Top Baseball Scandals of All Time
Top Baseball Scandals of All Time
With recent events like none of the baseball writers voting nobody in from the steroid era and the drug scandal in Miami, baseball scandals throughout baseball’s history are on everybody’s mind. Despite the popularity of football in this country, baseball is still America’s pastime. It’s the oldest sport played in this country and relates most to American history. But with all the good things that come from it, there’s also a dark side.
Baseball has given America some of the greatest moments in sports history but it has also brought some of the biggest scandals. From throwing games, to drug scandals, to attempts at cheating, baseball has had just about every type of scandal that can be imagined. Controversy has been around the game since the very beginning as there’s even two differing stories on how the game was invented.
This slideshow will look at some of the top scandals in baseball’s history. Some of these scandals are well known while others are lesser known either due to the crime or to the time. Regardless all of these scandals are important because of how they change the game, or at least our perspective of the game.
1919 BLACK SOX SCANDAL
Probably the best known scandal in the history of baseball is the story of the 1919 Chicago White Sox. The favorites heading into the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds, eight members of the White Sox took money from New York gambling kingpin Arnold Rothstein to throw the series. When it was all said and done, baseball’s owners hired the first baseball commissioner in Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis to oversee the game and prevent this from ever happening again. The scandal ended with eight White Sox players being banned for life. Those players were Eddie Cicotte, Oscar “Happy” Felsch, Arnold “Chick” Gandil, Fred McMullin, Charles “Swede” Risberg, George “Buck” Weaver, Claude “Lefty” Williams, and most notably “Shoeless” Joe Jackson.
Prior to the 1970s baseball was exempt from anti-trust laws and had the reserve clause which tied a player to a team for life. The reserve said that after each season a team could pick up a player’s contract for an additional year but players could not sign with another team unless given their unconditional release. In the 1970s the reserve clause was broken and free agency began for the first time in Major League Baseball. The owners were not happy with this because salaries skyrocketed so they devised a plan to stop it. The owners decided that no team would sign any free agents forcing star free agents like Carlton Fisk to return to their original teams. When the owners were found out and found guilty, all players were made free agents and free agency really began.
PETE ROSE BAN
With 4,256 hits in his Major League career, Pete Rose is baseball’s undisputed hit king. And with that record his induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame was without question. But after his playing career, while managing the Cincinnati Reds, Rose committed baseball’s number one offense, he bet on the game. Despite claiming to never betting on his team, betting on baseball carries a punishment of being banned from the game for life. The decision to ban Rose for life came from commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti. The scandal still felt today as many feel Rose should be inducted into the hall of fame while other feel that his punishment is just.
In 1908 the New York Giants and Chicago Cub were neck and neck coming down the stretch. It was a series at the Polo Grounds near the end of the season that would decide the series. A few weeks earlier the Cubs were playing the Pittsburgh Pirates when Pirates player Warren Gill failed to reach second base on game winning hit. Home plate umpire Hank O’Day missed that part of the play and the Pirates won. On September 23rd in the bottom of the ninth with a tied game, the same play happened again with O’Day umpiring. 19-year old Fred Merkle was on first playing in place of Fred Tenney. Batter Al Bridwell hit Jack Pfiester’s pitch into the outfield scoring Moose McCormick from third. As the fans rushed the field celebrating the key win, the players celebrated and left. But first baseman and manager Frank Chance saw that Merkle never reached second base completing the play. Unfortunately, Giants third base coach Joe McGinnity saw it too and beat Chance to the ball. McGinnity heaved the ball into the crowd to prevent the Cubs from tagging second and negating the winning run. Chance followed where the ball went, chased into the stands striking to fan that had it, ran back onto the field bringing along O’Day and tagged second base. The out was called and the inning was over with the game still tied.
