Alex Rodriguez’s recent confession that he used steroids while with the Texas Rangers is being mentioned as one of baseball’s biggest scandals ever. (Rodriguez is the same fellow who’s been discussed as possibly the greatest player ever, and he plays for the retooled Yankees, a team that’s got an outside shot at being one of the best ever, which really just underscores how much baseball writers love to use the word “ever.”)
Sure, the revelations about Rodriguez, one of the standard-bearers for “clean” players during the steroids era, sully the game of baseball, but it’s probably not the game’s biggest scandal ever. After all, A-Rod’s not going to join the long list of players who have received lifetime bans from MLB. You probably know why Pete Rose, the “Black Sox” who threw the 1919 World Series, and countless other gamblers and fixers got the boot, but they’re hardly lonely in their baseball exile. Here are a few more bans that don’t get quite as much attention.
1. Jack O’Connor
Ty Cobb was a jerk. Truly great at baseball, but really a loathsome individual. O’Connor, the former player-manager of the St. Louis Browns, hated Cobb so much that he couldn’t let the Georgia Peach win the 1910 American League batting title on his watch. When Cobb entered the final day of the season locked in a tight duel with Nap Lajoie for the crown, O’Connor decided to intervene on Lajoie’s behalf to spite Cobb.
O’Connor’s Browns team was squaring off against Lajoie’s Cleveland squad in the season’s final game when O’Connor gave his third baseman, Red Corriden, an odd order: to go stand in shallow left field whenever Lajoie came up to bat. With no one covering third base, Lajoie could easily bunt down the line for singles, which he did eight times over the course of the day. This late surge gave Lajoie the batting title by virtue of a slight .384-.383 edge over Cobb.
Supposedly even Cobb’s teammates sent Lajoie telegrams congratulating him for his triumph, but baseball officials weren’t so amused. They banned O’Connor for life for rigging the batting crown race.
2. Horace Fogel
Some fans think it’s silly to see players and coaches get slapped with fines for criticizing officiating after heated games, but the punishments could be considerably more draconian. Just ask Horace Fogel. Fogel served as the Philadelphia Phillies’ owner and president from 1909 to 1912, but he ran afoul of the National League when he publicly claimed that the umpires preferred to see the New York Giants win and made biased calls against the Phils to ensure Giants victories. The league tired of Fogel’s bombastic claims that the pennant race was fixed, so it banned him for life in 1912.
3. Benny Kauff
Kauff, an outfielder, was a rare talent. In 1914 and 1915, he won the Federal League’s batting titles and stolen base crowns, and in 1914 he also led the league in runs and doubles. His combination of batting eye, speed, and power earned him the nickname, “The Ty Cobb of the Feds,” but he quickly got in more trouble than the actual Ty Cobb ever did.
For much of big league baseball’s history, most players didn’t scratch out enough money to live on playing the game, so they held offseason jobs. In Kauff’s case, he owned a used car dealership with his half-brother, which is where he got into hot water. In 1919 the police found a stolen car they’d been searching for, and the driver told the cops he’d picked up his new wheels at Kauff’s dealership. Kauff was arrested on a charge of receiving stolen property, and Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis didn’t even wait to see what happened in the trial. He gave Kauff the permanent heave-ho from baseball just for being indicted.
As it turned out, Kauff might not have even known about the stolen cars, and he was acquitted on the charges following his trial. In 1922 Kauff applied to Landis for reinstatement on the grounds that he wasn’t actually guilty of anything. Landis, a former federal judge, balked at the idea of letting a jury trial establish guilt and flatly refused, commenting that, “That acquittal was one of the worst miscarriages of justice that ever came under my observation.”
4. Ray Fisher
Fisher, a starting pitcher, racked up a 100-94 record with a 2.82 ERA over his career with the Yankees and Reds. As the 1921 season was starting, the Reds offered Fisher a new contract, but it would require that he take a pay cut of $1000. Instead of stomaching the lowered salary, Fisher left the Reds to take a job that seemed to offer more security, coaching the University of Michigan’s baseball team.
