The Scandalous History of Baseball

From the Lecture Series: Forensic History — Crimes, Frauds, and Scandals

By Elizabeth A. Murray, PhD, Mount St. Joseph University

In 1998, baseball fans were caught up in the race for the most home runs in a single season between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Seven years later, in 2005, they were both called to testify before Congress on the epidemic of steroid use in baseball. However, this was far from the only scandal in the history of baseball.

McGwire hitting a home run in St. Louis against the Tigers on July 14, 2001
Mark McGwire hitting a home run, 2001 (Image: Rick Dikeman/Public domain)

Steroid Use in Baseball Becomes Public

In 1998, baseball fans were caught up in the race for the most home runs in a single season between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, who were both on track to surpass the record of Roger Maris’s 61 home runs hit in 1961. By the end of the season, McGuire hit 70 and Sosa 66. Seven years later, in 2005, both record-breakers, as well as many other big-name stars, were called to testify before Congress on the use of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball.

McGwire with the A's, 1989
Mark McGwire (Image: Silent Sensei/Public domain)

Learn More: Blood Doping and Other Sports Scandals

That was the same year that outfielder and power hitter, José Canseco, admitted to drug use in his book titled, Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ’Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big. Canseco’s claims, that the vast majority of other Major League Baseball players also used steroids, made him plenty of enemies, but he says he doesn’t regret coming forward.

Sosa in spring training with the Orioles in 2005
Sammy Sosa (Image: flickr user sghmom56/Public domain)

In 2006, baseball commissioner Bud Selig asked Congress to institute an investigation into the use of steroids and human growth hormones in his sport. Some thought Congress was overstepping its authority and wasting taxpayer money on an agency that should be policing itself, calling it a photo-op for congressmen.

The investigation interviewed current and former players, most of whom denied any use of banned substances, as well as interviewing coaches, trainers, and even a former batboy, who proved to be a key witness by providing names in exchange for a plea bargain.

This is a transcript from the video series Forensic History: Crimes, Frauds, and Scandals. Watch it now, on Wondrium.

He had been accused of distributing a controlled substance and money laundering and faced 30 years of the sentence. The final report, released almost two years later, named 89 current and former players. The report also made suggestions to help eliminate the use of drugs in the sport. As a result, baseball enhanced its drug-testing policies, and penalties for users became more severe.

Learn more about the dangerous pursuit of the ideal body

The Cincinnati Reds

Scandals stretch back decades. Consider one of the most famous, involving the Cincinnati Reds. Breaking with tradition, the 1919 World Series was, like a few other years, a best-of-nine series, rather than the usual best of seven. It was to be a contest between the Reds and the Chicago White Sox. But the Sox’s first baseman, Arnold “Chick” Gandil, apparently convinced seven of his teammates to deliberately lose the series. Their incentive was payment promised from organized crime members, who would bet against them.

Gandil apparently wanted to get back at White Sox owner, Charlie Comiskey, who had a reputation for paying low salaries. The players were also in a difficult place at that time because American pro baseball had a rule that if a man refused the salary offered, he couldn’t play for another Major League team.

The 1919 Chicago White Sox Team Photo
The 1919 Chicago White Sox Team were accused of intentionally losing the 1919 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for money. (Image: Unknown/Public domain)

The members of the scam got a lucky break when one of the leading Sox pitchers, Red Faber, a guy who would not have allowed the scandal, got the flu and was benched. Eddie Cicotte pitched the first game of the series for the White Sox and lost. Claude “Lefty” Williams pitched them another loser.

When the series moved from Cincinnati to Chicago for game three, White Sox pitcher Dickie Kerr—who wasn’t in on the scam—won for his team. But Cicotte threw the fourth game, losing for Chicago, after which, four of the dirty players got a payment of $20,000 to split, leaving Williams more than happy to lose the Sox’s fifth game.

The teams then moved back to Cincinnati, where the Sox’s coaches put Dickie Kerr back in for the sixth game, and he won. By then, rumors of the fix were swirling.

Cicotte may have had second thoughts or was mad about the money he was owed, because he won game seven. At this point, the Sox had lost four games but won three. On the night before game eight, Williams was visited in Chicago by some of the mobsters, who threatened to kill him and his wife, so he lost the series for the Sox.

The eight "Chicago Black Sox"
The eight “Chicago Black Sox” (Image: Underwood & Underwood – Anderson, Wayne (2004) “The Fix” in “The Chicago Black Sox Trial”/Public domain)

During the following season, the rumors continued, and in September of 1920, Eddie Cicotte and outfielder “Shoeless” Joe Jackson confessed to a grand jury. Despite being in the race for the American League pennant at the time, all seven of the scammers still on the team were suspended.

