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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Posnanski: The Dutch Leonard Affair

Maximum Poz!

[Tigers owner Frank] Navin and [American League president] Ban Johnson handled the [Dutch] Leonard unpleasantness in a way that will be familiar to everyone who watches political movies or followed the Tony Bosch Biogenesis story — they paid him off… At the end of the season, Ban Johnson told [Ty] Cobb and [Tris] Speaker that they needed to retire…

When the players saw Dutch Leonard’s rather flimsy evidence — two alternately specific and vague letters that did not have any word of a fix, specifically cleared Cobb of laying down a bet and did not mention Speaker at all — there was some fury. The players demanded that Dutch Leonard come to Chicago so they could face their accuser. Leonard replied that, no, he would not come…

Well, that really set off Cobb, Speaker and [Smokey Joe] Wood… They believed (and were generally right) that if people saw the smoky evidence, they would side with Cobb and Speaker. By most accounts, it was Cobb and Speaker who asked [Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain] Landis to release all the records…

It’s clear from Leonard’s response that he had already won his fight. Leonard had received $20,000 for two letters and he had cast doubt on the legacies of the two men he blamed most for running him out of the game… “I got my revenge,” he told the writer Damon Runyon…

On January 16, 1927 Johnson made a long statement to the press. It was, to be blunt, a complete and utter meltdown by the once great man…

Johnson was going Joe McCarthy, saying he had all sorts of secret information he had no intention of sharing with Landis … but he definitely had it. And he saved his angriest stuff for Landis, calling his release of information an attempt for personal publicity and saying he had this whole thing under control before the commissioner butted in…

When Johnson appeared before Landis in a hearing that the papers hyped like it was a heavyweight fight, he had to admit that he had nothing. He had been bluffing. And he was a goner…

My sense, based on the way Ban Johnson lashed out at Speaker, is that he had a personal grudge or hidden reasons to believe Speaker was dirty. He may have been guilty but, based on what we can prove, he should never for have been included in this scandal…

As for Cobb… I do not believe the 1917 game was “fixed” as we might generally view that word. I think the ethics of the time were different and on September 25, 1919 the Tigers had motivation to win and the Indians did not… if this had all happened In Pete Rose’s time, I think Cobb would have been banned for life even if nothing else was proved… Cobb was a great player who obviously played to win. He lived in a time, however, where gambling on baseball was rampant and tore at the fiber of the game. I’m not persuaded that he was was above his era.

 

The District Attorney Posted: March 12, 2014 at 10:29 PM | 22 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: ban johnson, dutch leonard, gambling, history, joe posnanski, kenesaw mountain landis, smokey joe wood, tris speaker, ty cobb

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   1. Hal Chase School of Professionalism Posted: March 13, 2014 at 12:16 PM (#4670920)
Great article.
   2. GregD Posted: March 13, 2014 at 12:21 PM (#4670926)
I have read about this a few times, and this article gave me the clearest sense of the forces at play, especially since it didn't confine itself to did they bet or didn't they. Pos is really good at broader context.
   3. Ron J2 Posted: March 13, 2014 at 01:29 PM (#4670973)
Been a while since I've gone through what Smokey Joe Wood said in The Glory of Our Times tapes (and it wasn't absolutely clear exactly what he was saying), but it does offer real evidence against Speaker.

However, it was a completely different version from what Wood said at the time, and Speaker net got a chance to rebut the changed version of events. At the time, Wood declined to appear before Landis (since he was out of the game at that point Landis had no leverage over him) but did send something (don't recall whether it was a letter or telegram) that largely backed the version Cobb and Speaker were telling.
   4. An Athletic in Powderhorn™ Posted: March 13, 2014 at 01:34 PM (#4670975)
Yes, this is great. I read it yesterday and was hoping someone would link it here. (Too lazy to do it myself.) I had heard of the accusations against Cobb and Speaker but knew only vague details. It seems... odd that Johnson would want to kick two of the game's most popular players out of the league. But I suppose he was a bit off his rocker by that point.
   5. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: March 13, 2014 at 01:44 PM (#4670980)
Good read.
   6. Sunday silence Posted: March 13, 2014 at 02:30 PM (#4670995)
in the Pete Rose thread someone was saying that the prohibition against gambling went back to the 1850s however this story seemed to say that the rule was not instituted until this incident. Does anyone more about that?
   7. Hal Chase School of Professionalism Posted: March 13, 2014 at 02:49 PM (#4671001)
in the Pete Rose thread someone was saying that the prohibition against gambling went back to the 1850s however this story seemed to say that the rule was not instituted until this incident. Does anyone more about that?


Professional gamblers were interwoven into Major League Baseball in those years. John McGraw was partners with Arnold Rothstein. Rothstein was also heavily involved with oilman Harry Sinclair, one of the main financiers of the Federal League. Charlie Comiskey often had Mont Tennes in his private box. The gambling was frowned upon, but since these guys were some of the most regular paying customers and often friends, the owners looked the other way at the potential hazards.

Players salaries were low enough that they could be tempted with bribes to dump games, and often were (though the exact details are sketchy). Owners didn't want to rock the boat on the popularity of their investment in the clubs. Baseball was at an all-time high, but with the specter of the Federal League and World War I in the very recent rear-view mirror as potentially ruinous events, the owners were loath to do anything that might kill the golden goose.

So, players like Hal Chase, who blatantly threw games and routinely tried to convince teammates to do so were tolerated and enabled for the better part of a decade. Instead of running him out of the league, he was usually traded to another team that he would eventually torpedo. Rinse... repeat.

