
32. Anthony Gaskell
Whenever an athlete’s cheating leads them to set a new record in competition, that’s about as shameful as it gets. Such was the case with Anthony Gaskell, a long-distance runner who turned in an amazing performance at the 2010 London Marathon. Gaskell, who was 69 years old at the time, finished at 3 hours and 5 minutes and managed to set a new London Marathon record for runners older than 65. The only problem with Gaskell’s incredible time is that he achieved it by taking a 10-mile shortcut. Gaskell was able to skip a large chunk of the race by hopping a barrier, which he later said he did because he had a nagging injury.
31. Barry Bonds
Without question, Barry Bonds is one of the most notorious players in baseball history, but because he played in an era when the MLB wasn’t testing for many performance-enhancing drugs, and because he never failed any drug tests himself, we’ve placed him lower on this list than others. Bonds certainly had the look and insane power late in his career of a guy who used steroids, plus he did use substances provided by the infamous Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative during his career. The most serious trouble Bonds landed in because of the steroid scandal was being indicted for perjury in 2003 for testifying that he didn’t know what the substances were. Meanwhile, he may never end up in the Hall of Fame because of the scandal.
30. Mike Scott
Before the 1986 season, pitcher Mike Scott was average on the mound, not exactly lighting the baseball world on fire. But during that season, he suddenly became the best pitcher in baseball, slicing his ERA down sharply and more than doubling his number of strikeouts en route to winning the NL Cy Young Award with the Houston Astros. Many people wondered how he was able to do it — and plenty were suspicious. Scott himself has recently revealed he cheated a bit during his career by doctoring balls before throwing them. “I’ve thrown balls that were scuffed,” Scott told MLB Network in 2011. “But I haven’t scuffed every ball that I’ve thrown.”
29. Mark McGwire
Like several other big hitters from the 1980s-2000s, Mark McGwire was long believed to have used steroids while playing baseball — and he admitted that was the case after a long period of silence. In 2010, nearly a decade after his career ended, McGwire came clean and said he used performance-enhancing drugs on and off for about 10 seasons, including in 1998, when he set the then-record for home runs in a single season with 70. Like so many of the tainted great hitters of his era, he’s still waiting to be voted into the Hall of Fame despite numbers that would guarantee him a spot.
28. Albert Belle
Five-time Silver Slugger Albert Belle was known as one of the most feared batters of the 1990s, and he may have had some illegal help that wasn’t related to steroids. In 1994, while playing for the Cleveland Indians, the opposing manager ordered umpires to examine the inside of Belle’s bat for cork, which lightens a bat and speeds up its swing. The bat was taken and locked away in the umpires’ locker room to be examined after the game. Belle knew all of his bats were indeed illegal, so he ordered a teammate to sneak into the room and swap it with a legal bat. The umpires quickly figured out what had happened and Belle ended up being suspended for seven games.
27. The 1877 Louisville Grays
These guys get some extra credit for being the pioneers of cheating in professional baseball. When the National League started in 1876, the Louisville Grays were one of its charter teams. But the franchise would last for only two seasons before shuttering — thanks largely to a scandal that was revealed during the team’s 1877 season. That year, the Grays were in first place late in the season when they inexplicably started losing games at a ridiculous rate. An investigation uncovered that four Grays players were throwing games. All of them were banned from baseball for life in what was the league’s second season in existence.
26. Sergio and Fika Motsoeneng
OK, as far as cheating schemes go, this one was pretty brilliant. In 1999, South Africa’s grueling Comrades Marathon — which sees runners take on a 56.1-mile trek for a shot at some serious money for the top finishers — ended with runner Sergio Motsoeneng finishing in eighth place. But some suspicious competitors and damning photographs proved he had cheated his way to that finish. It turns out that Sergio enlisted the help of his identical twin brother, Fika, to swap places with him during the race. What gave them away was that the two men wore watches on the opposite wrists.
