40 Worst Betrayals in Baseball History
In baseball, as is the case with all sports, there are betrayals, moves and actions that defy reason and leave a bitter taste in the mouths of many.
Whether it's keeping a group down, a player joining a rival organization or a team unexpectedly moving, having a betrayal occur is not something anyone likes to see, unless perhaps they are on the winning side of it.
Here are 40 of the biggest such betrayals in baseball history, in chronological order.
Jim Devlin Throws Games
Before the Black Sox Scandal in 1919, we had players who were throwing games, the first major case of which was Jim Devlin, all the way back in 1877.
Devlin was a top pitcher for the Louisville Grays in 1876 and 1877, but admitted to throwing some games. Since he was the only pitcher, he was costing his team wins, and as a result he was banned from baseball.
Cap Anson Helps Cause Segregation
In 1884, organized baseball had Moses Fleetwood Walker and Welday Walker playing for the Toledo Blue Stockings, the first two African Americans to play in the majors.
Cap Anson, player-manager of the Chicago White Stockings, refused to play against Toledo unless the two were not in the lineup.
His ardent racism eventually led not only to the Walkers' release, but for the color barrier to be put up, preventing African Americans from playing in the majors again for over 60 years.
The Players League
In the late 1880s, the players in the National League had their salaries classified based on ballplaying ability and conduct, and even the best made little. As a result, many felt betrayed, and they decided to make their own league.
The result was the Players League, which only lasted one year, in 1890. They failed to push out the reserve clause, which remained in effect until the 1960s, and they still felt betrayed by the owners.
New York Giants Skip 1904 World Series
The first real World Series between the American and National Leagues took place in 1903, with the Boston Americans beating the Pittsburgh Pirates. A year later, the Americans won again, and were set to face the New York Giants.
However, manager John McGraw noted that they were "champions of the only real major league," and Giants ownership likewise had no desire to play anyone in the AL, especially since they easily won their league.
As a result, this was only one of two World Series to never be played, and the following year baseball established guidelines on the World Series. Originally nothing was set in stone, so despite the betrayal the Giants weren't actually required to play against Boston.
1910 AL Batting Title
In 1910, the Chalmers Award was set up for whoever won the batting title, with the winner receiving a Chalmers automobile. Heading into the last two games of the season, Ty Cobb and Nap Lajoie were neck-and-neck.
Cobb sat out the last two games, but St. Louis Browns manager Jack O'Connor ordered his third baseman to play in the outfield. Lajoie went 8-for-8 and won the batting title, with O'Connor screwing Cobb out of any chance to win it.
Chalmers awarded cars to both players, and O'Connor was released and informally banned from baseball.
Ban Johnson and Early Americal League Collusion
Ban Johnson was the one who turned the American League into a rival of the National League, and by extension made MLB was it is today. However, along with that came a slew of small betrayals, which amounted to a couple big ones.
He wanted his own guys to be owners of teams in the American League, and made life difficult for Boston Red Sox owner Harry Frazee. When Carl Mays was traded to the Yankees, Johnson ordered him to be suspended, though at that point teams were beginning to simply ignore him.
His iron-fist ways led to the two biggest betrayals of baseball's early history, one due to his meddling and the other due to him looking the other way.
Harry Frazee Sells Babe Ruth to the Yankees
The Yankees and Red Sox were originally allies with the White Sox, as all three were against the rule of Ban Johnson. As a result, Johnson limited any trades the Red Sox wanted to make to those two teams.
Because of the friendship, Frazee often sold players to the Yankees for money. The biggest was selling Babe Ruth over the 1919 offseason, which helped finance a play of Frazee's.
The result was the Curse of the Bambino, which made the Red Sox and Yankees bitter rivals, and started an 86-year championship drought for the Red Sox while the Yankees enjoyed more success than any other baseball team has.
The Black Sox Scandal
If anything was a betrayal on all levels, it was the Black Sox scandal. White Sox owner Charles Comiskey originally betrayed players by purposely keeping salaries down, which ended up with players making a lot less in Chicago then they would elsewhere.
This of course does not excuse what the Sox did in the 1919 World Series when Chick Gandil and others were paid to throw the series. Comiskey had concerns, but Ban Johnson looked the other way, and it came to light that the Sox did in fact get paid to lose.
The players betrayed the fans' trust, and it hurt the game big-time; the White Sox would not win another World Series until 2005. If one good thing came out of it, it would be that it established a Commissioner of Baseball in Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who banned the involved players.
Babe Ruth's 1921 Barnstorming Tour
A betrayal isn't always a bad thing, as hard as that may be to believe. This is an example of one. In 1921, Babe Ruth's popularity had reached stratospheric proportions, and to capitalize on it and make some money, since salaries weren't that great back then, he opted to go on a barnstorming tour.
