Sports is full of scandals, at least what we like to call scandals, and Baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown New York has a few skeletons in its closet when it comes to this topic. For years people have gone on and on about Pete Rose, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, and any host of players that violated baseballs rules who never have seen a Hall of Fame ballot aside from the occasional write in vote. The real question is, who actually in the Hall of Fame has a cloud of some sort over their career or person?
Ty Cobb is undoubtedly the first and easiest person to look at. At one time Cobb held about forty offensive records in baseball which is no small feat, but that does not mean his life and career are not in question. In 1912 at Hilltop park in New York, Cobb went twelve rows into the stands to beat a heckler with great vigor. It happened the man was handicapped but Cobb continued the attack ever after this was made evident to him. Cobb was suspended indefinitely by then Commissioner Ban Johnson who was in attendance and saw the attack. The indefinite ban only lasted ten days. Love Cobb or hate him, he drew fans and money is the bottom line in business.
There was always the rumor Cobb killed a man that same year in Syracuse by pistol whipping him to death but as no coroners report shows that as having actually happened it was dismissed. That however did not end the discussion as many people, perhaps with just thought, claim Cobb (Or perhaps even the Tigers ownership who held Cobb’s contract) paid off the coroner or some city official to overlook the specifics of the injuries to keep him from facing criminal charges. At that time it was not unheard of. Also Cobb was rumored to have actually shot his father even though it has been well established his mother did this in what was deemed a case of mistaken identity. Given Cobb’s prolific history of violence this rumor still persists even though false.
Yet another Cobb scandal revolves around allegations made by pitcher Dutch Leonard who came forward to say Cobb along with fellow future Hall of Famer Tris Speaker conspired to throw a game against the Indians in 1919. Although Commissioner Landis concluded there was insufficient proof as the charge was several years old, the case was not dropped until Cobb threatened a lawsuit against Leonard, Landis, Major League baseball, and anyone else he could think of. Being a wealthy man in any era, it was common knowledge Cobb had the resources to carry this threat out at full steam ahead. While this was never proved, it was never disproved either. Cobb was a man known to love gambling just slightly less than he loved money and this rumor has been long believed by many historians to be true and in line with Cobb’s personality and attitude at the time.
Hall of Fame manager John McGraw of the then New York Giants was involved in a bribery scandal to try to help insure victory over the Cubs in the National League championship. As the story goes he had team doctor Robert Creamer attempt to make a pay off to umpire Bill Klem prior to the 1908 game. Creamer did in fact attempt this and Klem reported it to the commissioner. Creamer was banned from baseball for life, but nobody knows what the truth of the matter was as the almost iconic McGraw went unscathed. The hearing was closed to the public and press and no notes were even taken. As legend has it the trial was actually nothing more than McGraw being asked if he was involved, to which he answered no, ending the inquiry there.
If those aren’t big enough names for you how about Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays? Many people forget they were each banned from baseball (To a degree) by Bowie Kuhn for accepting jobs as casino greeters after they retired. While it can never be said or was even suspected either had done anything to taint the game, Kuhn feared they could if they chose to, use their connections to organized gambling to influence the outcome of games. Sportswriters across the nation pointed this as as sheer lunacy and highly unfair as neither was an active player, or even on any teams payroll. Kuhn never reversed his decision, but Peter Ueberroth made it a priority order of business upon becoming commissioner to fully reinstate them. While they did nothing scandalous, an over zealous commissioner made it seem as if they did or at the least may have intent to which is a scandal in and of itself.
Charles Comiskey, Hall of Fame owner of the infamous 1919 Chicago White (Black) Sox who threw the world series in the “Eight men out” scandal has been shown to have had prior knowledge the series was going to be fixed by his players. It was proved beyond any shadow of a doubt Comiskey began an elaborate cover up scheme to hide this as he feared losing eight of his best players. While Landis banned the players, including the incomparable Joe Jackson and Eddie Ciccotte, Comiskey remained unscathed. At the time it was said Landis was unaware of Comiskey’s knowledge of the event prior to it happening, but many sportswriters claimed it was nothing more than Landis showing favor to an owner that contributed to the paying of his salary. In short the incorruptible Hall of Fame Commissioner Landis himself became part of the scandal.
On a lesser scale Hall of Fame players have been involved in what many consider lesser “mini scandals” of sorts such as Wade Boggs and his infamous affair with Marla Maples while with the Boston Red Sox. While we think nothing of this now, at the time it was front page news. Hall of Fame Pitcher Ferguson Jenkins was busted for drug possession in season while traveling with the team between the U.S. and Canada for a game, and although a bit scandalous at the time was something which was quickly forgiven and is now almost completely forgotten
You can pick almost any name at random from the Baseball Hall of Fame’s roster and find something they did someone will consider a scandal. The fact is as time marches on so do our thoughts with what makes for a real scandal. While over the next decade many players will raise the question of scandal again as election ballots open up to players under suspicion or actually proven to have used illegal drugs and performance enhancing substances, it is unlikely few will live up to the long lasting scandals of Cobb and Comiskey.