Due to the pandemonium on the field they called the game a tie and replayed it again later which the Cubs won. Disputing the call on the field, Giants manager John McGraw talked to Merkle about the play and how when asked by the league president he must say he touched second base. But Merkle refused to lie about the play so McGraw took Merkle back to the stadium in the middle of the night and made him touch second base. The league found that Merkle did not touch second base negating the run and the game would be replayed. The Cubs won the replay and went on to win the pennant over the Giants by one game. They would go on to win the 1908 World Series, the last World Series the team has won.
PLAYERS TRADE LIVES
The weirdest trade in baseball history occurred in 1973. Yankees pitchers Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson had been friends and teammates since 1969 and decided to swap lives. A year earlier the two had discussed wife-swapping on a double date and in 1973 took a step further. Having sometimes switched beds before, one day they switched families. During the offseason Mike moved in with Fritz’ wife Marilyn and Fritz moved in with Mike’s wife Susan. They decided to switch everything wives, houses, cars, kids, everything. It’s the most exuberant trade in baseball history.
PITTSBURGH DRUG TRIALS
In 1985 a grand jury in Pittsburgh, PA went through one of the biggest drug trials in baseball history. Thirteen Pittsburgh Pirates were called to testify which included Keith Hernandez, Tim Raines Sr., Willie Aikens, Vida Blue, Dave Parker, Lonnie Smith, Jeffery Leonard, Rod Scurry, Dale Berra, Lee Mazzilli, John Milner, Enos Cabell, and Lee Lacy. Even the Pirates mascot, the Pirate Parrot, was involved in the cocaine deals. Commissioner Peter Ueberroth decided to suspend eleven of the Pirates players with seven being suspended for a full year. Seven drug dealers were sentenced through the trials. The scandal rocked the baseball world and is a major reason why Parker, Hernandez, and Raines have not been elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
In 2005 former Major League Baseball player Jose Canseco released a book title Juiced in which he claimed that many of baseball’s stars used performance enhancing drugs. In 2007 congress hired former senator George Mitchell to head an investigation into the claims. The result of two years of interviews and investigations found, for the first time, how much baseball was influenced by performance enhancing drugs. The Mitchell Report released nearly 100 names of player guilty including 36 current players. Some of the biggest names in baseball in the last fifteen years came out of the report. It opened the eyes of everyone in the country about what had happened and remains the defining document of the Steroid Era.
1994 BASEBALL STRIKE
On August 12, 1994 the Major League Baseball Players Association went on strike. The 232-day long strike forced the cancellation of over 900 games which included the entire postseason. It was the first time there wouldn’t be a World Series since 1904. What made this scandal worse was the aftermath. Fans saw the strike as millionaires fighting with billionaires about the fans’ money. When baseball came back in 1995, the fans didn’t. In 1994 the players went on strike and in 1995, the fans went on strike. Attendance at Major League Baseball games declined by 19.99 percent which showed the fans anger. The ending of the strike is often referred to as the 1998 home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Despite the steroid controversy involving the two later, that year is still considered what saved baseball. But it didn’t save it in Montreal. In 1994 the Montreal Expos had the best team in baseball and were favorites to win the World Series. When baseball returned the Expos sold most of their star players and, with attendance down significantly, the team moved to Washington D.C. in 2004. The strike is often given as the main reason for the eventual move.
PINE TAR GAME
On July 24, 1983 the Kansas City Royals faced the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. In the top of the ninth with two out and the Yankees leading 4-3, George Brett hit a 2-run home run off of Goose Gossage giving the Royals a 5-4 lead. However, Yankees manager Billy Martin noticed a large amount of pine tar on Brett’s bat and asked home plate umpire Tim McClelland to investigate. Using home plate to measure, McClelland decided there was too much pine tar on the bat and called Brett out ending the game. In baseball most famous rant, Brett charged out of the Royals dugout at McClelland to claim his innocence.