Commissioner Landis refused to allow it, but Ruth went ahead and did it anyway. It was later called off due to poor weather and due to Landis banning the use of major league ballparks. He ended up suspending Ruth through May of 1922.
It limited Ruth to "only" 35 home runs in 110 games. It was a simple issue of a player defying the big boss, but the fact that Landis had no trouble suspending baseball's biggest star cemented his power, so it was a betrayal that made baseball better off for it happening.
Dutch Leonard Forces Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker into Retirement
Dutch Leonard and Ty Cobb are two players who may have been worse enemies than any other combination. In five seasons, the two hated each other, and when Cobb was player-manager, he had a tendency to overwork Leonard.
As a result, Leonard sent a letter to Commissioner Landis about Cobb conspiring with Tris Speaker on a game in 1919. Landis ordered a trial and the two ballplayers retired. Leonard did not appear, so the two were not charged, and later joined other teams so they could leave baseball on their own terms.
The Continued Color Line
Throughout Kenesaw Mountain Landis' reign as MLB commissioner, it was clear that the color line was going to stay in place. The Negro Leagues were biggest during Landis's time, and he was for keeping the two leagues separate.
Whether it was due to his view of the Plessy v. Ferguson "separate but equal" law, since he had been a federal judge, or due to ardent racism, it further solidified segregation in baseball, which was mainly informal beforehand.
Walter O'Malley Moves Dodgers
Up through 1950, MLB was mostly limited to the Midwest and further East; the St. Louis Browns and Cardinals were really the only western teams. That changed with Walter O'Malley and the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Teams had already started moving a lot in the 1950s, but they were teams that didn't have much history, like the St. Louis Browns or Boston Braves. The Brooklyn Dodgers had plenty of history.
Nonetheless, he moved the Dodgers to Los Angeles for the 1958 season. While fans felt betrayed, he was also big in moving the New York Giants to San Francisco, so they still had the fierce rivalry, even if it was maintained in a backhanded way.
Curt Flood and Free Agency
The whole question of free agency during the first half of baseball was, well, the fact that it didn't exist.
Unless you were traded or released, you generally were with one club for your entire career. Curt Flood had been a frequent All-Star when he was traded to the Phillies after the 1969 season.
Flood refused to report, stating that he wasn't property, and since he didn't want to be on the Phillies, he demanded to be made a free agent.
On the one hand, Flood betrayed Philadelphia by refusing to be part of the team as strongly as he did, but at the same time baseball was betraying its players by not having a free-agency system in place.
In 1970, pitcher Jim Bouton released Ball Four, a tell-all book looking at how baseball really was behind the scenes. I've read it, and it's actually fairly tame, though I can certainly see why it's considered a classic.
At the time, the book was shocking. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn called it detrimental to baseball, and Bouton was ostracized from the baseball community because they felt he had betrayed their trust. With the exception of a stint with Atlanta in 1978, he was gone after the book was published.
The Designated Hitter Rule
In 1973, the designated hitter rule was established. In the American League, the lineup could consist of another hitter who didn't have a fielding position rather than the pitcher.
To this day, National League fans and old-time baseball purists find the designated hitter rule to be among the worst things about Major League Baseball. There are people who I would be afraid to get into a discussion about the DH with, in fact.
It's rare for fans to betray a player, even rarer for fans and a team to gang up on a player, but that's what happened with J.R. Richard, who probably couldn't have been treated worse by Houston.
The fireballer led the league in strikeouts twice and was getting better every year. In 1980, he was pitching through arm issues and felt it go dead. Fans shrugged it off as him being lazy, but just a few weeks after the All-Star game he suffered a stroke.
He recovered, but never played again the majors. The fact that he's forgotten adds to the betrayal. At the least, he's deserving of a retired jersey.
1981 Baseball Strike
As bad as the 1994 strike was, the attempt to salvage the 1981 season was so convoluted and painful to watch(with the exception of Fernandomania) that maybe it would have been better if the season hadn't happened.
The strike occurred in June and July, meaning that the season was split in two. The teams who won the first and second halves of play would meet in a playoff.
All it really did was hurt the regular season, especially since the Dodgers and Yankees only played .500 ball in the second half and didn't have much of an incentive to play. The fact that teams ended up with an uneven number of games only hurt it more.
Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays Banned
The issue of gambling in baseball is a tough one given the history we've seen, but to ban two legends of the game with a barely existent connection to gambling is a betrayal of the worst kind.
Commissioner Bowie Kuhn banned Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays from baseball for being involved in casino promotions, even though they had no direct involvement in gambling. They were reinstated right after Kuhn left office after it was realized that the move was just stupid.
1980s Collusion, Part I
In the mid-1980s, collusion with the owners was rampant in MLB, and it spread over the course of three seasons. The cause was that owners were losing money and decided to keep contract lengths down.