25. Jose Canseco
Jose Canseco definitely earned his nickname, “The Godfather of Steroids.” Canseco became one of the most important figures in baseball history after he admitted to using steroids and subsequently shed light on baseball’s massive problem with performance-enhancing drugs. In his classic 2005 book, “Juiced,” Canseco not only talked about his own use of anabolic steroids but also threw other big-name players under the bus, including Mark McGwire and Jason Giambi — and he turned out to be telling the truth on pretty much every count.
24. Fred Lorz
Marathon running seems to be about as bad as baseball when it comes to people taking advantage of the rules. At the 1904 Olympics, the first games to be held in America, a crafty Yankee decided to cheat his way to the podium. During the race, Fred Lorz decided to skip about 11 miles of the run by hopping into a car and getting a ride. Lorz was spotted doing this by several people but finished the race in less than 3 hours and won, to the delight of all the hometown fans in attendance. The cheers soon turned to boos when Lorz was outed as a cheater — while a fellow American, Thomas Hicks, was declared the real winner.
23. Dora Ratjen
In one of the more confounding instances of cheating — especially in an age when gender is much more fluid — an athlete for Nazi Germany was found to be not what officials thought they were. Dora Ratjen competed in the women’s high jump event and finished fourth, later setting a world record in the event at a 1939 competition. But it turned out that Ratjen was actually a male, which led to that record being stripped in disgrace. Ratjen later came to be known as Heinrich Ratjen, and it’s still debated as to whether he was transgender or simply a cheater.
22. Whitey Ford
In his 16 seasons in MLB, New York Yankees pitching legend Whitey Ford won six World Series and a Cy Young Award. He apparently had plenty of illegal help along the way during his Hall-of-Fame career. Ford has long been known as one of baseball’s biggest cheaters, admitting to doing things like wiping saliva on balls before getting them dirty to alter their movement. He also admitted to using his ring to cut balls and using his own homemade doctoring solution while on the mound late in his career.
21. Gaylord Perry
Pitcher Gaylord Perry landed in the Hall of Fame after 22 seasons that included two Cy Young Awards and more than 300 wins. He would also secure a place among the greatest cheaters in baseball history. Perry was long suspected of using doctored baseballs (aka spitballs) during his career, but it took a long time for him to be caught. He was finally busted during a game in 1982 — his 21st season in the big leagues — when an umpire discovered that he’d been putting Vaseline on the ball before throwing it. The fact that checkered guys like Perry could make it into the Hall of Fame but steroid users will likely have to wait until they die is irony at its most confounding.
20. Alex Rodriguez
It’s mind-blowing to think how much Alex Rodriguez’s reputation has improved in the past few years. He was arguably the most hated man in baseball history as recently as five years ago, but now he’s a respected TV analyst and is engaged to one of America’s most beloved entertainers. The ire he earned from baseball fans was earned though, thanks to his use of performance-enhancing drugs while he was considered one of the best players in the game. In 2009, A-Rod admitted to using steroids but then he got busted again in 2014 and was suspended.
19. Amos Otis
Corked bats have been used by many disgraced hitters to help their numbers over the years, but Amos Otis might have been the biggest offender. The former slugger put together a career .277 batting average in 17 seasons in the big leagues — and has since admitted he used a corked bat in roughly half of his plate appearances. Otis said the illegal moved helped him “a great deal.” He was never caught but apparently had a guilty conscience when he owned up to the practice in 1992.
18. Rosie Ruiz
The most famous instance of cheating in a marathon happened at the 1980 Boston Marathon, when Rosie Ruiz won the whole thing with an amazing time. The 26-year-old marathon novice amazed everyone by finishing at just over 2 hours and 30 minutes, winning the women’s race and nearly setting a record. But people were suspicious when Ruiz appeared at the finish line barely in a sweat and completely composed. It turned out that she had only run about one mile of the grueling race, jumping out from the sidelines and sprinting toward the finish line.
17. Marion Jones
Another Olympic hero who saw her accomplishments wiped away due to cheating was American track star Marion Jones. She won five medals, including three golds, in various track and field events at the 2000 Olympics, becoming a household name in the process. It turned out that Jones was using steroids that had been provided to her by BALCO, the same laboratory that was linked to several MLB stars around the same time. In 2007, Jones admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs at the 2000 games and subsequently had all of her medals stripped.