The Royals protested the decision which came before American League President Lee MacPhail. It was decided that Brett did not have too much pine tar and the home run would stand. On August 18, 1983 the game continued where they left off. In an unusual move, Martin had his pitcher appeal to second claiming Brett missed second base. When it was called safe, Martin came out to protest. His claim was that because there was a new umpire crew at that game, there’s no way the second base umpire could make that call. Second base umpire Dave Phillips, knowing Martin would do this, pulled out an affidavit signed by the four original umpires saying that Brett touched every base. Despite the Yankees protesting the game, the Royals would go on to win 5-4 in one of the most unusual games in baseball history.
ARMANDO GALARRAGA’S NEAR PERFECT GAME
On June 2, 2010 the Detroit Tigers faced the Cleveland Indians at Comerica Park in Detroit. Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga was on the mound and sat down the first 26 batters making him one out away from throwing the 21st perfect game in Major League history. With two outs in the top of the ninth Jason McDonald hit a ground ball near first base. Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera picked up the ball and tossed it to Galarraga who ran over to cover first. But when Galarraga touched first, first base umpire Jim Joyce ruled that McDonald has beaten out the play. Galarraga, not believing the ruling, just smiled. The next batter, Trevor Crowe, grounded out to third to end the game with Galarraga throwing a one hitter. But replays showed that McDonald was actually out at first base and Galarraga should’ve had a perfect game.
After the game Joyce said he thought he had gotten the call right. After viewing the play in the umpire’s room, Joyce said he felt sick that he had taken away the perfect game. He later went to the Tigers locker room to apologize to Galarraga. Galarraga accepted the apology and the next day Galarraga took the lineup card home plate and the two men shook hands.
ROGER MARIS ASTERISK
In 1961 two New York Yankees chased Babe Ruth’s single season home run record. In 1927 Ruth hit 60 home runs which was a record that had stood for 33 years. Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle chased the record all year but injury kept Mantle short. In the final game of the season, Maris hit his 61st home run breaking Ruth’s record. But that wasn’t the scandal. Ruth’s 60 home runs came in a 154 game season. Maris broke his record in the 162nd game. This sat uneasy with many people who idolized Ruth. The baseball commissioner at the time was Ford Frick who, ironically, was close friends with Ruth and was even the Babe’s ghostwriter. Not wanting the record broken, Frick announced that any record broken after 152 games would be a distinct and separate record recorded with an asterisk.
That ruling stood until 1991 when Fay Vincent, echoing the feelings of most baseball fans, removed the asterisk ruling that a record is a record no matter how many games. But the ruling came too late for Maris who had passed away in 1985. More controversy has ensued as his record has been broken three times by Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Barry Bonds who have all been implicated or proven to have used performance enhancing drugs. This has caused many baseball purists to argue that Maris still is the rightful owner to the record.
ALBERT BELLE’S CORKED BAT
In 1994 one of the most controversial baseball players, Albert Belle, was playing for the Cleveland Indians. On July 15th the Indians were in Chicago facing the White Sox at Comiskey Park. In the first inning, White Sox manager Gene Lamont was tipped off that Belle was using a corked bat. Belle’s bat was confiscated and taken to the umpire’s room to be further investigated. Knowing the bat was corked, Indians relief pitcher Jason Grimsley took off after the evidence. Bringing with him another bat used by Paul Sorrento, Grimsley crawled through a false ceiling in the clubhouse through vents and into the umpire’s room where he switched the bats.
Sorrento’s bats were all stamped with his name so it was immediately known that a switch took place and Belle was suspended for 10 games. Grimsley was not revealed as the culprit until 1999 when he did an interview with the New York Times admitting the theft. Grimsley said that he used Sorrento’s bat because all of Belle’s bats were corked.