Tommy John, Phil Niekro and Kirk Gibson did not get any offers from teams, and only a couple of free agents moved to different teams. The MLBPA filed a grievance as a result.
1980s Collusion, Part II
The following year, in 1986, somehow the collusion managed to get worse. It didn't help that this was the work of Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, who was trying to keep payrolls down.
That year, Andre Dawson moved from the Expos to the Cubs, but actually lost money in doing so. In fact, it was the first time in a long time that salaries declined as revenue went up. Needless to say, a second grievance was filed.
1980s Collusion, Part III
The 1987 offseason was the owners' third straight season of collusion, despite a ruling on the first grievance. Dennis Martinez, Paul Molitor and others weren't able to sign elsewhere as a result.
Eventually, independent arbitrators ruled against the owners, and shortly afterward, Peter Ueberroth was out as Commissioner. As for the players in the first collusion slide, they were re-made free agents.
Pete Rose Gambles on Baseball, Is Banned
Depending on what side you take, this is either Pete Rose betraying the sanctity of the game, or Commissioner Bart Giamatti betraying him by banning him from the game despite him no longer being a player.
During his time as Cincinnati Reds manager, it had been rumored that Rose had bet on baseball, and once the Dowd Report was released, it became clear. Giamatti felt that it violated the sanctity of the game, so Rose was banned.
To this day, the question of the all-time hits leader being in the Hall of Fame remains contentious.
Dave Winfield-George Steinbrenner Feud
Dave Winfield joined the Yankees after signing a 10-year, $23 million contract. Things were fine until Steinbrenner called him out in 1985 due to struggles in September.
From there on, Steinbrenner seemed to have an irrational hatred for Winfield. That animosity split some fans being Winfield fans and Steinbrenner fans, betraying overall Yankee loyalty. It didn't help that the Yankees were far from at their best at the time.
Fay Vincent Bans George Steinbrenner
The feud between Dave Winfield and George Steinbrenner, as noted earlier, was indeed brutal. The big moment in it was in 1990, when Commissioner Fay Vincent banned Steinbrenner.
The reason? Steinbrenner paid to have dirt dug up on Winfield, so Vincent gave him a lifetime ban. It was reversed upon Vincent being forced out of office, but the whole thing just stuck of betrayal the whole way around.
Wade Boggs Leaves Red Sox, Joins Yankees
When you're a key member of the Red Sox and one of the big names of the team, you don't just go and join the archrival Yankees unless you want Boston fans to scream betrayal.
Despite 11 great years in Boston, Wade Boggs did that, joining the Yankees in 1993. He may still be remembered as a Red Sox legend, but in the mid-1990s he was public enemy No. 1 for jumping ship.
1994 Baseball Strike
If there's one thing that sticks out in my mind as a fan and a kid back in 1994, it wasn't the high-octane offense or the changes to the game, but instead the strike that shortened the 1994 season.
The 1994 World Series was cancelled, the 1994 and 1995 seasons were shortened and it left a bad taste in fans' mouths. Even when replacement players tried to get things going, they were ostracized by the MLBPA, and it was simply a betrayal on all sides, mostly against the fans.
Milwaukee Brewers Joining NL
This one is not so much a betrayal for the team, but rather a betrayal of trust. No rules were broken, but the whole situation felt fishy.
In 1997, there were 14 teams in each league, but when the Devil Rays and Diamondbacks joined in 1998, there were 30 teams. Rather then have interleague play year-round, Commissioner Bud Selig moved the Brewers to the NL.
The fact that it was the Brewers moving was interesting given Selig's ties to the Brewers. Factor in the rumored contraction in 2001 that would have eliminated the Twins and it did hurt his trust for a time.
When Wild Cards were added to the playoffs in the mid-1990s, it lengthened the schedule. What it also did was add an element that purists remain hateful of: baseball in November.
Unlike many others on this list, it's not one event that causes betrayal, but simply the fact that the game has to work around snow, of all things, to try to wrap up a season. There's no reason to have baseball pushing that far, and the new Wild Card team this year will only make this worse.
Alex Rodriguez Joins Rangers
One rule of free agency, as we have seen, is that if you are going to go to a division rival, people are going to see it as betrayal, especially when you're a face of the franchise.
That's what the Seattle Mariners' Alex Rodriguez was after Ken Griffey left. He had five straight perennial MVP seasons, and was headed for free agency after 2000. He signed with the last-place division rival Texas Rangers for 10 years and $252 million.
Yes, he got paid, but Seattle fans still jeer him for it though he was likely going to be gone in free agency anyway.
2002 All-Star Game
The All-Star game is a great sight to see as the best ballplayers face off, but at its core it is a contest to see which league is better, the AL or NL.
