Baseball and scandals seem to go together like salt and pepper. But somehow, they still keep coming up with fresh ways to shock us. With the case of the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal from the 2017 postseason still fresh, it’s a good time to look at some of the biggest controversies in the sport’s history.
Where do we start? With the rampant cocaine abuse and banned substance violations? Or all those fixed games back in the day? We’ve got everything from teams colluding to individuals making ridiculous choices. But almost every one is worth discussing. Check out the list below.
25. The Pine Tar Incident
Hitters often use pine tar to improve their grips. The MLB has restrictions on the amount you can apply because it gives an advantage, especially in cold weather. In 1983, the Kansas City Royals’ George Brett hit a two-run home run to give his team a lead. But Yankees manager Billy Martin noticed a large amount of pine tar on Brett’s bat.
The umpires nullified his home run and called him out. Finally, the game ended with a Yankees win. But it wasn’t over because the Royals put in a successful protest. The game restarted from the point of Brett’s home run. Of course, the Royals went on to win.
George Steinbrenner was the former owner of the New York Yankees. He was also controversial. First of all, he made illegal payments to Richard Nixon’s 1972 campaign. Then he got into a massive feud with outfielder Dave Winfield. Things got unbelievably toxic between the two of them.
Winfield sued Steinbrenner for failing to contribute to his charity as stipulated in his contract. In return, Steinbrenner paid a known gambler $40,000 to dig up dirt on his nemesis. Commissioner Fay Vincent banned him for life. Steinbrenner was one of the shadiest figures in the game.
Nothing was ever proven, but this is one of the most suspicious events in MLB history. The Philadelphia Athletics were favorites to beat the Boston Braves in the World Series. Nobody counted on the Braves stunning the baseball world by sweeping the Athletics aside in a four-game series.
First of all, the Braves had unknown pitchers and also lacked a notable home-field advantage. Adding to historians’ suspicions is the heavy wagering against the Athletics by entertainer George M. Cohen through bookmaker Sport Sullivan. The 1919 Black Sox Scandal saw the very same bookmaker implicated.
One of the most recent scandals in baseball involved the Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Vazquez. One of the best in the MLB, he won back-to-back All-Star nominations in 2018 and 2019. Meanwhile, his fastball reaches over 100 miles per hour. But it has all come crashing down.
Police arrested him for possession of child pornography and sexual relations with a minor. He admitted to ‘having sex but not really’ because he couldn’t fit inside the 13-year-old. Vazquez is currently awaiting sentencing. Don’t expect to see him pitch a ball ever again.
Campanis was the general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers for nearly 20 years. He even helped to success in the 1980s. In sum, he became synonymous with the franchise. However, he would end up leaving in disgrace after several disgusting racial comments. Why he thought this was smart, we don’t know.
In an interview with Ted Koppel on ‘Nightline,’ he suggested that black people don’t have the mental aptitude for managerial or GM positions. Needless to say, this went down like a lead balloon. Campanis resigned shortly after. Some people still tried to defend him.
Baseball has only banned one umpire for life. That dubious honor goes to Higham. The Detroit Wolverines’ owner got suspicious after several calls went against his team. So he hired a private investigator to out Higham’s system of rigging the team’s games. What emerged was insane.
Higham outlined a simple code—if the gambler received a telegram from him saying “Buy all the lumber you can,” the gambler was to bet on Detroit. No telegram meant the gambler was to bet on his opponent. The league ultimately fired him as an umpire and banned him from baseball.
Unfortunately, baseball is traditionally the most segregated sport in the US. In MLB, only 7.7% of players are black. Compare that to 74% of the NBA and 68% of the NFL. Even up until recently there was still a lot of racism in the game. One of the worst incidents involved former Cincinnati Reds owner Schott.
She said a lot of inflammatory things during her reign in charge of the Reds. Typically this included racist stereotyping of Jewish and black players. Yet somehow she managed to cling to power for a long time. Finally, after making comments in support of Hitler, the franchise forced her out. It’s like she was trolling and seeing how far she could go.
Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle were superstars in the 1980s. But MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn didn’t care. He had a zero-tolerance attitude towards gambling and wanted to eradicate its association with baseball. Kuhn banned the pair of legends when he found out that they had worked as greeters at a casino.
Obviously, this was a ridiculous overreaction but Kuhn held it up. Eventually, Peter Ueberroth replaced him. One of the new commissioner’s first jobs was to lift the lifetime bans. Kuhn’s reign resulted in a major cleanup job. In sum, it was a rough welcome to the top seat of Major League Baseball for Ueberroth.