Fisher hoped the Reds would release him, but instead Landis stuck him on the ineligible-to-play list. Later on that summer, Fisher started mulling the idea of playing again. Branch Rickey of the Cardinals and an “outlaw” team from Franklin, Pennsylvania, tried to secure his services. Fisher wanted to play right by the Reds, though, so he wrote the team a letter asking what exactly his contract situation was and offering them first crack at him. To Commissioner Landis this query smacked of Fisher trying to weasel out of his contract with the Reds, which earned the pitcher a lifetime ban. [Photo: Ray Fisher & Branch Rickey.]
Things ended up okay for Fisher, though. He was by all indications a good guy, and he spent 38 very successful seasons as Michigan’s baseball coach. In 1980 then-Commissioner Bowie Kuhn reinvestigated Fisher’s ban by Landis and overturned the ruling, which mean the 82-year-old hurler was once again a retired MLBer in good standing.
5. Phil Douglas
Douglas had a pretty good career as a pitcher, and he even won two games in the 1921 World Series for the New York Giants. However, he didn’t get along with hot-tempered Giants manager John McGraw. Douglas looked to be on his way to an ERA title in 1922 when he and McGraw got into an argument that ended with a suspension and a hundred-dollar fine for Douglas.
Like any reasonable person would do, Douglas went out and got sloshed to take the edge off of his anger. He then sat down to write some letters. Douglas didn’t see how he could help someone he disliked as much as McGraw win a pennant, so he decided he’s just skip out on the team. He drunkenly wrote this letter to his buddy Les Mann of the St. Louis Cardinals: “I want to leave here but I want some inducement. I don’t want this guy to win the pennant and I feel if I stay here I will win it for him. If you want to send a man over here with the goods, I will leave for home on next train. I will go down to fishing camp and stay there.”
The letter eventually ended up on Commissioner Landis’ desk, and the old hanging judge came out with his customary punishment: a lifetime ban for Douglas.
6 & 7. Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays
These two all-time greats were long retired when they received their lifetime bans, but that didn’t mean that Major League Baseball didn’t see fit to paternally meddle in their lives. Following their careers, Mantle and Mays spent some of their time working as goodwill ambassadors for casinos in Atlantic City. They weren’t working for MLB at the time, and it’s not like they were pit bosses, either. The two would show up to greet casino patrons, sign autographs, play in golf tournaments, and do other little appearances to raise their casinos’ profiles. In Mays’ case, his services contract with the casino actually forbid him from doing any gambling himself, so the whole thing seemed harmless enough.
Commissioner Bowie Kuhn wasn’t having any of it, though. He felt that baseball legends shouldn’t be hanging around casinos, so he banned both men from working for baseball teams in any capacity. Cooler heads eventually prevailed, and Kuhn’s successor, Peter Uberroth, overturned the bans.
8. George Steinbrenner
It’s easy to revile George Steinbrenner for his rampant spending on free agents, but really, wouldn’t every fan love for their team’s owner to open his wallet so freely? It’s much easier and more sensible to deride Steinbrenner for what he did to Dave Winfield. After signing Winfield to a massive free-agent deal in 1980, Steinbrenner quit getting along with the future Hall of Fame outfielder. When Steinbrenner refused to make a contractually guaranteed $300,000 donation to Winfield’s charitable foundation, Winfield sued the owner. Instead of simply making the donation, Steinbrenner paid Howard Spira, a self-described gambler, $40,000 to “dig up dirt” on Winfield. (All over $300,000. To put all this in perspective, by the end of his career, Steinbrenner thought that figure was a fair price for three innings of work from Kyle Farnsworth.)
Since consorting with gamblers is MLB’s one unforgivable sin, and since running a smear campaign against a player isn’t exactly classy, Commissioner Fay Vincent slapped Steinbrenner with a ban in 1990. Vincent gradually lightened his stance, though, and in the summer of 1992 he agreed to let Steinbrenner have a full reinstatement at the beginning of the 1993 season