After 11 innings, the score in 2002 was deadlocked at 7-7. The teams went little league, using every pitcher by the 11th inning, and there were no more options. As a result, Commissioner Bud Selig decided to make the game a tie.
Fans felt betrayed, as the game could have been a classic. Instead, we were stuck with a tie game.
In the 2003 NLCS, the Chicago Cubs were the closest they were to the World Series in some time. They were ahead three games to two when somehow, it ended up being a fan of all things that betrayed them.
Five outs from reaching the World Series, a foul ball was hit, and Bartman reached out and grabbed it. Left fielder Moises Alou narrowly missed it, though he would have caught it without Bartman there.
The Marlins rallied to eventually win the World Series, and while Bartman was forgiven by many, I'm sure other Cubs fans will never let him live it down.
Montreal Expos Relocating
Usually, when a team is moving to another city, it seems clear in coming, even if it is tough to swallow. Besides, one wouldn't think that MLB would essentially force a team to move, but that happened with the Expos.
While Montreal didn't have the best teams necessarily, it did have a dedicated fanbase. Still, MLB tried to move them to Puerto Rico, and with that failing, eventually pushed them into D.C. They wouldn't even let the team call up prospects in September 2003.
You could really write a book on the whole Expos situation, which comes close to rivaling the Seattle SuperSonics and Cleveland Browns moves in other sports.
Johnny Damon Joins the Yankees
From 2002 to 2005, Johnny Damon epitomized what the Boston Red Sox were all about then. He was instrumental in the Sox winning the 2004 World Series, and he was coming off his best year yet in 2005.
He joined the Yankees in free agency clearly for money, and seeing the clean-shaven Damon with the Yankees just seemed wrong, especially knowing the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry.
The Steroid Era
If there's one thing that was a betrayal of sports over the past 20 years, it's the steroid era. Everyone turned a blind eye as baseball players hit 50 home runs like it was nothing.
It ended up scarring the game, even if there were short-term gains for MLB. Only in the past couple of years has baseball seemed to move back to the way it once was.
The Mitchell Report
The Steroid Era was such an act of betrayal that the proof of said player betrayal to fans should spill over to a second slide. Even though we know of the issues in recent years, they weren't made as clear as they were when the Mitchell Report was released in 2007.
A multitude of players were exposed to have betrayed the spirit of the game by using performance-enhancing drugs, and the names were now set in stone.
2008 World Series Rain Delay
The 2008 World Series was nearly complete when Game 5 occurred. Cole Hamels was lighting it up against the Tampa Bay Rays, and since they were down three games to one, it looked like they would win the World Series.
However, rain meant that the game was stopped at the top of the sixth inning with the Phillies up 2-1. This normally counts as a completed game, but Bud Selig chose to suspend it for two days later.
The Phillies did win the game and the series, but the way it was done was off-putting, since it made the rain the hero of the series rather than any of the Phillies players, in particular Cole Hamels.
Armando Galarraga's Near-Perfect Game
Armando Galarraga is a pitcher who has not had much success in his career, which makes missing out on a perfect game that much more painful.
On June 2, 2010, Galarraga faced the Cleveland Indians and was one out away from a perfect game. Jason Donald hit a ball near first base, and Jim Joyce called him safe despite him being out.
There was surprisingly no ill will between the two after, and Joyce is still regarded well as an umpire, which doesn't happen often. Still, costing a perfect game is always going to make a list like this.
Theo Epstein Leaving the Red Sox
In 2002, Theo Epstein became the youngest GM in baseball history when he took over the Red Sox. Despite his youth, he was able to bring two World Series to a club that had not had one in 86 years.
The 2011 collapse, however, made it seem like he was on his way out, and he left to join the Chicago Cubs. I don't think this was much of a betrayal given all the issues that took place, but clearly Boston fans aren't going to feel that way, as the guy who finally brought them back to greatness took off.
C.J. Wilson Jumping Ship
In 2010 and 2011, C.J. Wilson evolved from a solid reliever into a great starter for the Texas Rangers. Not only was he instrumental in helping the Rangers win two AL pennants, but he was a fan favorite.
So what did he do entering free agency?
He joined the division rival Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. With how close the Rangers were to winning the pennant, the fact that Wilson is now actively fighting against them is hard to swallow.
Albert Pujols Joining the Angels
For 10 seasons, Albert Pujols was not only a great player, but the best hitter of the decade. He was a perennial MVP, and led the Cardinals to two World Series titles. There was no question that he was the face of the franchise.
Sure, with Tony La Russa's retirement it looked likely that he would leave, but he was the face of St. Louis, and seeing him playing in another uniform just isn't going to feel right. The betrayal was softened by the fact that Pujols won for the Cardinals, but it is what it is.
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