Baseball has been such an integral part of United States culture that it’s just under bald eagles and apple pie in the list of classic American symbols. It’s easy to understand why as it’s been around for just over 150 years, easily the oldest of the four major American sports. Its popularity might be waning in recent years, but it’s still more than capable of turning out fans in droves. After all, the Cubs' recent World Series victory parade was reportedly the largest gathering of people in the United States ever!
One of the attractions to baseball is the idea that anything could happen. Whether an otherwise inconsequential one will become historic when a pitcher throws a perfect game, or an exciting playoff match brings an entire city to its feet, every game promises something interesting and new. But that “anything can happen” promise goes both ways. For all the excitement and classic moments baseball has produced in its 150 year history, you can’t last that long as an institution without running into a few things to be ashamed of.
Major League Baseball has more than its fair share of baggage throughout its history. While it’s currently in an era of cracking down on performance enhancing drugs, taking outside criminal activity more seriously, and an unprecedented streak of labor peace, it hasn’t always been this sunny for the oldest sports league in the U.S. And even in this era, there have been incidents that MLB wants swept under the rug.
But it’s hard to keep it packed away when pictures of it all can float so easily around the internet. Here’s 15 photos that MLB would rather you not know about.
15 The 1994 Strike
When MLB successfully agreed on a new collective bargaining agreement with the MLB Players Association before the previous one expired a few months ago, they celebrated the continued streak of labor peace. While it is certainly something to be proud of, perhaps the reason they pat themselves on the back for it so much was because they don’t want you remembering how bad the last labor dispute was. For that, we go back to 1994.
Financial situations were getting worse, and MLB owners proposed a revenue sharing system to help smaller market teams. Problem was, they tried to pair it with player salary caps, and the players refused. When no compromise was reached, the end of the 1994 season was cancelled, including the postseason. It was the first time any of the major four American sports had their postseason cancelled.
The entire situation upset most of the country and proved only to make financials worse, as when play resumed the next year, attendance dropped worse than ever before. And even the fans who did show up, like the ones above, made their feelings heard.
14 Fans Have Died in Attendance
If you’ve ever gone to a baseball game for yourself, you’ll find that most if not all games start with reminders to the fans in the upper deck not to lean over the railing. Obviously there’s a good reason why, as fans who gets too excited might fall down to the lower decks and could die. Actually, scratch could, they have died. Many of them.
Recent incidents such as a Braves fan at Turner Field in 2015 and Rangers fan Shannon Stone at Rangers Ballpark in 2011 (pictured above) add to a long list of people who have died in the audience of MLB games. And infamously, a Red Sox fan at Fenway in 2015 nearly joined this list when a loose bat flew into the stands. The fact that incidents like these have happened repeatedly while MLB still doesn’t seem overly concerned with fan safety makes reminders of these incidents shameful.
13 Jose Canseco Implicating MLB Owners to Congress
Major League Baseball was drowning in controversy shortly after the turn of the century as it became apparent that steroids were widespread in the league. At the center of all this was none other than admitted user himself, Jose Canseco. After writing a memoir admitting to his own usage of PEDs as well as naming other users specifically and even claiming as much as 85% of players were users, Canseco was brought to testify in front of Congress.
MLB has been more than happy to get steroids out of baseball in response, but what they’d rather you forget about is how Canseco suggested that MLB owners knew about the rampant usage of PEDs and did nothing about it. And it’s hard to argue against that. Baseball was booming in that era as records were being broken, and offense was at an all-time high, making for exciting games. The owners had every reason to let the PEDs slip by while business was doing so well.
But after Canseco openly implied it to Congress, suddenly MLB started doing everything it could to distance themselves from the so-called “Steroid Era.” So they probably don’t want you to see that it took a player testifying in front of Congress to finally change things.
12 Miguel Cabrera’s DUI Mugshot
In an organization with as many people as Major League Baseball, you’re bound to find at least a few people who have done some naughty things with the law. All that matters is that MLB properly addresses any issues with regards to this. However, MLB has sometimes been known to largely just sweep it under the rug. This is one of those times.
Miguel Cabrera is often considered the greatest hitter of our generation as well as one of the best right-handed hitters ever. He was also charged with a DUI in early 2011. Cabrera is not the only baseball player known to get a little frisky with their alcohol, but his DUI case was one of the more high profile examples of it getting a player into serious trouble. But even then, he faced next to no reprimand from either MLB or the Detroit Tigers who he played for, so they seem to just be hoping his legacy as a player makes everyone forget about it.
11 The Pittsburgh Drug Trials
As if players sometimes not holding their alcohol well wasn’t bad enough, MLB experienced something of a cocaine epidemic in the 1980s leading to high profile trials. Players involved included current Nationals manager Dusty Baker and soon-to-be inducted Hall of Famer Tim Raines. This alone would be something terrible that MLB wants forgotten, but that’s even truer when you remember that the main suppliers came from within.
