There have been many dramatic on-field moments in the 130+ years of Major League Baseball. The sport has also had its share of troubles, events which harmed or threatened to harm the public image of the game. This article is not intended to present America's Pastime in a bad light but just to point out some of the moments it would like to forget.
Baseball had frequent problems with gamblers influencing the game, until the 1920s when the Black Sox scandal and the resultant merciless crackdown largely put an end to it.
Four players from the Louisville Grays of the National League were found to have thrown games in exchange for bribes from gamblers, or had knowledge of such transactions and would not cooperate. The players (Jim Devlin, George Hall, Al Nichols and Bill Craver ) were suspended by the their club, later supported by the league. Louisville dropped out of the circuit and St. Louis followed, partly in consequence. This was an important test of the resolve of the young league; both of the preceding National Associations had tended to look the other way.
1908 bribery attemptEdit
On the eve of the "playoff" or "makeup" game between the Chicago Cubs and the New York Giants that would decide the National League championship, there was an attempt to bribe the umpire, Bill Klem, to help the Giants win. Klem refused, the Giants lost to the Cubs, and the matter was kept fairly quiet. It came out the following spring, but the results of the official inquiry were kept secret. However, the Giants' team physician for 1908, a Dr. Creamer, was reportedly the culprit, and was banned for life.
Recent research has suggested that Creamer was allowed to be the "fall guy"; some baseball historians now suspect that the Giants' manager, Baseball Hall of Famer John McGraw, was behind Creamer's bribe attempt, or that it may in fact have been McGraw himself who approached Klem. If true, and it had became known, it could have been disastrous, as McGraw was such a prominent figure in the game.
1914 World Series upsetEdit
- Main article: 1914 World Series
The four-game sweep of the powerful Philadelphia Athletics by the Boston Braves in the 1914 World Series was stunning. Students of that Series suspect that the Athletics were angry at their notoriously miserly owner, Connie Mack, and that the A's players did not give the Series their best effort. Although such an allegation was never proven, Mack apparently thought that it was at least a strong possibility, and he soon traded or sold all of the stars away from that 1914 team. Unfortunately for the decimated A's, within two years they had limped to the worst season won-lost percentage in modern history (36-117 .235), and it would be well over a decade before they recovered.
The manner in which the New York Giants lost to the Chicago White Sox in the 1917 World Series raised some suspicions. A key play in the final game involved Heinie Zimmerman chasing Eddie Collins across an unguarded home plate. Immediately afterward, Zim (who had also hit only .120 during the Series) denied throwing the game or the Series. Within two years, Zim and his corrupt teammate Hal Chase would be suspended for life, not so much due to any one incident but to a series of questionable actions and associations. The fact that the question of throwing the Series was even raised suggests the level of public consciousness of gamblers' potential influence on the game.
Then, just a year ahead of the infamous scandal, there were rumors of World Series fixing by members of the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs lost the 1918 Series in a sparsely-attended affair that also nearly resulted in a players' strike demanding more than the normal gate receipts. With World War I dominating the news (as well as having shortened the regular baseball season and having caused attendance to shrink) the unsubstantiated rumors were allowed to dissipate. If indeed they "got away with it", it served to set the stage for the explosion that would follow for Chicago's other team.
- Main article: 1919 World Series
The 1919 World Series (often referred to as the Black Sox Scandal) resulted in the most famous scandal in baseball history. Eight players from the Chicago White Sox (nicknamed the Black Sox) were accused of throwing the series against the Cincinnati Reds.
Details of the scandal remain controversial, and the extent to which each man was involved varied. It was, however, front-page news across the country when the story was uncovered late in the 1920 season, and despite being acquitted of criminal charges (throwing baseball games was technically not a crime), the eight players were banned from organized baseball (i.e. the leagues subject to the National Agreement) for life.
Although betting had been an ongoing problem in baseball since the 1870s, it reached a head in this scandal, resulting in radical changes in the game's organization. It resulted in the appointment of a Commissioner of Baseball, a former federal judge named Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who took firm steps to try to rid the game of gambling influence permanently.
One important step was the lifetime ban against the Black Sox Scandal participants. The "eight men out" were the great "natural hitter" "Shoeless" Joe Jackson; pitchers Eddie Cicotte and "Lefty" Williams; infielders "Buck" Weaver, "Chick" Gandil, Fred McMullin, and "Swede" Risberg; and outfielder "Happy" Felsch.
After the 1919 scandal and some further game-fixing incidents in 1920 had been resolved, and with Landis having taken over, the gambling problem apparently went away, for the most part, for decades. Commissioners have taken an almost fanatical interest in the subject, suspending well-known individuals for lengthy times just for having been seen with gamblers.
Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays, after their retirement, served for awhile as greeters at legal gambling casinos. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn issued a ban against the men. Newspaper articles of the time pointed out that Mantle and Mays played before there were large player salaries. Their bans were finally lifted during Commissioner Peter Ueberroth's term.