FAKE NAMES FROM THE CARIBBEAN
Young baseball players dream of playing well enough to get off their island and play in the Major Leagues. But baseball teams look for younger players who have more time to develop which forces some to use unusual methods. In the 2012 offseason two well-known Major Leaguers were caught trying to appear younger. Cleveland Indians pitcher Fausto Carmona and Florida Marlins closer Leo Nunez were arrested when it was found out that they weren’t who they claimed. Carmona was actually Roberto Hernandez and Nunez was actually Juan Carlos Oviedo. While this is something that is known to happen, it was the first time two stars had been caught.
MARGE SCHOTT’S NAZI VIEWS
The 1990s were a bad decade for the legacy of Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott. In 1992 a former marketing director for the Reds, Charles Levy, stated in a deposition for Tim Sabo, who was suing the team, that he had heard Schott refer to outfielders Eric Davis and Dave Parker as “million dollar *******”. Sabo was suing Schott because of his 1991 firing which he claimed was because he opposed Schott in another lawsuit by several limited partners and because he opposed the unwritten team rule against hiring blacks. Levy also claimed that Schott had a Nazi swastika armband at home and overheard her saying “sneaky ******* **** are all alike”. Schott claimed that the accusations were overstated and that the armband was a souvenir her husband had from fighting in World War II. She claimed her “million dollar ******” comments were made in jest and did not understand how the epithet “***” was offensive.
Former Oakland Athletics executive assistant Sharon Jones was quote in the New York Times as having overheard Schott say “I would never hire another ******. I’d rather have a trained monkey working for me than a ******.” In 1993 Schott was investigated for these claims and fined $250,000 and banned from the Reds day-to-day operation. In May of 1994 Schott found controversy again when she told the Ohio County Treasures Association that she didn’t want her players wearing earrings because “only fruits wear earrings”. In 1996 Schott made a statement that Adolf Hitler “was O.K. at the beginning. He rebuilt all the roads, honey. You know that, right? He just went too far.” These comments got Schott banned until 1998. In 1999 she sold her controlling interest in the Reds to Cincinnati businessman Carl Lindner for $67 million.
THE GIANTS STEAL THE PENNANT
In 1951 the Brooklyn Dodgers led the National League for most of the season. With 53 days left in the season the Giants trailed by 13.5 games. They then went on to complete one of the greatest comebacks in baseball history. They ended the regular season tied with the Dodgers which forced them to play a three game playoff. After splitting the first two games, the third game came down to a walk-off home run at the Polo Grounds known as “the shot heard round the world” which won the Giants the pennant.
It was later revealed that the Giants had cheated their way to the pennant. They had club employees in the center field clubhouse using a telescope to read the Dodgers signs. They then used a buzzer system to relay the signs to the hitters.
Al Campanis spent his life with the Brooklyn Dodgers. In 1947 the Dodgers signed Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier. In 1987 ABC’s program Nightline interviewed Campanis about the 40th anniversary of Robinson’s debut with the Dodgers. Having been a close friend of Robinson, Nightline host Ted Koppel asked Campanis why there hadn’t been many black managers and no black general managers. Campanis’ answer was that blacks “may not have some of the necessities to be, let’s say, a field manager or, perhaps, a general manager”. Later in the interview Campanis said that blacks often make poor swimmers “because they don’t have the buoyancy”. Figuring that Campanis misstated his comments he gave him several chances to clarify but Campanis didn’t. Protest erupted the next day and Campanis was forced to resign two days later.
JOHN ROCKER VS NEW YORK
On December 27, 1999 Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker did an interview with Sports Illustrated. In the interview he was asked if he would ever consider playing for the New York Yankees or New York Mets. Rocker’s response was “Imagine having to take the 7 train to the ballpark like you’re riding through Beirut next to some kid with purple hair, next to some ***** with AIDS, right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time, right next to some 20-year old mom with four kids. It’s depressing.” Later in the interview he said of the Mets fans “nowhere else in the country do people spit at you, throw bottle at you, throw batteries at you and say, ‘Hey, I did your mother last night – she’s a *****.’ I talked about what degenerates they were and they proved me right.” Each time Rocker would face the Mets in New York it would be a battle between the fans and Rocker.
