Baseball is as American as apple pie, old ladies playing bingo at fundraisers, and pick-up trucks and, like America, it has had it’s fair share of scandals over the years. Gambling scandals have plagued the sport since it’s inception but more recently steroid and substance abuse allegations have rocked national headlines.
The Louisville Grays Scandal of 1877 was one of the earliest controversies to effect Major League Baseball. The Grays were in first place at the beginning of the season that year but then started losing game after game, eventually losing 12 out of their 20 games. Their inexplicable losing streak arose the suspicion of league president William Hulbert who had the team investigated. The investigation showed that players Jim Devlin, George Hall, Al Nichols, and Bill Carver had agreed to throw games in exchange for money from gamblers. The four players were subsequently banned from the sport and the Grays never played again once news of the scandal surfaced.
The Black Sox Scandal is probably the most famous scandal in the history of baseball. In the 1919 World Series The Chicago White Sox faced off against the Cincinnati Reds and lost. The White Sox gave an exceptionally poor performance and were immediately suspected of throwing the game. In 1920 eight players, including “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, were brought up on criminal charges. Though the players were acquitted they were banned from organized baseball for life.
1919 was a year of controversy for the MLB. Center Fielder Benny Kauf led the Federal League in batting for two seasons and then moved on to play for the New York Giants in 1916. Three years later, in December, 1919, Kauf was charged for operating a car-theft ring. Kauf case was heard in 1921 and was acquitted of all charges. Despite being acquitted he was banned from the MLB by commissioner Kenesaw who believed that Kauf’s acquittal was “one of the worst miscarriages of justice ever to come to my attention.”
In the 1980’s you the Pittsburgh drug trials and the Pete Rose gambling scandal. Pete Rose, manager of the Cincinnati Reds and baseball’s all-time hits leader, was accused of betting on Major League games while he was the manager. Rose, facing harsh punishment and damning evidence, agreed to a voluntary lifetime band from baseball. Since 1989 Rose has tried to be reinstated twice but was turned down both times.
The Pittsburgh drug trials made national headlines in September of 1985. Several players for the Pittsburgh Pirates, including Dave Parker, Lee Lacy, Lonnie Smith, were summoned before a Pittsburgh grand jury to testify about drug abuse. Tales of prominent baseball playings purchasing and consuming a variety of drugs, such as amphetamines and cocaine, during games shocked the jury. Even the team’s mascot was implicated and accused of selling drugs and introducing players to drug dealers. In the aftermath of the trials seven drug dealers pleaded guilty to a variety of charges while several players were suspended from playing for varying lengths of time by baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth.
Substance abuse among professional baseball players once again made headlines in the mid to late 2000’s. The controversy was a result of a book (written by former MLB outfielder and designated hitter Jose Canseco) called Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits & How Baseball Got Big. In the book Canseco claimed that a vast majority of MLB players used steroids to enhance their perormance.
Rafael Palmeiro was one of the players Canseco called out in his book and appeared before congress in March 2005 where he, and several over of the sport’s top players, testified about substance abuse. It was during the trial that Palmeiro uttered the famous words, “Let me start by telling you this: I have never used steroids, period. I don’t know how to say it any more clearly than that. Never.” Despite his ardent denial of steroid abuse Palmeiro tested positive the steroid stanozolol just five months later and was thus suspended for ten days.
Most professional baseball players have never thrown a game in order to get some extra cash or used steroids to give them an edge over the competition. However, when the ones that engage in these illicit activities get caught the image of baseball itself gets tainted.