The game of baseball has been played for parts of three different centuries. It’s America’s National Pastime. Professional baseball came into existence before either of the World Wars. Man hadn’t gone to the moon yet. Kendall Jenner was more than one hundred years away from establishing world peace through the power of Pepsi. That leaves plenty of time for scandals and news breaking stories to pop up in a league built on competition.
From the rampant gambling problems in the unregulated days of early baseball to the Cardinals-Astros hacking scandal, the sport has provided entertainment off the field just as much as on the actual diamond. Many of the game’s most storied scandals, whether based on suspensions, drug use or betting, rightfully involve legends of the game. Most included in the list ultimately shaped Major League Baseball by displaying a necessity for change or spurring future events.
The bad will forever be as much a part of baseball lore as the good. Here are the 15 Biggest Scandals in MLB History. As always, feel free to share other baseball tales or comment below.
15 1800s Bans – Louisville Grays’ Scandal and Dick Higham
In the second year of the National League, the 1877 Louisville Grays held a four game lead with twenty games to go. The team, world-beaters at the point, suddenly went 1-9-1 and fell. The Grays suddenly found themselves seven games behind Boston. A reporter for the Louisville Courier-Journal, John A. Haldeman, unearthed the source of the collapse. Four players – Jim Devlin, George Hall, Al Nichols and Bill Craver – were implicated in throwing games with gamblers. History shows that the evidence cannot prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, but the League banned all four individuals for life. It was one of the first major moves against the foundational ties between gambling and the sport. Dick Higham, while not involved in the Grays’ scandal, became the only umpire in history to be banned from the game in 1882. The Detroit Wolverines’ owner hired a private investigator to out Higham’s system of rigging the team’s games.
14 1919 Black Sox Scandal
There were rumblings before the 1919 Black Sox Scandal. A 1908 New York Giants’ team physician was banned from baseball after failing to bribe an umpire to ensure New York captured the pennant in a tiebreaker game. Connie Mack, owner of the Philadelphia Athletics, sold most of his key players after suspicions arose that the team threw the 1914 World Series to spite him. These marks on the game came to a head in one of the gravest scandals in all of professional sports. After the Chicago White Sox lost the best-of-nine World Series to the Reds (5-3), rumors emerged that Fall Classic was thrown. Eight players, including “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, Eddie Cicotte, and Claude “Lefty” Williams, were included in the game-fixing scandal. The news shocked a war-weary public. Major League Baseball hired Judge Keneshaw Mountain Landis as commissioner, granting him complete control to clean up the league. Despite seven of the accused being acquitted in court, Judge Landis banned everyone involved for life. For what it’s worth, “Shoeless” Joe had 12 hits in the series and batted .375.
13 Ty Cobb Scandals
Two men have accrued over 4,000 hits in MLB history. Both men appear have carved out notorious legacies in our National Pastime. Ty Cobb doesn’t necessarily have one scandal, but an accumulation of wild stories follow the Hall of Famer. If you think Ron Atrest’s Malice at the Palace was bad, he was only following Cobb’s lead. During the 1912 season, a relentless heckler lobbed insults at the ballplayer from the stands of Hilltop Park. In the fourth inning, Cobb had enough. He leaped into the crowd and proceeded to pummel the fan. By the way, the outmatched heckler had lost all but two fingers in a printing press accident. The American League President banned Cobb indefinitely. His teammates went on strike for one game, prompting the Tigers to field a hapless replacement squad in a 24-2 loss. Ty Cobb also once slapped an elevator operator for being “uppity.” When a night watchman intervened, Cobb pulled out a knife and stabbed him. The incident was settled out of court. In 1926, former pitcher Dutch Leonard accused Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker of betting on a 1919 game they all knew was fixed. Commissioner Landis had Cobb and Speaker resign from baseball, but he eventually allowed their re-entry after they were found not guilty.