In 1946 the Brooklyn Dodgers bought second baseman Jackie Robinson from the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues. That year he played for an affiliate of the Dodgers called the Montreal Royals. Then, on April 15, 1947, Robinson made his Major League debut at Ebbets Field. Many people an America didn’t want a black player in the Major Leagues and made it known when their local team would face the Dodgers. Robinson dealt with racial slurs, object being thrown at him, and players attempting to injure him with no support but from his wife Rachel and Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey. While today most everyone agrees that it was the right decision to integrate baseball and that Robinson was the right man to do so, at the time it was a very controversial scandal.
1910 BATTING TITLE
In 1910 the American League batting title was between Ty Cobb of the Detroit Tigers and Nap Lajoie of the Cleveland Indians. The Chalmers Automotive Company had announced that the winner of each league’s battle title would receive a free car. Cobb sat out the last two games of the season in order to preserve his .385 batting average. Nap Lajoie got some help from the opposing St. Louis Browns to challenge Cobb. Because of intentionally poor field positioning while Lajoie was at bat, he reached base safely in every at-bat of the final doubleheader. But Lajoie’s last hit was ruled an error and he ended the season with a .384 average giving Cobb the batting title. Later two Browns players were banned for life when it was revealed that they attempted to bribe the official scorer into changing it to a hit. Later it was found that Cobb’s average was inflated. At the end of the season, both players were given cars.
PAY FOR PLAY
Prior to 1871, baseball was an amateur sport. Due to this, teams were not allowed to pay players to play the game. But that didn’t stop them. Teams would hire players to work for local companies but really they were played to play baseball. Paying baseball players under the table was the most open secret in the country. Finally, in 1871, the National League of Professional Base Ball Players was created making baseball professional. The idea making baseball an amateur only sport was to protect that game so many felt that making it professional would tarnish the game. Others felt that the sport had been professional for many years so they were just making something official that was already being done.
Baseball’s color barrier was a gentleman’s agreement among those in charge of baseball to keep the game available at the professional level for white players only. The exclusion of blacks began in the 1800s when white players refused to play with black players. The color barrier lasted until 1947 when Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson. Due to the color barrier there was a white league and a black league. The Negro Leagues saw some of the greatest players to ever play the game including Leroy “Satchel” Paige, Josh Gibson, and James “Cool Papa” Bell. While Paige finished his career in the Major Leagues, Gibson and Bell were never allowed to play.
TY COBB VS NIGHT WATCHMAN
One of the most notorious racists in baseball history was also one of the greatest players. Ty Cobb is argued by many to be the greatest baseball player ever but the Georgia native had one major flaw. Cobb’s hatred of black people was deep and he was not shy of expressing it. A man infamous for his temper, it was not unusual to see Cobb fight opponents on the field and fight during arguments off the field. In 1912 he famous beat up a handicapped fan at a game. But his most infamous moment came when Cobb stabbed a man. After Cobb hit a black elevator operator for being “uppity”, another black man came to the operator’s defense. Cobb responded by stabbing the man. It’s one of many stories that complicates Cobb’s legacy as a baseball great.
1908 BRIBERY ATTEMPT
Some people will go to extraordinary lengths to win games. That’s what happened in 1908 when the New York Giants and Chicago Cubs were facing off for the National League pennant. After Merkle’s Boner gave the Cubs the advantage in the race, the Giants tried to turn it around. Someone attempted to bribe the umpiring crew during the replay of the called game to help give the game to the Giants. The guilty culprit is believed to be a team doctor who was later banned from baseball for life. However, some believe the doctor to be a scapegoat. They believe that the guilt belongs to none other than legendary Giants manager John McGraw.
