Four Scandalous Moments in Baseball

Today marks the anniversary of baseball’s infamous Pine Tar Incident, one of the most notorious cases of rule-breaking in MLB history.  But it’s definitely not the only case, not by a longshot. Here are a few controversial moments in baseball (without steroids, no less), starting with the Pine Tar Incident.

The Pine Tar Incident

On July 24, 1983, the Royals were losing to the Yankees at Yankee Stadium, 4-3 at the top of the ninth with two outs and a runner on first. Much to the chagrin of the Yankees, George Brett hit a home run and turned the tables so that the Royals were now a run ahead of the Bronx Bombers. Except there was a problem: Yankees Manager Billy Martin sprinted out of the dugout to confer with the home plate ump before Brett had even completed his run.  After some debate, the umpire laid the bat across home plate, seeming to confirm something, then pointed at Brett with the bat and signaled that he was out. Brett burst out of the dugout “like his pants were on fire,” according to (he totally does – check out the video below) and had to be physically restrained from tackling the umpire.

It turned out that he had used an excess of pine tar on his bat. Pine tar is allowed – it’s sticky and allows for better grip – but only up to 18 inches from the end of the bat. Any more than that is illegal, but that rule is very seldom invoked – it’s kind of like those silly, obscure laws in small towns that declare things like, “Llamas are not allowed in bars after 1 a.m.” The rule, apparently, has less to do with batter advantage and more to do with the fact that the pine tar would mess up the ball if the two came into contact, causing too many balls to be used per game.  It was a rule nonetheless, and Brett was called out, nullifying both runs and giving the win to the Yanks. The Royals protested and the A.L. President decided to overturn the out.  On August 18th, the game resumed with the score 5-4, Royals, in the top of the ninth.  No miracles occurred – the next batter struck out, and then the Royals’ pitcher struck out all three Yankees who tried to hit off of him in the bottom of the ninth. The game ended with the Royals win and the infamous bat now rests in the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Here’s that video – it’s dispersed throughout the 37-second clip of George Brett moments, but you’ll have no problem discerning which clips I’m talking about.

Photo from Jamestown Distributors

The Black Sox Scandal

Now we travel way back to the 1919 World Series. Well, let’s travel back to just before the 1919 World Series.  The Chicago White Sox were the best team in baseball at the time – or at least in the top two.  However, they were also some of the worst-paid players. Charles Comiskey was notoriously stingy with his bankroll – he even promised the Sox a “big bonus” if they won the pennant, and when they did, he gave them a “bonus” of a case of crappy champagne. 

After making some extra money by giving insider tips to a small-time gambler named Joseph Sullivan, Sox player Chick Gandil decided to really supplement his meager salary by offering to throw the World Series for $100,000. It wasn’t too difficult for Gandil to recruit other players for the scheme – many of them held personal grudges against Comiskey, not just for the small paychecks, but for reneging on bonuses and promises as well. In the end, at least eight White Sox players were in on the deal: Eddie Cicotte, Oscar "Happy" Felsch, Arnold "Chick" Gandil, "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, Fred McMullin, Charles "Swede" Risberg, George "Buck" Weaver and Claude "Lefty" Williams. But things went awry, as they tend to in schemes like this. The gamblers didn’t pay the amounts they were supposed to pay after the Sox lost the first couple of games, and the players began to wonder if they had been had. It made sense to them that they should play to win the Series, because if they won, they would at least receive a $5,000 bonus from Comiskey. The Sox won the third game, but then lost the fourth and fifth.  By today’s standards, four wins for the Reds would equal a title, but in 1919, the World Series was best out of nine games, not best out of seven. The Sox weren’t down and out just yet. They rallied to win games six and seven, giving them three wins and the Reds four.  This greatly angered Arnold Rothstein, a gambler who had invested quite a bit of money on the Sox losing. He sent one of his “associates” to scare a little sense into Sox pitcher Lefty Williams. He said if Lefty didn’t start doing his part to throw the games, he and his wife were going to run into a little trouble. This threat was sufficient enough to scare Lefty into submission, and he made sure to throw poor and mediocre pitches all night.  The Reds won handily, 10-5, and took the Series.

