Baseball Variations: Traitor Baseball

by Patrick Dubuque

tapAs we lurch toward the centennial of the Black Sox scandal, it’s as good a time as any to remember the most interesting aspect of the disaster: how the corrupt baseball players went about betraying their comrades. Advocates of Shoeless Joe Jackson quote his World Series performance, which included a .375 batting average and zero errors. Swede Risberg worked harder for his pay, slashing .080/.233/.160. But Nemo Leibold had nothing to do with the fix and still only got one single and one walk in 19 plate appearances. Finding a cheat amidst the wild jungles of small sample size baseball is no easy thing.

Cheating is bad. But what if this kind of cheating weren’t actually cheating: what if taking a dive were part of the game? What if traitors were baked into the game?

This isn’t something you could do over the long-term, of course, particularly in the major leagues; it’d be better suited for an exhibition game, or perhaps a summer camp activity. Especially since this is baseball based on a time-honored summer camp favorite: the party game, Mafia.

The concept: teams are chosen randomly, by giving each player a facedown playing card. Players are not allowed to reveal their cards. Red cards play against black cards. The twist is that two people from each team, the players who draw the queen and king, are not actually playing for their own team. They are the traitors, and have been assigned to be double agents.

Play proceeds as normal. At the end, the team with the most runs, including the traitors from the other team, win. The traitors must do what to foul up the plans of the side they play on: drop fly balls, not quite hustle down the line, and so on. They are not allowed to pitch, for obvious reasons. But they have to fail quietly: at any time, either team’s captain (assigned by the team or by the cards) may formally accuse one of their own.

If they’re wrong, the other team automatically receives two runs, and play continues. But if they’re right, they receive three runs and all traitors must go back to their own teams, swapping uniforms on the way to the other dugout.

Ironically, the biggest problem with this scheme is making sure that the cheaters don’t cheat, and reveal their own identities to their friends. Especially for children, it’s rough to have to keep a secret. That’s why you’d need some sort of reward for the victors, money for the professionals or otter pops for the kids, to keep them in line.

Would it work? Probably not. But it would be interesting, at least once. Camp counselors, try it this summer and report back. I’ll e-mail Rob Manfred.