12 1957 All Star Game
Today’s All Star Games are a long-passed fad. They are a well-known popularity contest that has erred by allowing the outcome to impact the World Series. The 1957 All Star Game selection process, however, managed to cause a stir. Much like the 2015 Royals fans, Cincinnati Redlegs fans stacked the ballot box for their players. Local bars, the Cincinnati Times-Star, and a morning show called The 50/50 Club fueled the voting craze. One voter reportedly filled out 1,400 ballots on her own. By the end, over half of the NL ballots originated from Cincinnati. Stan Musial was the only non-Redlegs starter. MLB Commissioner Ford Frick replaced two of the selections with Hank Aaron and Willie Mays. He banned fan voting from the All Star Game until 1970. In response, a protest truck dragged an effigy of Frick through downtown Cincinnati.
11 Yankees Wife Swap
On March 4, 1973, two Yankees pitchers held separate news conferences during Spring Training. Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson announced they had essentially swapped lives during the summer of 1972. Kekich and Peterson traded spouses and children. Kekich began a new relationship with the former Marilyn Peterson, but the couple fizzled out before the move even went public. Peterson, meanwhile, settled in for the long haul with Susan Kekich. They had four children together and remain together today. The announcement made for bizarre news. As recently as 2015, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon were pursuing a movie about the wife swap. Mike Kekich, the one who received the short end of the deal, had predictably attempted to block the film. Peterson hopes the movie gets made and is willing to serve as a consultant.
10 1o. Cleveland’s 1974 10-Cent Beer Night
Coming from someone who has recently spent only six more dollars for a regular season ticket than a baseball park beer, 10-cent Beer Night sounds perfect. Organizations in the 1970s followed that logic. Cleveland threw Nickel-Beer Day in 1971 with little issue. A similar effort three years later worked out somewhat differently. On a June night with a full moon, college kids and Indians fans packed the stands. Unruly spectators had already made their mark before Cleveland forced a 5-5 tie in the ninth inning. A naked man sprinted to second base after the game’s second home run. A father and son found their way onto the field and mooned fellow fans from the outfield. The atmosphere boiled over with a Cleveland runner on second in the bottom of the ninth. Another fan leaped onto the field and tried to steal a hat from Rangers’ outfielder Jeff Burroughs. Burroughs slipped trying to kick the fan. Texas manager Billy Martin sent his players out of the dugout to protect Burroughs. Fans stormed the field, prompting the Indians players to emerge with bats in hand as well. The fracas became an overwhelming hodgepodge of brawls and hurled objects. The umpire forfeited the game to Texas in an effort to end the madness. The incident obviously made huge headlines. Undeterred, Cleveland hosted its next Ten-Cent Beer Night on July 18th.
9 1983 Pine Tar Incident
On July 24, 1983, the Kansas City Royals trailed the New York Yankees 4-3 in the top of the ninth inning. With a man on first, George Brett slugged a go-ahead home run. Manager Billy Martin asked the umpire, Tim McLelland, to take a second look at Brett’s bat. Upon further inspection, McLelland ruled that excessive pine tar was used, called Brett out, and ended the game with a Yankees victory. George Brett shot out the dugout like a firecracker to plead his case. The Royals later appealed the play, and American League President Larry MacPhail ruled in their favor. New York delayed replaying the 9th inning until August 18th and even made an effort to charge $2.50 for admission. The Yankees eventually agreed to allow admission to anyone with a ticket stub from the original game. In front of 1,200 fans, the top of the 9th resumed with two outs and a 5-4 Royals lead. Brett didn’t even attend the game. Martin lodged a silent protest by playing pitcher Ron Guidry in center field and left-handed Don Mattingly at second base. The Royals won the game following a 1-2-3 bottom of the ninth.
