Where there are high stakes in sports (or any walk of life), there are bound to be scandals. While we may associate scandals mostly with large corporations and perhaps high earning celebrities, athletes have found themselves embroiled in more than their fair share of unsavory situations. Since its founding in 1869, Major League Baseball has seen numerous scandals involving its players, its coaches, its owners, and all sorts of inappropriate and unprofessional behavior.
Some of MLB’s scandals are well known, like the 1919 World Series, Pete Rose being banned from baseball for life, and the more recent steroid allegations against some big name players. Others are less known but no less shocking.
Here are ten of the biggest scandals in MLB history.
1. The 1919 Black Sox Scandal
Forever immortalized in the 1988 film Eight Men Out, is the story of how eight unscrupulous players on the 1919 White Sox intentionally threw the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds. It was all about money: the eight players who were in on the fix were paid off well by gamblers who had wagered big money on the Sox losing the series. Of course, everything was discovered soon enough; a 1920 grand jury investigation pulled confessions out of two players, and a trial ensued in 1921. Even though all eight players were found not guilty on all charges, they were still banned from baseball by the commissioner. Though it's said that Joe Jackson didn't throw the series at all.
2. The 1957 All Star Game
You usually hear about voters trying to stuff the ballot box in shady elections, but in MLB All Star Games? It sounds crazy, but that’s exactly what happened in 1957, when Cincinnati fans voted in seven of their players for the nine starting slots on the National League team. Fingers were pointed at The Cincinnati Enquirer for printing pre-marked ballots, as well as bartenders requiring patrons to fill out ballots before they would serve any drinks. It caused such a shake up in baseball that fans were not allowed to vote for All-Star Game starters again until 1970.
3. Wife Swapping
Players who wear Yankee pinstripes quickly become accustomed to lots of media attention, but in 1973, Yankee players Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich made headlines for a pretty unconventional reason: they traded wives. What’s more, they also traded families! We’ve heard of blockbuster trades, but this one is a real head scratcher. At the time, it was certainly scandalous. The best part of the story, though, is that Peterson is still married to Kekich’s former wife, proving that sometimes, even the most unconventional love stories have a happy ending.
4. Corked Bats
Hollowing out a baseball bat and replacing the wood with cork is, of course, 100% against MLB rules, but that hasn’t stopped some high profile players from trying to get away with doing it anyway. Graig Nettles of the Yankees first got caught corking a bat in 1974, and more recently, slugger Sammy Sosa got caught in 2003. Sometimes the players have excuses, like it was just a practice bat, while other players offer none, but from a fan’s perspective, it always feels highly deceptive when a player tries to give himself an advantage by tampering with his equipment in this way.
5. The Owners Collusion of the 1980s
Several quiet conspiracies among owners in the 1980s kept player contracts short and salaries down. However, it didn’t take long for agents, and then players, to catch on to what was happening, and the Major League Baseball Players Association filed grievances in 1986 and 1989. Players saw it as theft, and in fact, the collusion scandal of the 1980s were pointed to as one of the causes of the 1994 players strike.
6. Sticky Situations With Pine Tar
A little bit of pine tar on a baseball bat helps the batter grip the bat better and hit the ball farther. Players can use a little pine tar — up to 18 inches up the bat from the end of the handle — but anything more than that is prohibited. Perhaps the most famous pine tar incident was a 1983 game between the Kansas City Royals and the New York Yankees. KC slugger George Brett hit a homerun, but Yank’s manager Billy Martin pointed out the excessive amount of pine tar on Brett’s bat. The umpires agreed and called Brett out, at which point he came charging out of the dugout like a mad bull and had to be restrained. Many fans disagreed with the umpire’s call, and the scandal of the pine tar lives on.
7. Marge Schott
There aren’t many women who own MLB franchises, and Marge Schott’s ownership of the Cincinnati Reds from 1984-1999 wasn’t a scandal in and of itself. But the things that came out of Schott’s mouth were, at times, shocking. She made comments about minorities that would these days be considered hate speech, even going as far as to remark that Adolf Hitler was perhaps a good leader at the start of his reign. She grew increasingly unpopular due to her repeated scandalous sayings, and in ‘99, she sold her controlling interest in the ball club.
That cocaine was widely used in sports like baseball was an open secret in the 1980s. Everyone was doing blow: rock stars, celebrities, athletes — everyone. However, it was still illegal, and the use came to a head in the Pittsburgh Drug Trials in 1985. Eleven players were given suspensions from MLB, which turned out to be a slap on the wrist; none did hard time due to being given immunity in exchange for their testimony. Still, this first revelation of drugs in America’s game was one of the biggest scandals to hit the sport.
9. Pete Rose Banned
In his playing and then in his managing days, ol’ Charlie Hustle was a shoo-in for the Baseball Hall of Fame. However, in 1989, allegations of Rose betting on baseball came to light, and an investigation revealed many of the charges to be true. As punishment, then-commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti, in a move that stunned fans everywhere, permanently banned Rose from baseball — no playing, no managing, and no Hall of Fame. Rose has tried to get himself reinstated, but so far, no attempts have been successful.
10. Performance Enhancing Drugs
If you’ve paid any attention to baseball in recent years, you surely know about the scandal surrounding players’ use of steroids, HGH, and other performance enhancing drugs. Former slugger Jose Canseco penned a tell-all book in 2005, and a full investigation was launched in 2006. While many big-name players were brought in to testify, making them practically guilty by association, and others have been suspended for a few games here and there as a result of using banned substances, Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez was suspended for a whopping 211 games in 2014, and New York Mets pitcher Jenrry Mejia was banned from baseball this year for testing positive for drugs three times in a year.
Written by Garrett Parker
Read more posts by Garrett Parker