MLB History: 20 Most Shocking Scandals in Baseball History
We all know about baseball's great stories: the up-and-coming teams that win championships, the player that bounces back from problems to be a star and the stories that come out of nowhere are all ones that grab our attention.
Unfortunately, those good stories come hand-in-hand with bad ones, and whether we like it or not, scandals have their place in sports. Players and others being banned, taking drugs and betting on the game have that lasting impact.
The 20 biggest scandals follow the obvious, the current and even a couple issues that have perhaps been forgotten over time.
20. 1914 World Series
This was not really a scandal in and of itself. The fallout from the apparently nonexistent scandal, however, was absolutely shocking given the players involved.
In 1914, Connie Mack took the Philadelphia Athletics and their $100,000 infield to the World Series to face the Boston Braves. The Braves swept them in four games, with the A's hitting .172 as a team in one of the biggest upsets in MLB history.
What did Mack do as a result?
He presumed that the team didn't try at all (despite the fact that they won in 1913) and dismantled the team, with Eddie Collins, Eddie Plank, Chief Bender and Home Run Baker all leaving. They went 43-109 the next year and weren't a threat for another 15 years.
While the dismantling was probably due to financial problems, the timing makes it ripe for suspicions, despite the fact that it sounds very unlike Connie Mack to play that card.
19. 1908 Bribery Attempt
Here's another one that's tough to figure out exactly, as it was something that did not happen rather than something that did, but it remains talked about.
The Chicago Cubs and New York Giants were playing a playoff game to decide the NL Championship when an umpire reportedly refused a bribe to hand the game to the Giants. The team physician was presumed to be behind this, and was banned from baseball.
The Cubs went on to win their last World Series that year, and rumors remain that Giants manager John McGraw was responsible for it.
Nothing was ever proven, though conspiracy theorists subscribing to Mack in the last slide probably subscribe to this too.
18. Corked Bat Incident
There have been a few instances where players have tried to get away with using a corked bat, and compared to some things on here it's relatively tame, but the one incident everyone remembers took place back in 1994.
In an April game pitting the Cleveland Indians against the Chicago White Sox, manager Gene Lamont challenged Albert Belle's bat, and as such the umpires confiscated it for inspection.
After that, Jason Grimsley snuck into where the bat was being held and replaced it. Umpire Dave Phillips did not fall for it, and got the police and an FBI worker involved.
Needless to say, Belle was suspended and his bats were in fact proven to be corked.
17. Pine Tar Incident
From one bad bat to another, this incident took place 11 years earlier, and the aftermath of the incident more so than the problem itself is what got it on the list.
In a July 1983 game against the Kansas City Royals and New York Yankees, George Brett hit a home run in the ninth to give the Royals a 5-4 lead. At this point, Billy Martin argued that his bat had an excess of pine tar on it, which the umpires agreed upon and called him out, ending the game.
The Royals protested the call, and it was actually reversed with the Royals winning the game.
Combine the incident itself with the Yankees wanting to charge admission for that last inning of play when it resumed, and you have yourself a scandal.
16. 1910 Chalmers Award Controversy
This one was just messy from the get-go. In short, whoever won the 1910 batting title would receive a Chalmers Automobile. In the final couple days, Ty Cobb and Nap Lajoie were in a heated race for the title.
While Cobb sat the final couple games out, Lajoie bunted and got hit after hit against the St. Louis Browns after the players were ordered to play the infield deep. Controversies included whether one of the hits was an error, whether one of Cobb's games was duplicated and what either player's averages really were.
In the end, Ban Johnson named Cobb the champion, Chalmers gave cars to both players and Lajoie is generally considered the champion for 1910 on some sites, such as BaseballReference.
15. 1957 All-Star Game
What would happen if a team's fan base became organized and wanted to see only their players in the All-Star game? In the case of the Cincinnati Redlegs, that's just what happened in 1957.
Redlegs fans stuffed the ballot box for the All-Star game, and in the end, seven Reds were named starters; the only one who wasn't on Cincinnati was Stan Musial. Ford Frick stepped in and replaced Wally Post and Gus Bell with Willie Mays and Hank Aaron.
Not only that, but fan balloting was stripped until 1970. I'm sure no one would have complained had they limited the ballot-stuffing to Frank Robinson.
14. Dick Higham
I'm actually surprised that few seem to know the story of Dick Higham. After all, the story of the only umpire to be banned from baseball should be worth telling.
Dick Higham played baseball in the 1870s, then became an umpire for two years. Detroit Wolverines owner William Thompson became suspicious of his calls against his team, and hired a detective to investigate.
Sure enough, Higham was in cahoots with a gambler and fixing games for and against Detroit, which led to a swift ban.
13. Steinbrenner-Winfield Feud
In 1981, George Steinbrenner thought he was signing marquee free agent Dave Winfield to a ten-year, $16 million contract. Instead, the contract was for $23 million, and what followed went from something out of a reality show to flat out scandalous.
Among the problems were Steinbrenner calling Winfield "Mr. May," leaking fictitious stories about him and occasionally forcing him to be benched. As a result, Steinbrenner was rightfully banned from baseball for two years.
The whole thing started off as petty, and had it remained that way, perhaps it would have been forgotten.