10-CENT BEER NIGHT
Every professional sports team has promotions to attract fans to their ballpark. In 1979 the Chicago White Sox had disco demolition night where between games of a double header they blew up disco records. That resulted in fans sneaking in, invading the field, and the second game being forfeited due to an unplayable field. But that’s not the worst promotion. On June 4, 1974 the Cleveland Indians front office decided to use 10-cent beer night to attract fans. After nine innings of drinking beer, the drunk crowd began to riot which resulted in several players being injured and destruction of the playing field. It’s the most notorious sports promotion ever.
UMPIRE FIXING GAMES
There are always stories about players attempting to fix games but the worst nightmare of any sport is that officials would fix games. Umpires, referees, and judges are held to a high standard in that the integrity of the game depends on them. So the idea of a crooked official is unbearable to consider. But that nightmare came true for baseball in 1882. During that year, Dick Higham became the only baseball umpire ever banned for fixing a Major League Baseball game. The finding of the crime came from Detroit Wolverines owner William G. Thompson who found that Higham was fixing games to help a gambler friend.
GEORGE STEINBRENNER VS DAVE WINFIELD
In 1981 New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner signed star outfielder Dave Winfield to a $23 million contract. But after a while their relationship began to sour. In 1985 “the Boss” referred to Winfield as “Mr. May” due to his poor play in important situations. Winfield responded by suing his boss after Steinbrenner refused to fulfill their contractual agreement to donate money to Winfield’s charity. In 1990 Steinbrenner took the feud to a new level when he hired a gambler to find dirt of Winfield. When found out, Steinbrenner was banned for life from participating in day-to-day operations but not ownership. The ban was overturned in 1993 allowing Steinbrenner to regain his previous role.
In 2005 former Major League Baseball player Jose Canseco wrote an autobiography called Juiced. In the book he named many Major League players, several of which were stars, who he knew had taken performance enhancing drugs and many that he had injected himself. When the book came out most people just took the claims as Canseco attempting to sell his book by making up stories. However, as it was revealed over the next few years that Canseco was in fact telling the truth, the perception of the slugger and his book changed.
Fan interference is a controversial rule that rarely affects games but there are two games that are remembered for it. On October 9, 1996 the New York Yankees were hosting the Baltimore Orioles. In the bottom of the eighth inning the Yankees trailed the Orioles 4-3 when Derek Jeter hit a deep fly ball into right field. Orioles outfielder Tony Tarasco went chasing after it and as he camped under it just short of the wall, a fan’s glove swiped it out of mid-air. 12-year old Jeffery Maier had stolen an out. The umpires ruled the play a home run rather than fan interference tying the game at 4-4. The Yankees would go on to win the ALCS and the World Series.
Fan Interference became a story again in 2003. The Chicago Cubs had won their first playoff series in 1908 in the NLDS and were up 3 games to 2 and five outs away from their first World Series appearance since 1945. The Cubs were up 3-0 in the game with Mark Prior pitching when Luis Castillo hit a fly ball down the left field line. As Cubs left field chased after the ball, he reached out into the stands and just before he caught it, a fan snatched it out of the air. Steve Bartman, a local Cubs fans, had stolen the second out of the inning. That, combined with a botched double play by shortstop Alex Gonzalez, would lead to an 8 run inning for the Marlins. They would go on to win the series and the longest championship drought in American sports would continue.
2002 ALL-STAR GAME
All-Star games are supposed to be exhibition games that are fun for the fans. But that all changed for baseball in 2002. The game was held at Miller Park in Milwaukee, WI and after 11 innings it was tied at 7-7. With all the pitchers having been used and not wanting to overuse anyone prior to the second half of the season, managers Joe Torre and Bob Brenly got together with commissioner Bud Selig to discuss what to do. They decided to call the game a tie. Following the game Selig decided to change the way the all-star game would be viewed from that point forward. From then on, the league that won the all-star game would be given home field advantage in the World Series. Selig has stuck with his widely unpopular decision and that continues to be the rule today.