By now everyone is familiar with the 108-year championship drought snapped by the 2016 Chicago Cubs. Down three games to one, the Cubs came roaring back to defeat the Cleveland Indians in a decisive Game 7, in extra innings no less.
However, fewer detail about the Cubs' 1907 series win have proliferated into popular culture. While theories about the Detroit Tigers tampering with the World Series ball have been spread in memorabilia circles for years, it wasn’t until Grant DePorter, CEO of Chicago’s Harry Caray's restaurants, brought several valuable Cubs baseballs to the University of Chicago for a scan that any hard evidence of cheating was uncovered.
Radiology Business spoke to Richard Heller, VP Clinical Services at Radiology Partners in El Segundo, California, one of the radiologists who examined the images of the baseballs.
Radiology Business: What was the indicator that the ball was tampered with?
Richard Heller: We had no idea this was coming. We were simply asked to CT scan some historically significant balls from Cubs history. I have done several other baseballs, including from the Cubs' 1945 World Series as well as the White Sox' 2005 World Series.
It’s interesting to see how the baseballs have evolved over time. The one constant, including a ball from the Civil War era, is a radiodense core. It was immediately apparent—and shocking—when we scanned the 1907 ball and there was no core! We did thin slices through the ball to be sure we weren’t missing an iso-dense center. The images are unequivocal: There is no core. Kate Feinstein, MD, the chief of pediatric radiology at the University of Chicago Comer Children’s Hospital, assisted on this baseball project as well.
What should you have seen with cork or rubber?
All of the other balls we have scanned, from both before and after this time period, have a radiodense (white) central core. The newer balls have a cleaner and more machine-made appearance of the core, whereas older balls have a more irregular look. But they all have a core
Have you ever used imaging in a non-medical sense like this before? If so, for what? Why?
I have scanned other items of sports memorabilia, most notably the Sammy Sosa corked bat. The bat cracked and he got caught using a corked bat. Some time later, the bat was purchased at auction and I was asked to CT scan it.
You can clearly see how the bat was altered. While all of this is quite cool, my father (also a pediatric radiologist) may trump me. He went to Egypt to visit a remote monastery that claimed to have the bones of John the Baptist, so they brought the x-ray equipment to the monastery and x-rayed the bones.