16. Ben Johnson
Another one of the most famous instances of cheating on the biggest stage in sports belongs to Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson. He dominated at the 1988 Olympics, winning gold in the 100-meter dash, beating his longtime rival, Carl Lewis. Johnson even set a world record at the event, finishing the race in 9.79 seconds. But his medal and record would be taken away after he failed a urine test that showed he’d been using steroids. Johnson was suspended from running for two years, and after his suspension, he was caught using steroids again and was banned for life.
15. 1978-79 Boston College Golden Eagles Basketball
The most famous case of point-shaving in modern sports history broke open in the late 1970s, when players from the Boston College basketball team were accused of taking money to change the outcomes of games. The story involved mobsters paying four players to shave points during the 1978-79 season, effectively rigging the point spreads. The man at the center of the scandal, mobster Henry Hill, was featured as the main character in the classic 1991 movie “Goodfellas.” Only one player, Richard Kuhn, served any prison time for his role.
14. John McGraw
Three-time World Series winner John McGraw was once called the biggest individual cheater in baseball history by ESPN — yet he somehow made it into the Hall of Fame. McGraw was famous for using underhanded tactics while playing third base. Among the things he’d do to stop runners on their way home was stepping on their feet with his spikes and grabbing their belt loops as they tried to tag up at third before running to home plate. He was only 5 feet 7 inches tall, so he apparently needed every advantage he could get.
13. 1919 Chicago White Sox
Often called the biggest scandal in baseball history, the 1919 Chicago “Black Sox” are as infamous as any team in American sports. That season, eight White Sox players ended up being banned for life from baseball after it was revealed that they intentionally threw the World Series. The players involved, which included would-be Hall of Famer “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, accepted money from mobsters to tank in the championship series, losing to the heavy underdog Cincinnati Reds. The scandal rocked baseball, and America for that matter, by revealing the beloved pastime to be not as innocent as many hoped it was.
12. 1980s SMU Mustangs Football
The infamous “death penalty” punishment has only been handed down to a single program in NCAA history, and that was the Southern Methodist University football team. During the 1980s, the Mustangs were one of the best programs in the country, claiming two national titles and landing some of the best recruits in the nation. It turned out they were landing those players by paying them, which is a huge rules violation in NCAA sports. When the whole scandal became clear, after multiple, repeated violations, the NCAA banned SMU from competing in football for an entire year. The punishment resulted in a historic setback that SMU football still hasn’t bounced back from.
11. Antonio Margarito
Here’s one that could have ended far more tragically than it did. In 2009, Mexican boxer Antonio Margarito was found to be using “loaded” boxing gloves during a bout. An investigation revealed that, under his gloves, Margarito was using hard pads made of plaster that made his punches even more devastating. Luckily, his opponent, Shane Mosley, was not seriously hurt and actually ended up winning the fight. Margarito’s trainer, Javier Capatillo, took the blame for the frightening incident, and both he and his fighter were suspended for a year.
10. Hansie Cronje
Like virtually every sport, cricket once found itself embroiled in a major cheating scandal. In the late 1990s, South African cricket icon Hansie Cronje was involved in fixing numerous matches in exchange for money from an Indian bookie. Over the course of about four years, Cronje did what he could to manipulate the outcomes of various matches and even got several teammates involved in the scheme. Police eventually uncovered the whole thing, and Cronje was banned for life from the sport.
9. 1950-51 CCNY Beavers
In 1950, the City College of New York Beavers lit the basketball world on fire, becoming the only team in history to win both the NIT and NCAA tournaments in a single year. Well, it turned out to be way too good to be true. The team was busted for its involvement in a point-shaving scandal that stretched back three full seasons, starting in the late 1940s. Seven players were arrested for taking part in the scheme, which was orchestrated by (who else?) mobsters. At least six other schools were also involved in the far-reaching scandal, but CCNY was at the center of it.