Ringleader Chick Gandil had already been sent down to the minor leagues. Some sources have doubted whether Shoeless Joe Jackson was involved, saying he was naïve, illiterate, and had played quite well during the 1919 World Series. But in October of 1920, the Grand Jury handed down indictments, naming eight Chicago players.

Shortly after the defendants were arraigned, though, the confessions that were signed by Cicotte and Jackson went missing. The prosecution’s evidence wasn’t available at trial in the summer of 1921. Despite eyewitness testimony from teammates, without those confessions, all eight players were acquitted. Still, the Commissioner of Baseball banned all of them from the game for life.

Learn More: Groupthink—Thinking or Conforming?

The infamous incident is now popularly called the Black Sox Scandal, but some say the team was already called The Black Sox before the series even started due to their tightwad owner. Comiskey, who rarely had the team’s uniforms washed, said if players wanted them clean, they should do it themselves.

Comiskey did get the uniforms laundered for the 1919 series but deducted the cost from the players’ salaries. Years later, the missing confessions were found in the possession of Comiskey’s attorney.

Mr. Baseball: Pete Rose

Fast-forward a few decades as we examine Cincinnati’s Mr. Baseball. Born and raised in what’s now a poor, rundown, west-side Cincinnati neighborhood, Pete Rose eventually became baseball’s all-time hit king. He was named Rookie of the Year in 1963, during his first season for the Cincinnati Reds, and went on to 17 All-Star Games. Rose’s speed earned him the nickname Charlie Hustle, plus, he was a switch hitter who played five different positions during his career.

Rose walks onto the field with the Cincinnati Reds
Rose walks onto the field with the Cincinnati Reds. (Image:  jvh33 of Flickr/Public domain)

Rose’s first 15 professional years were spent in Cincinnati, until 1979, when the Philadelphia Phillies offered him a four-year, 3.2-million-dollar contract, at that time, the highest salary in baseball. Following that, Rose played a year for the Montreal Expos before coming back to his hometown in 1984. In Cincinnati, Rose finished his career as a player/manager for two years, and then managed full time, until 1989.

Back in Cincinnati, Rose was known to have problems with gambling. He was often seen at the horse tracks, but suspicions also emerged that he had been betting on baseball. In early 1989, the Baseball Commissioner appointed a lawyer to investigate. By spring, a 225-page report was compiled showing evidence of Pete Rose betting on a total of 52 games.

Learn More: The Gambler’s Brain

The bouncer at a popular downtown nightclub and manager of a Cincinnati gym, named Tommy Gioiosa, along with another man, named Paul Janszen, were friends of Rose’s. The lawyer’s investigative report detailed that Tommy and Paul had placed bets for Pete in 1985 and 1986 to the tune of up to $10,000 per game.

There was clear forensic evidence in the form of canceled checks. Two of Rose’s bookies stated Pete’s bets may have surpassed $1,000,000 during those two years. Although the report showed no evidence that Rose bet against the Reds or tried to do anything to throw a game, betting on baseball is strictly forbidden by anybody professionally associated with a team.

In the summer of 1989, Rose agreed to voluntarily take a lifetime ban from the sport he loved and a settlement with Major League Baseball. Rose’s compromise had three provisions: First, Major League Baseball would stop its investigation and make no finding of fact; second, Rose was neither admitting nor denying the charges; and third, he could apply for reinstatement after one year. Eight days later, Baseball Commissioner Bart Giamatti died of a heart attack.

In 2004, just before the release of his autobiography, My Prison Without Bars, Rose finally admitted to betting on baseball on ABC’s Good Morning America. Rose has said he picked the wrong vice, claiming, “I would have been better off taking drugs or beating my wife,” because he’d probably have gotten a second chance. Rose has applied for reinstatement twice and been refused. In Cincinnati, we all wonder if he’ll ever reach his dream of being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Common Questions About Baseball Scandals

Q: How did the Black Sox scandal affect baseball?

In the Black Sox scandal, the Chicago White Sox purportedly lost the 1919 World Series on purpose in return for money as part of a gambling operation. This led to strict rules against any connection between baseball and gambling. Many books and films were based on this scandal.

Q: Why was Mickey Mantle banned from baseball?

After his retirement, Mickey Mantle got a lucrative gig doing autographs and public appearances at casinos. Because of then-commissioner Bowie Kuhn’s disapproval of any link between baseball and gambling, even indirect, Mantle was banned from the league. However, in 1985, a new commissioner, Peter Ueberroth, reinstated Mantle into the league.

Q: Will Pete Rose ever be in the Hall of Fame?

Pete Rose will not likely ever be admitted into the Hall of Fame due to purported gambling. However, this does not change his fans’ admiration for his career accomplishments.

Q: How many baseball players have been suspended for steroids?

Since 2005, when the baseball league announced a new policy on steroids, the league has suspended 111 players for steroids use. Pitchers comprise 52 percent of the total number of suspended players.

This article was updated on July 15, 2020

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