When the situation came to light, testimony almost unanimously pointed to players getting their cocaine from Three Rivers Stadium, the then-home of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Though strictly speaking the dealers themselves weren’t involved with the team, members of the organization were undoubtedly involved in making the dealers’ presence known to players throughout the league. Even the Pittsburgh mascot at the time was implicated for this, and I only mention that because now you’ll never look at the Pirate Parrot the same ever again.
10 Ray Chapman
MLB has been taking player safety far more seriously in the past few years. Though the game isn’t quite as inherently dangerous as say football, baseball isn’t immune from its occasional freak accidents. With how often you see batters getting hit near the head with pitches or pitchers getting nailed with comebackers, it’s only a matter of time before someone dies, right? Actually, it already happened nearly 100 years ago.
Back in the early era of baseball, there were no rules about defacing the ball, which meant pitchers were more than happy to do so to make the ball harder to see. The problem is that you can’t protect yourself from a ball hurling towards your head at 90 miles per hour if you can’t see it. On August 16, 1920, we all saw that in action, as a wild pitch from Carl Mays struck Ray Chapman in his left ear, causing intense bleeding and his death days later in the hospital.
It took someone actually dying for MLB to finally take some measure to protect the players. They instituted new rules, instructing umpires to replace balls more often so they don’t get so dirty that they become hard to see. But even then…
9 Up Until 1955, Batters Still Didn’t Wear Helmets
You’d think it’d be insane to not take some measure to protect your precious cranium after seeing someone literally die from getting hit in the head with a baseball. By that standard, Major League Baseball is insane. Making balls easier to see was nice of them to do, but even then, you only have around half a second to react and get out of the way of a pitch coming for your head. And yet, MLB was perfectly fine with batters continuing to not wear any sort of head protection for another 35 years.
Before they finally changed the rules to require helmets in 1956, MLB was constantly flirting with disaster, risking the Ray Chapman beaning happening again to someone else. This is even more horrifying when you remember what happened to Giancarlo Stanton in 2014 and realize that even the helmets they do have now still leave you wide open for a serious injury. The helmet design MLB currently uses is still a barebones form of protection, but they couldn’t even be bothered to do that for three decades after someone actually died.
8 The Black Sox Scandal
Continuing in this vein of old school baseball having terrible habits that MLB is more than ashamed of now, gambling by players used to be rampant in baseball and nothing much was really ever done about it. That is, until it made a complete mockery of the 1919 World Series.
Back then, baseball operated on the “reserve clause” which effectively meant players could not refuse contracts with one team just to go play for another. This gave team owners way too much leverage to underpay their players, meaning gamblers could usually turn to them to fix the occasional game. However, the World Series between the Chicago White Sox and the Cincinnati Reds was no ordinary game.
But no less, gamblers looking for a huge payday bribed several members of the highly favored White Sox to throw the series to the Reds. Unfortunately, the massive change in the betting odds signalled to reporters that something suspicious was going on, and sure enough, certain members of the White Sox were clearly phoning it in. The players implicated were permanently banned, and MLB wants you to forget the complete mockery of a World Series that had transpired that year.
7 The Day Pete Rose Broke the Hits Record
You might see that title and think this is about MLB wanting you to forget about Pete Rose’s legacy after he was banned permanently for gambling on games as a player and manager even as late as the 1980s. However, this goes even deeper. MLB might be ashamed of certain players, but they seem to be content to still hold their records as legitimate. What they want you to forget here is that the day they celebrated Pete Rose breaking Ty Cobb’s base hits record was not the day he actually did.
Funnily enough, this is still mired in controversial gambling by players. Back in 1910, the batting title was a hot race between Ty Cobb and Nap Lajoie, even inspiring bets as to who would win. Many members of the St. Louis Browns had bets on Lajoie, and so in a doubleheader on the final day of the season, the team blatantly allowed Lajoie eight bunt base hits. In an effort to restore some legitimacy, the AL president Ban Johnson “found” that one of Cobb’s games hadn’t been counted (it had been counted and this was just an excuse), meaning MLB double-counted two of Cobb’s base hits.
This means that Cobb’s hit total was actually 4,189, and that Rose actually broke his record on September 8th, 1985 against the Cubs, not September 11th, 1985 against the Padres. MLB seems fine with acknowledging Rose’s record, but won’t admit that they lied about Cobb’s record and thus celebrated at the wrong time.
6 Curt Schilling’s Offensive Twitter Rants
MLB has recently put a large focus in expanding diversity in the game, as especially the lack of African-American athletes is quite conspicuous, and doesn’t mesh well with their history of discrimination. (Oh, we’ll get to that) Because of this, one of the worst things that could happen to them is a high profile member of the league, past or present, being openly offensive. That’s why they’re doing their best to distance themselves from Curt Schilling.