12. Al Campanis
Al Campanis was general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1968 to 1987 and played for them for a season as well. However, it's his remarks on an episode of Nightline that sent shockwaves throughout baseball.
In a live interview discussing the 40th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier, he was asked about the lack of blacks in manager and GM positions. Campanis said that they lacked some of the necessities.
Ted Koppel bent over backwards trying to make Campanis not sound so racist, but he did not budge.
Campanis resigned shortly thereafter and never held another baseball position.
11. 1994 MLB Strike
The word "scandal" may not be the most appropriate word for the MLB strike that wiped out the postseason, but it was absolutely shocking.
In July 1994, the players association planned to walk out in August with the season currently in progress. On August 9, they did just that, so the season was never finished.
Tony Gwynn never got to chase .400, and the Expos never got to win a division.
10. Marge Schott
Marge Schott, owner of the Cincinnati Reds, was shocking throughout her entire baseball career, and there were plenty of things she said that caused scandals.
Among the slurs she spouted out were ones geared towards African-Americans, Jews and many others. In fact, statements about her supporting Hitler led to her being banned from 1996 to 1998, and she had been suspended from the game other times as well.
9. 1876 Game Throwing
The Louisville Grays had a great lead in the National League in 1876 that suddenly dried up, the result of flat out bad play.
Jim Devlin, Al Nichols and two others began to arouse suspicion that they were being paid to lose games. After reading Nichols' telegraphs, it became evident that this was exactly what they were doing.
As a result, they were the first four baseball players to be banned for life.
8. Cap Anson and Moses Fleetwood Walker
Moses Fleetwood Walker was the first African-American to play major league baseball, doing so all the way back in 1884. A year earlier, the Toledo Blue Stockings had an exhibition game against Cap Anson and the Chicago White Stockings.
Anson was an ardent racist and refused to play against that team at all. It took benching Walker and threatening to forfeit gate receipts that got Anson to play it.
In fact, the way this went down likely contributed to there not being any other black players before Jackie Robinson, as Anson was at the forefront of making sure that didn't happen.
7. Mays and Mantle Banned
How can one ban Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle, two of the game's great class acts, from baseball? Leave that to Commissioner Bowie Kuhn.
Mays and Mantle served as greeters for a casino in Atlantic City when Kuhn decided to ban them in 1984, taking the idea that gambling had no place in baseball a bit too far. Peter Ueberroth uplifted it, and pretty much everyone acknowledged it as silly to begin with.
Besides, the 1980s had more important things to deal with...
6. 1980s Owner Collusion
This situation was rather confusing originally, but in a sense, it's perhaps the antithesis of what free agency is really about, and it started with a 1985 meeting between owners and commissioner Peter Ueberroth.
The goal was to keep salaries down, and as a result, few players changed teams from 1985-1987. Most signed one-year deals, and players such as Kirk Gibson and Phil Niekro did not even receive offers from other teams.
The MLBPA filed multiple grievances, though these issues were not entirely resolved until Fay Vincent took over as commissioner and put a stop to it.
5. Trials and Tribulations of Steroid Era
What really got the questions about the Steroid Era going were the Congressional hearings in 2005. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa evaded questions while Rafael Palmeiro adamantly denied using steroids, only to test positive later that season.
We have since moved on to the Barry Bonds perjury trial, as well as the Roger Clemens trial.
As more players test positive and more names are confirmed that Jose Canseco noted in Juiced, it's apparent that the Steroid Era will be known as just that.
4. Pete Rose Betting Scandal
On most lists, this would make the top three, but because this massive scandal only affected one player, I'm keeping it just outside of that.
In 1989, rumors were that Rose had been betting on baseball, so Commissioner Bart Giamatti had lawyer John Dowd investigate. The Dowd Report came out, showing detailed reports of Rose's betting on games.
As a result, Rose was given a lifetime ban from baseball, and talk about him being in the Hall of Fame remains a touchy subject, as he was the all-time hits leader.
3. Pittsburgh Drug Trials
In 1985, cocaine abuse was rampant throughout MLB, just like steroids were in the late 1990s and 2000s. In September of that year, many Pittsburgh Pirates players and some others took the stage in the Pittsburgh Drug Trials.
The end result is that several players were suspended for a full season, those charged with distributing cocaine were granted prison sentences, and while some players bounced back, others such as Rod Scurry and Willie Mays Aikens never recovered.
Dave Parker's role in this may also be what has kept him from garnering major consideration in Hall of Fame balloting.
2. Mitchell Report
If there's one thing that really paints a picture for baseball's Steroid Era, it's the Mitchell Report, released in December 2007. The 409-page report named 89 players who allegedly used performance-enhancing drugs.
The report's names practically consisted of a who's who of baseball: Gary Sheffield, Jason Giambi and Barry Bonds were in the BALCO section; others included Kevin Brown, Roger Clemens, Eric Gagne, Andy Pettitte and Miguel Tejada, just to name a few.
This definitely has shifted the baseball landscape, and in fact, we are clearly shifting back to a pitching-based era as we speak.
1. Black Sox Scandal
Everyone knows this story. Eight players of the Chicago White Sox decide to throw the 1919 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds, and MLB creates the position of commissioner so that the players can be properly banned for life.
As for the White Sox, they didn't win a World Series after that until 2005, so there definitely could have been a curse as a result.