8 Corked Bat Incidents
If you aren’t cheating, you aren’t trying. Baseball’s vast history lives up to the phrase. Groundskeepers manipulate fields to suit their team’s style, pitchers gunk up balls, and field players utilize corked bats. Sometimes they just get caught. Sammy Sosa’s bat broke during a 2003 game. McClelland, the same umpire from the Pine Tar Game, found cork notched into the barrel. He ejected Sosa and MLB suspended the slugger for eight games. Graig Nettles, a third baseman for the Yankees, hit a home run in a 1974 showdown with the Detroit Tigers. He knocked a broken-bat single his next time up and six superballs bounced out. Nettles claimed he received the bat from a fan and did not know it had been manipulated. The most insane corked incident involves Cleveland’s Albert Belle in 1994. White Sox manager Gene Lamont challenged Belle’s bat with umpire Dave Phillips during the first inning of a July matchup. Phillips confiscated the bat and stowed it in his locker. During the game, Indians pitcher Jason Grimsley snuck through a crawl space in the ceiling above Phillips’ locker. He dropped down and replaced the corked bat with a regular one. The Mission Impossible attempt was easily thwarted – the replaced bat had another player’s name on it. Belle received a ten-game suspension (later reduced to seven games).
7 Pete Rose’s Lifetime Ban
Pete Rose, the MLB all-time hit king and other member of the league’s 4,000-hit club, finds himself on this list alongside Ty Cobb. Allegations of Rose betting on baseball emerged while he was managing the Cincinnati Reds. Commissioner Giamatti launched an investigation through John Dowd. Dowd’s investigation took three months, at which point Rose voluntarily agreed to accept a lifetime ban. Rose vehemently maintained his innocence until he admitted the truth in a 2004 autobiography. During a speaking engagement on ESPN Radio, Rose claimed he bet on his team every night because he loved and believed in them. He did everything in his power to win. Rose’s ban renders him ineligible from Hall of Fame consideration. He has petitioned for reinstatement – or at least for his name to be submitted for induction – but the MLB has repeatedly turned him. Charlie Hustle says he still hasn’t given up on Cooperstown, but for now, the Hall of Fame has turned its back on a legend.
6 1980s Owner Collusion
Owners came to an unwritten agreement at the end of the 1985 season. In order to keep salaries and contract length down, teams avoided competing with each other for free agents. Players like Kirk Gibson and Phil Niekro did not receive any offers from outside teams. Only four of 35 free agents, unwanted by their original organization, changed uniforms. The next offseason proved even worse. Tim Raines, Ron Guidry, Doyle Alexander and Rich Gedman found no love on the free agent market. Jack Morris was forced to accept arbitration because other teams refused to bid for him. Andre Dawson desperately escaped Montreal by offering to sign with the Cubs for any salary. Chicago offered him $500,000, a third of his market value. The MLB Players Association angrily filed three grievances (1986-1988). Arbitrators Thomas Roberts and George Nicolau ruled in favor of the players in all three cases. The collusion scandal ultimately played a role in both the 1990s MLB expansion and the 1994 Players’ Strike.
5 1985 Pittsburgh Drug Trials
The Pittsburgh Drug Trials involved a drug-dealing caterer, a freelance photographer, the Pirates Parrot mascot, and a dozen of coked up players. Cocaine use ran rampant in Major League locker rooms through the 1980s. It culminated in the 1985 Pittsburgh Drug Trials. Curtis Strong had become familiar with many baseball players through his catering work. He used the relationships to sell drugs. Freelance photographer Dale Shiffman worked in conjunction with Pittsburgh’s mascot, Kevin Koch, to obtain and sell cocaine to various members of the Pirates’ organization. Koch sold out Shiffman to federal investigators and the players involved were granted immunity before the trial. The nation ate up the bizarre developments. Here’s one tidbit from Tim Raines’ testimony: The recent Hall of Fame inductee kept cocaine in the back pocket of his uniform during games. Raines admitted he always slid headfirst when stealing bases to ensure the glass vial would remain intact. Strong, Shiffman, and several others were convicted of selling cocaine. Seven players (including Dave Parker, Keith Hernandez, and Yogi Berra’s son) were handed a one-year suspension but were allowed to continue playing in exchange for community service, random drug testing, and donating 10% of their salaries to drug-abuse programs. Four other players received 60-game suspensions with similar loopholes. A year after the scandal, Commissioner Ueberroth declared baseball’s drug problem over, stating, “I believe baseball is going to be the first sport to be free of drugs.”