An investigation of the allegations got under way in September 1920 and two players, Eddie Cicotte and Shoeless Joe Jackson, confessed that they had helped throw the games (they later took back their confessions, and the signed documents ‘mysteriously’ disappeared).  The eight players who were implicated were banned from baseball for life.  The players who were found innocent were awarded $1,500 checks from Comiskey in the fall of 1920, which must have been quite the kick in the teeth to those who had participated in the scandal because he wasn’t paying them fairly. 
Shoeless Joe Jackson’s level of involvement in the whole thing has since been disputed – he recanted his confession and maintained for the rest of his life that he was innocent. All of the players involved backed him up, saying that he had never attended any of the logistics meetings and refused to take the initial payment to entice him to throw the games. It’s still highly debated to this day. Photo from


Pete Rose Gambling Scandal

Joining Shoeless Joe Jackson on the Banned from Baseball List is Pete Rose.  After an impressive, record-setting career as a player, Pete Rose took a job managing the Cincinnati Reds from 1985 to 1989. In February 1989, Rose was questioned by the baseball commissioner in regards to some rumors that he had been illegally betting on baseball games.  Rose vehemently denied the accusations, but lawyer John Dowd was brought in to conduct an in depth investigation on the matter. By May of the same year, Dowd had compiled a huge list of Rose’s wrongdoings, including statements from Rose’s bookies and bet runners and details such as how many games he bet on and what amounts he wagered. Rose continued to deny, deny, deny, even when he was permanently placed on the ineligible list.  For 15 years he denied that he had ever bet on baseball during his tenure as a player and a manager, even when some other suspicious activity came to light: in 1990, he was found guilty of income tax evasion. Rose had failed to report income from selling autographs, memorabilia, and –yes- gambling.  He served several months in prison, paid his back taxes, and agreed to perform 1,000 hours of community service.

Finally, in his 2004 autobiography, Pete admitted that he had, in fact, bet on sports – including baseball – while he played and managed.  He swore that he had never bet against the Reds and only bet on them because he loved the team so much and loyal and believed in his team.  He has applied for reinstatement, but to no avail so far.

Photo from Inside Athletics

The Black Mist Scandal

Corrupt players isn't just an American trend. From 1969-1971, it was revealed that several really big Japanese baseball stars had accepted bribes from an organized crime family to throw various games. On October 7, 1969, somebody blew the whistle on Nishitetsu Lions pitcher Masayuki Nagayasu, who, as it turned out, had been purposely throwing easy pitches to opposing teams. Nagayasu sang like a canary, telling officials that not only did he take the bribes, the three other pitchers on the team took bribes, and so did the catcher and two infielders. All of them were suspended from play with two of them eventually being reinstated; Nagayasu was banned from the game for life.

Then, in April of 1970, an auto racer let it be known that a few prominent men had been in on a scheme to try to fix auto races: pitchers from two baseball teams and a member of the yakuza (organized crime). Another investigation was soon undertaken, which unearthed all sorts of dirty little secrets: by the end of the year, at least three more players had been banned for life, several had been arrested for the auto-racing incident, and more had received suspensions or benching for illegal gambling, driving without a license and having suspiciously close relationships with the yakuza. This whole series of incidents was known as the Black Mist that fell over Japanese baseball.

Drug busts of the '80s? Corked bats? Women's fertility drugs? What do you think is the most scandalous baseball moment? Share it in the comments!

Newest 3
Newest 3 Comments

Login to comment.

Email This Post to a Friend
"Four Scandalous Moments in Baseball"

Separate multiple emails with a comma. Limit 5.


Success! Your email has been sent!

close window

This website uses cookies.

This website uses cookies to improve user experience. By using this website you consent to all cookies in accordance with our Privacy Policy.

I agree
Learn More