1980s Pete Rose betting scandalEdit
Rose had been questioned about his gambling activities in February 1989 by outgoing commissioner Peter Ueberroth and his successor, National League president A. Bartlett Giamatti. Three days later, lawyer John M. Dowd was retained to investigate the charges against Rose. During the investigation, Giamatti took office as the commissioner of baseball.
Rose, facing a very harsh punishment, and his attorney and agent, Reuven Katz, decided to seek a compromise with Major League Baseball. On August 24, 1989, Pete Rose agreed to a voluntary lifetime ban from baseball. The agreement had three key provisions:
- Major League Baseball would make no finding of fact regarding gambling allegations and cease their investigation;
- Pete Rose was neither admitting or denying the charges; and
- Pete Rose could apply for reinstatement after one year.
To Rose's chagrin, however, Bart Giamatti immediately stated publicly that he felt that Pete Rose bet on baseball games. In a stunning followup event, Bart Giamatti, a heavy smoker for many years, suffered a major heart attack just eight days later, on September 1. Many accused the Rose case of causing Giamatti distress which led to the heart attack.
The general consensus among baseball experts is that the death of Giamatti and the ascension of Fay Vincent was the worst thing that could happen to Pete Rose as it pertains to reinstatement as Vincent was a great admirer of Bart Giamatti.
On February 4, 1991, the twelve members of the board of directors of the Baseball Hall of Fame voted unanimously to bar Rose from the ballot. However, he still received 41 write-in votes on January 7, 1992.
In 2004, after years of speculation and denial, Pete Rose admitted in his book, My Prison Without Bars, that accusations that he had bet on Reds games were true and that he had admitted to that to Bud Selig personally some time before. Rose, however, stated that he always bet on the Reds — never against.  Critics overwhelmingly saw it as an act of puerile rationalizing.
Pete Rose has applied for reinstatement twice: in September, 1997 and March 2003. In both instances, the commissioners have failed to act, thereby keeping the ban intact. However, he was allowed to be a part of the All-Century Team celebration in 1999 since he was named one of the team's outfielders. It was speculated that this was a major step towards reinstatement, but to date, Rose's ban is still intact.
Illegal substance abuseEdit
Baseball has had its share of problems with substance abuse from the inception. Prior to the 1970s, there were countless individual problems with alcohol abuse, but as alcohol was a legal substance during most of that time (except for the Prohibition era), alcohol was typically seen as a character weakness on the part of individuals. Public awareness of illegal drugs accelerated during the 1970s, and by the 1980s a number of players had become caught up.
1985 cocaine scandalEdit
Pirates players Dave Parker, Dale Berra, Rod Scurry, Lee Mazzilli, Lee Lacy, and John Milner as well as Keith Hernandez, Tim Raines, and Lonnie Smith were summoned to appear before a Pittsburgh grand jury. Their testimony led to the Pittsburgh Drug Trials, which made national headlines in September, 1985.
Despite the problem of cocaine use and abuse being a baseball-wide problem, it was perceived as just a "Pittsburgh problem" by the national media. Arguably, it led to the more widespread awareness of use of other drugs such as amphetamines ("greenies" in baseball vernacular), and marijuana in the game. Both have a long history in baseball; Milner (who had retired two years earlier due to recurring hamstring injuries), in fact, spoke of Willie Mays and Willie Stargell, both iconic figures and Baseball Hall of Famers, giving him "greenies". Milner passed away at age 50 in Atlanta, Georgia on January 4, 2000.
Testimony revealed that drug dealers frequented the Pirates' clubhouse. Stories such as Rod Scurry leaving a game in the late innings to look for cocaine and John Milner buying two grams of cocaine for $200 in the bathroom stalls at Three Rivers Stadium during a 1980 game against the Houston Astros shocked the grand jurors. Even Kevin Koch, who played the Pirates' mascot, was implicated for buying cocaine and introducing players to a drug dealer.
Ultimately, seven drug dealers pleaded guilty on various charges.
On February 28, 1986, Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, levied suspensions of varying lengths on a number of players. A primary condition of reinstatement was public service. It would have also included urine tests, but the players union was able to successfully halt its implementation. To this day, drug testing, particularly of this sort, is a polarizing issue.
Rod Scurry died at age 36 on November 5, 1992 in a Reno, Nevada intensive care unit of a heart attack after a cocaine-fueled incident with police officers led to his hospitalization. The son of Hall of Famer Yogi Berra, drug abuse ruined Dale Berra's promising career. Dave Parker likely cost himself possible induction into the Hall of Fame.
2005-2006 steroids investigationsEdit
- Main article: 2006 Baseball steroids investigation
The steroids rumors and facts have resulted in several de facto bans from the game by players who were either certifiable or suspected users of steroids, and significant doubt has been cast about the quality of various baseball records set since at least the early 1990s. This is a current event, and it is likely to be months or years before it fully plays out.
- Game of Shadows
- List of Major League Baseball figures that have been banned for life
- Steroids in baseball
- Eight Men Out, by Eliot Asinof
- Rose, Pete; Rick Hill (2004). My Prison Without Bars. Rodale Press. ISBN 1-57954-927-6.