4 Steinbrenner Suspensions
The late boss of the Evil Empire found himself on the wrong side of suspensions not once, but twice during his reign. George Steinbrenner first found himself in hot water during the early 1970s. He pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy and making illegal campaign contributions to Richard Nixon’s 1972 campaign. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn suspended George Steinbrenner from all baseball activity for two years. The sentence was reduced to 15 months on appeal. Steinbrenner’s next brazen display came after years of feuding with outfielder Dave Winfield. The relationship was never on solid ground after Winfield signed a ten-year, $23 million contract in 1980. Steinbrenner referred to Winfield as Mr. May and attempted to trade him toward the end of the decade. In July 1990, Winfield sued Steinbrenner for not making a contribution to his charitable organization, which was a stipulation included in Winfield’s contract. Steinbrenner then paid a known gambler, Howard Spira, $40,000 to dig up dirt on Winfield. Commissioner Fay Vincent initially banned Steinbrenner for life, per the owner’s request, but the suspension was lifted two years later.
3 Steroids Era
Spoiler Alert – Commissioner Uerberroth’s optimistic declaration regarding the relationship between drugs and baseball was dead wrong. The 1994 MLB Strike destroyed interest and loyalty toward the sport. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa revived baseball with their 1998 Home Run chase. Both players passed Maris’ 37-year record of 61 dingers. McGwire hit 70. Barry Bonds broke the season record again in 2001 with 73. In fact, between 1998 and 2001, Maris’ 61 was surpassed six times. The long ball saved baseball, but it came at a cost. The Steroids Era tarnished the integrity of the game. McGwire and Sosa avoided questions regarding performance enhancers during 2005 Congressional hearings. Raphael Palmeiro denied use. He tested positive later that year. Jose Canseco released Juiced the same year, in which he claimed responsibility for introducing steroids to baseball and outed numerous users. Then came the 2007 Mitchell Report. It named 89 players. The report included a BALCO section that implicated Gary Sheffield, Jason Giambi, and Barry Bonds. The supposedly ageless Roger Clemens also became exposed. To date, none of the players linked to steroid use have even sniffed Hall of Fame consideration.
2 Biogenesis Scandal
Baseball tried to clean up its image in the decade following the revelations of the Steroids Era. Better, more thorough testing was introduced and heavier suspensions were enforced. Then, Biogenesis reared its ugly head in 2013. Biogenesis, a now-defunct anti-aging clinic in Florida, came under investigation after a disgruntled employee turned over incriminating records to the Miami New Times. Documents alleging that current players received PEDs and HGH from the clinic began leaking. Anthony Bosch, who ran Biogenesis, finally agreed to cooperate with the MLB’s investigation. Ryan Braun became the first domino to fall. After previously winning an appeal on a failed drug test the previous season, Braun received a 65-game suspension. 12 other players, including Nelson Cruz, Jhonny Peralta, and Everth Cabrera received 50-game suspensions. Bartolo Colon, Melky Cabrera, and Yasmani Grandal, also implicated, had already served 50-game penalties for failed tests. Alex Rodriguez, the only individual to appeal, faced a 211-game ban for his attempts to cover up involvement. He was allowed to play out the remainder of the 2013 season. The suspension was upheld following arbitration. Rodriguez missed all of 2014.
1 Cardinals-Astros Hacking Scandal
This most recent scandal is an unparalleled technological intrusion in baseball history and signals how future cheating may look in the 21st century. The FBI opened an investigation into the Cardinals in June 2015. Investigators discovered that St. Louis’ scouting director, Chris Correa, hacked into the Astros’ database and accessed the accounts of five employees. He stole information from Sid Mejdal’s (Astros’ Director of Decision Sciences) emails for over two years. Correa used the accounts of Houston GM Jeff Lunhow (a former front office employee with St. Louis), analyst Colin Wyers, and several minor league players. He also reviewed the team’s amateur draft scouting reports and preference lists. Correa was sentenced to 46 months in prison for corporate espionage. Commissioner Rob Manfried handed down a punishment in January 2017. The Cardinals’ two highest draft picks were awarded to the Astros and the organization had to pay $2 million, the maximum fine allowed under the MLB constitution.
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