One man who couldn’t avoid drama was Cobb. The Detroit Tigers star was as volatile a personality as anybody out there. He’s one of two players in MLB history to accrue over 4000 hits. But just because he is in the Hall of Fame doesn’t mean he was a nice guy.
In short, carnage tends to follow Cobb wherever he went. After an elevator watchman was ‘uppity,’ he slapped him across the face. Then he stabbed a guard who tried to intervene. Cobb also infamously attacked a fan in the crowd at Hilltop Park. To sum up, it’s amazing he made it onto the playing field at all.
Franchises are constantly looking at ways to improve the fan experience. The Indians decided to take it to the next level by offering their fans a 10 cent beer night. We’re not sure who thought that this was a good idea because it wasn’t. What happened next is exactly what you’d expect.
First of all, a naked man sprinted to second base after the game’s second home run. Then a father and son went onto the field and mooned the crowd. But it boiled over when a fan tried to steal the hat from Rangers outfielder Jeff Burroughs. The benches emptied before fans stormed the field into a massive brawl.
This was one of the weirdest stories on this list. Two Yankees pitchers announced in separate press conferences that they were trading spouses and children. Mike Kekich moved in with the former Marilyn Peterson but their relationship fizzled out before they even went public. However, Fritz Peterson hooked up with Susan Kekich for the long haul.
They had four children together and remain together today. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck wanted to make a movie about their lives, but Keckich resisted it. Obviously, Peterson was more happy to share the details of his life. It definitely confused the public in 1973.
In the world of professional sports, some people do everything they do everything can to win. If this means totally breaking the rules, then so be it. Of course, this doesn’t always work out well. Just ask Sammy Sosa, whose bat broke during a 2003 game. McClelland, the same umpire from the Pine Tar Game, found cork notched into the barrel.
The MLB has form when it comes to corked bats. The referee confiscated Albert Belle’s in 1994 and put it in his locker. Another Indians player crawled through a space in the ceiling above and swapped the Indians’ star’s bat for another one. But it turned out the replaced bat had another player’s name on it. The MLB banned him for 10 games.
In 1994, the players made the decision to strike in August, bringing the season to an abrupt end. It was a major humiliation for the league and a clear demonstration of player power. In short, there was no postseason or World Series and the action ended for 232 days.
It was the first work stoppage in the sport for 22 years. The season turned from euphoria to a nightmare for the Montreal Expos who had a six-game lead in their division and were favorites to win it all. But they had to slash their payrolls. To sum up, this didn’t turn out well for the best players on their roster.
This is unique on this list because it’s something that didn’t actually happen. But that wasn’t for lack of trying on the part of Joseph Creamer. The Giants’ team doctor tried to bribe the umpire to hand the game to New York. However, the umpire refused to comply with this outrageous demand.
The Chicago Cubs went on to be victorious in front of a hostile New York crowd. One fan slashed Jack Pfeister in the arm with a knife, while a bottle cut player-manager Frank Chance. The Cubs went on to win their last World Series for almost a century when they beat the Detroit Tigers.
Generally speaking, it doesn’t pay to be a racist. That’s especially true if you’re in the public eye. You’re not exactly going to make people like you. Rocker clearly didn’t get the memo because he never held back. Being a great player didn’t compensate for the fact that he was a terrible human.
Rocker explained that he didn’t want to move to New York because there were too many gay people with AIDs. He has also ranted about the number of foreigners in the country. Furthermore, he called his Curacaoan teammate Randall Simon a ‘fat monkey.’ Needless to say, a lot of franchises lost interest in him.
Cheating isn’t new to baseball. In 1910, one of the pettiest scandals in the sport erupted. Before the start of the season, Hugh Chalmers promised that his auto company would gift a car to the batting champions for the American and National Leagues. Everybody likes free stuff, right?
However, the problem was that not everybody liked Ty Cobb. The Detroit Tigers star had a slim lead in the race for the American League batting title. But then the St. Louis Browns colluded to try and gift the title to the Naps’ Nap Lajoie. Chalmers gave both cars anyway while the league banned the Browns manager from baseball.
In the 1980s, an enterprising caterer named Curtis Strong decided to take advantage of baseball players’ love of cocaine. Freelance photographer Dale Shiffman worked with Pittsburgh’s mascot, Kevin Koch, to sell cocaine to various members of the Pirates’ organization.