8. Clem Haskins
Paying players has come to be almost an expected way in which college programs are busted for cheating — but rigging academics leaves a nastier taste in one’s mouth. The University of Minnesota men’s basketball program was busted in such a scandal in 1999, when head coach Clem Haskins exited in disgrace, despite several years of great success on the court. It was revealed that Haskins convinced an academic counselor to do the class work for at least 20 different players from 1993 to 1999, while the student-athletes simply played basketball. The scandal resulted in Minnesota being banned from the postseason for a year and losing multiple scholarships.
7. John Calipari
No coach in college basketball history has been involved in quite as many scandals as John Calipari. The University of Kentucky coach has left an awful stench everywhere he’s coached, along with a ton of wins. Calipari has had two separate Final Four runs with different programs wiped from the official NCAA record books due to players being paid and academic fraud. There’s been plenty of similar talk around his time at Kentucky, based on the top-tier talent he continually gets at the program. He wins — but at what cost?
6. Tim Donaghy
The biggest scandal in NBA history was revealed in 2007 — and it had nothing to do with a player or coach. Referee Tim Donaghy had been a veteran presence on the court for years and he had apparently been fixing games to appease mobsters and cover point spreads. NBA referees have a great deal of power in dictating the pacing and scores of the games they preside over by choosing when to call fouls. Donaghy ended up going to jail for his involvement in the scheme, which potentially affected NBA playoff games, and it’s recently come into question whether he was the only referee who had a hand in altering the outcomes of games.
5. 1951 New York Giants
If a hitter always knew what pitch was about to be thrown, he could turn games into a round of batting practice. This is what happened for the 1951 New York (baseball) Giants, who ESPN once called the biggest group of cheaters in baseball history. The team established an elaborate system to steal the signs given by opposing catchers to their pitchers and quickly relay it to the hitter before the ball was thrown, giving the hitter a serious advantage. The system involved a telescope in center field, a buzzer or bell and a lot of winning, including the 1951 National League pennant.
4. 2000 Spanish Paralympics Basketball
This has to be the lowest of the low. The 2000 Sydney Paralympics were rocked by an unbelievable scandal that sounds like something out of a bad-taste comedy. At that year’s games, in the sport of basketball for athletes who were intellectually disabled, the team from Spain dominated the competition, winning all of its games by at least 15 points en route to a gold medal. Unfortunately, the men playing for that team had no mental disabilities. The head of Spain’s program was fired once the news broke and the scandal resulted in the sport being completely discontinued from future Paralympic games.
3. Tonya Harding
When it comes to cheating scandals, it doesn’t get much more infamous or high-profile than Tonya Harding. When the former figure skating star felt she needed an extra advantage to take down rival Nancy Kerrigan before the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championship, she hired her ex-husband to orchestrate an attack on her. A man was then paid to assault Kerrigan and he hit her in the right knee with a police baton, leaving the skater seriously injured and unable to compete in the event. Harding ended up winning the national championship but had to vacate the title in June 1994 when she was also banned for life from competing in the sport after her involvement in the attack was revealed.
2. Carlos ‘Panama’ Lewis
Cheating in some sports simply undermines the competitive balance of a game — but in boxing it can have much more tragic consequences. Former boxing manager Carlos “Panama” Lewis had a hand in one of the most frightening instances of cheating in sports history. In 1983, Lewis (shown below at center) was found guilty of removing some padding from the gloves of his fighter, Luis Resto, and also loading the gloves with a plaster substance. The injuries suffered by fighter Billy Collins, Resto’s opponent, effectively ended his career and led to his suspected suicide a year later. Lewis was also known to mix illegal drugs into his fighters’ water bottles. He was banned for life from the sport after the Resto scandal.
1. Lance Armstrong
He was one of the most celebrated athletes in American history until it all turned out to be a farce. Lance Armstrong was arguably the greatest competitive cyclist ever, winning seven Tour de France titles in the 1990s and 2000s. In 2012, it all came crashing down when an investigation found that he had been using performance-enhancing drugs through most of his career. Armstrong’s accomplishments were all stripped from the record books, including his seven Tour de France wins and a bronze medal he’d won at the 2000 Olympics. No one has gone from hero to villain so quickly in the world of sports.