Curt Schilling was a pitcher for various teams in his 20 years career, and was particularly known for being clutch and bringing his best in the postseason. However, he hasn’t been elected to the Hall of Fame, and his antics on social media such as comparing Muslims to Nazis, lashing out at the LGBTQ community, and suggesting journalists be hanged (above) aren’t going to help him. It’s already cost him his job as a baseball analyst with ESPN. And after joining the infamous alt-right website Breitbart.com, there’s no reason to think he’s calming down about it anytime soon. Regardless of politics, MLB has no interest in being associated with someone who seems to go against their diversity efforts.
5 Catcher Collisions and Takeout Slides at Second Base
An emerging theme in this list is MLB refusing to change the rules until either the league gets in trouble or someone gets seriously hurt. Recently the high-profile injuries of Buster Posey and Ruben Tejada have led MLB to institute new rules governing catchers blocking the plate and runners sliding into second base, respectively. Sometimes it does take a serious injury for people to reconsider rules of a game, but these were rules (or rather lack of rules) that were clearly going to get someone hurt eventually. And they’ve been around for an inexcusable amount of time.
You can go back as far as at least the 1940s and find photos of players sliding hard into second base and pretty much ramming straight into the catcher at home plate. If MLB really cared about player safety as much as they would like you to think with the new rules, they would have been implemented at least 50 years ago.
4 Aroldis Chapman’s Domestic Violence Mugshot
Much like Miguel Cabrera earlier, All-Star closer Aroldis Chapman got himself into trouble last year with domestic violence charges. He had reportedly fired gunshots in his garage after a dispute with his girlfriend, leading police to show up at his house. He was never formally arrested, but the case was investigated. To their credit, MLB did punish Chapman with a suspension, which was a refreshing change of pace from the many cases of this in other sports leagues, especially the NFL, that were largely brushed over.
However, MLB seemed unreasonably quick to kick this under the rug after he returned from his suspension. He got a postseason hero’s treatment after being traded to the Chicago Cubs and helping them break the longest championship drought in North American sports history. And I get it, it wouldn’t really be fair to hold this against Chapman for the rest of his career. But the league seemed uncomfortably willing to so emphatically embrace someone who not even a year earlier had been charged with domestic violence.
3 Moses Walker
Major League Baseball has given no less than an absolute hero’s treatment to Jackie Robinson, the man who thoroughly broke the color barrier in baseball. With his jersey number retired throughout the whole league and a day each April to pay respect to him, Robinson is constantly embraced and celebrated as the first African-American to play in the major leagues. Except he wasn’t.
There were actually three black players before Robinson, and the one usually recognized as the first, because he was the only one to play a full season, is Moses Walker. Moses played for the Toledo Blue Stockings of the American Association in 1884, but was quickly shunned out of the league when it was clear he wasn’t welcomed. But he’s still a part of baseball history no less.
Don’t get me wrong, Jackie Robinson still deserves all the credit in the world for establishing that black athletes could be respected in a country well-known for discrimination. He just wasn’t the first black major leaguer despite what MLB tells you.
2 Hank Aaron Received Death Threats on the Verge of Babe Ruth’s Record
However, even after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, racism was still rampant in Major League Baseball for a long time afterwards. With each black athlete to join MLB, this was slowly getting better. But it all reached a fever pitch (no pun intended) when Hank Aaron ended the 1973 season a single home run short of Babe Ruth’s all-time home run records.
The hate mail was flowing in to the Atlanta Braves’ office throughout most of the 1973 season as he started getting close, but when he entered the offseason one shy, people started openly threatening to kill him if he didn’t retire. Aaron attests that he seriously feared for his life and had to hire bodyguards and sign into hotels under a fake name. Thankfully, the moment when he did finally break the record was well-received. MLB embraces the historical moment, but doesn’t like mentioning the ugly lead up to it, as it contradicts their narrative with Jackie Robinson eliminating racism in baseball.
1 Rougned Odor Punching Jose Bautista
Ask anyone and most people today will say that the most embarrassing thing about baseball is its culture of self-policing. It’s what causes pitchers to intentionally throw at batters to make a statement, and has led to more than its fair share of ugly brawls erupting on the field. We could use any picture of such a brawl for this, but it just felt right to use one of the most memorable from recent memory.
Tensions between the Texas Rangers and the Toronto Blue Jays had been boiling since the 2015 playoffs when they met in the American League Division Series. Jose Bautista’s emphatic batflip after the go-ahead home run particularly rubbed the Rangers the wrong way. And when they met in the 2016 regular season, they let him know. Matt Bush hit him intentionally with a pitch, and on a would-be double play groundout in the next at bat, Bautista got some revenge by sliding hard into Rougned Odor (despite the new rule about slides that he’d already broken once before). This all led to “the punch heard ‘round the world”.
The fact that most non-Blue Jays fans despised Bautista and celebrated the photo of him getting socked in the face makes this even more shameful for MLB. The self-policing is already ugly, and they don’t need fans celebrating a fight that erupted because of it.