A high-profile legal investigation began and captured the public’s imagination. Authorities granted the involved players immunity before the trial. One of the most ridiculous stories told how Tim Raines used to keep a glass vial of coke in his back pocket during games. A year later, Commissioner Ueberroth declared baseball’s drug problem over. Right.
In the early days of professional baseball, cheating and shady behavior were very common. Nowadays players tend to use illegal substances to improve their performances. But back then it was all about game-fixing. One of the most notorious cases involved the former Lousiville Grays.
The National League found that four Grays’ players had accepted money to lose games. They included Jim Devlin who is still the only player in history to start and complete every game in a single season. Then the league banned the four players for life. Cheating doesn’t pay if you get caught.
One of the most recent scandals in MLB, this shows how cheating will go dow and evolve in the 21st century. In 2015, the FBI opened an investigation into the Cardinals in 2015. They discovered that St. Louis’s scouting director Chris Correa hacked into the Astros’ database and stole information from the team and high-level employees.
He reviewed the team’s amateur draft scouting report and preference lists, as well as using the account of Houston GM Jeff Lunhow. A court sentenced Correa to 46 months in prison for corporate espionage. The MLB fined the Cardinals $2 million and awarded the Astros their two highest draft picks.
Rose is still the MLB’s all-time leader in hits with over 4000. Furthermore, he’s got three World Series rings to his name, one MVP award, three batting titles and four Gold Gloves. Finally, he’s a 17-time All-Star in an unequaled five positions. But it looks like he won’t ever be in the Hall 0f Fame.
However, when he was coaching the Cincinnati Reds allegations of betting emerged. The scandal erupted when he admitted to betting on his own team. This led to MLB banning him for life. In sum, Rose’s ban renders him ineligible from Hall of Fame consideration.
Baseball has had a problem with drugs and doping for quite a while. We’ve seen so many scandals through the years. But things took a new turn in 2013 with the Biogenesis scandal. A now-defunct anti-aging clinic in Florida came under investigation when a disgruntled employee revealed that current MLB stars received PEDS and HGH from them.
First of all, Ryan Braun fell as the league handed him a 65-game suspension. 12 other players received 50-game suspensions. Alex Rodriguez faced a 211 game ban for his attempts to cover up his involvement. He missed the entire 2014 season. Will baseball ever learn?
This infamous report was the culmination of a shocking investigation into MLB drugs. Released in 2007, it exposed 89 players for PED use. The Steroid Era tarnished the reputation of the sport because it even implicated big stars like Roger Clemens, Andy Pettite, Barry Bonds, and Miguel Tejada.
To date, none of these players have gotten near the Hall of Fame. But it did massive damage to baseball and pushed it down the pecking order of American sports. Its legacy has resulted in more random testing and stricter punishments. Former US President and Texas Rangers part-owner George W. Bush denied knowledge of the mass cheating.
The latest major scandal in MLB is the Astros sign stealing. For years, rival teams suspected the Houston franchise of shady activity. In 2019, a former player revealed the truth to journalists. Mike Fiers said the organization used a video camera in the center field to film opposing catchers’ signs to the pitchers.
MLB investigated and confirmed that the Astros illegally used a camera to steal signs during their 2017 World Series-winning season and in 2018. Then they fined the Astros the maximum $5 million and forfeited their first and second-round picks in the 2020 and 2021 drafts.
First of all, game-fixing is a problem in all sports, not just baseball. It can be worth thousands of dollars to people with bad intentions. A massive controversy embroiled the Chicago White Sox after they lost the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds. In short, eight players took money from a gambling syndicate to throw the game.
The fallout saw Judge Kenesaw Landis appointed as MLB Commissioner to clean up the game. Landis banned them for life even though a public court acquitted them. ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson is the most famous of the names. But don’t expect to see him in the Hall of Fame anytime soon. To sum up, the scandal gave them the ‘Black Sox’ nickname.
At the end of the 1985 season, franchise owners came to a secret agreement. In short, to keep salaries and contract length down, they avoided competing with each other for free agents. Only four free agents out of 35 changed uniforms in the offseason. Then things got even worse the following year.
Andre Dawson only escaped Montreal by agreeing to any terms the Cubs offered. However, that turned out to be a third of his value. Jack Morris accepted arbitration because nobody put in a bid for him. In the end, the MLB Players Association filed three grievances. Finally, this played a role in the 1990s’ MLB expansion and the 1994 Players’ Strike.