Owners saw that they had a red-hot property on their hands, so they looked away from the rotten core of it and counted the money (remind you of any other time in baseball history?). Landis came in, banned the eight Black Sox, along with Chase and a few other guys like Lee Magee and declared the problem solved. No games were thrown before or after the 1919 World Series as far as the official narrative went.
   8. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: March 13, 2014 at 02:54 PM (#4671003)
#6 I think your confusion is due to the NL vs. AL distinction. In the Rose thread it was stated that the prohibition on gambling existed in the 1850s National Association and was retained when the NL was formed in the 1870s.

Not sure whether it was officially on the books in the AL. After the Black Sox scandal, MLB instituted Rule 21 (which is the rule under which Rose was banned) and at that point the differences between the leagues became irrelevant. I have read that one of the reasons the office of commissioner was created was that Comiskey felt that Johnson was not sufficiently investigating the scandal.
   9. Crispix reaches boiling point with lackluster play Posted: March 13, 2014 at 02:59 PM (#4671006)
It seems like in every movie about baseball before 1950, the main subplot is about a bunch of gamblers trying to get players to fix the games. I always imagined that before the big Black Sox scandal made it something that had to be dealt with severely, gambling in baseball was sort of like the spitball issue, where it seemed inextricably interwoven with the sport (dating back to when the players were only locally known, the structure of the "professional" leagues kept shifting, players would jump from league to league or even leave "organized baseball" to make more money barnstorming).

Edit: #7 says the same thing in much greater detail.

Was there a big influx of money into the sport in the 1900-1920 period, such that the sums involved in corruption were now too big to ignore? Or was it all about something particularly bad about the Black Sox?
   10. Hal Chase School of Professionalism Posted: March 13, 2014 at 03:13 PM (#4671012)
Was there a big influx of money into the sport in the 1900-1920 period?


Yes. The status of the "major" leagues was not a foregone conclusion during that period. The AL came into existence at the turn of the century and quickly kicked the NL's ass. The Federal League had potential, but struggled finding "major league" venues to play in. Had it started 5 years earlier, it would have had a much better chance to survive because stadium costs were minimal. As Comiskey Park, Fenway Park, Shibe Park, Ebbetts Field, and Tiger Stadium were built, they became game-changers in terms of the amount of money it took to run a "major league" team. The old wooden ballparks were pretty cheap to construct and were all that the AL had to worry about. 15 years later, only Weeghman Park (later Wrigley Field) in the FL was considered a proper stadium by major league standards of the time.
   11. Greg K Posted: March 13, 2014 at 03:15 PM (#4671014)
Was there a big influx of money into the sport in the 1900-1920 period, such that the sums involved in corruption were now too big to ignore? Or was it all about something particularly bad about the Black Sox?

I'm the wrong person to answer, but I always understood the rise and fall of the Federal League had a lot to do with it.
   12. Hal Chase School of Professionalism Posted: March 13, 2014 at 03:20 PM (#4671016)
I have read that one of the reasons the office of commissioner was created was that Comiskey felt that Johnson was not sufficiently investigating the scandal.


They ran independent investigations. Comiskey's was to loudly search for the truth, and cover up any evidence of evildoing that would destroy his ballclub. Johnson's was designed to consolidate his own power and also run Comiskey out of baseball. The National Commission folded because the other owners viewed the Johnson/Comiskey feud (in which every owner was on one side or the other)as so toxic as to be the equivalent of Nero fiddling as Rome burned. The other owners, led by NL President John Heydler, brought in Landis because they viewed the situation in 1920 as at an impasse.
   13. zonk Posted: March 13, 2014 at 03:27 PM (#4671020)
Pos at his best.

Well worth the read.
   14. Tiboreau Posted: March 13, 2014 at 03:55 PM (#4671030)
In the Rose thread it was stated that the prohibition on gambling existed in the 1850s National Association and was retained when the NL was formed in the 1870s.

This was, I assume, the basis for the banishment of the Louisville 4 by NL President William Hulbert in 1877?

Out of curiosity, did that case serve or constitute any form of precedence in the proceedings against Shoeless Joe & the Black Sox--was it a part of baseball consciousness at that time or cited by Landis & baseball?
   15. An Athletic in Powderhorn™ Posted: March 13, 2014 at 04:34 PM (#4671064)
Tiboreau:

I was just reading about the Louisville scandal here (pdf link). Some relevant excerpts:
On October 30, 1877, the directors of the Louisville Grays formally expelled Hall, Devlin and Nichols for “selling games, conspiring to sell games, and tampering with players.” The directors also expelled Craver for “disobedience of positive orders, general misconduct, and suspicious play in violation of his contract and the rules of the league.” Craver’s case is interesting in that he was never proven to have associated with gamblers. Rather, he was thrown out of the game on suspicion of misconduct, strengthened by his refusal to have his telegraph records examined, and on the testimony of other players that he had purposely “rattled” them so that they made key errors. Craver had a past history of misconduct and was well known to be difficult to get along with and it seems that the club seized a good opportunity to rid itself of a malcontent.

[...]League President Hulbert felt that the Louisville scandal was an opportunity to prove to the general public that the league was a paragon of honesty and integrity. Shortly after the announcement of the Louisville expulsions, he wrote to the Hartford manager, Bob Ferguson: “Certainly nothing can be lost to the legitimate game by the conviction and punishment of the thieves and scoundrels who infest it and (who) by their presence as players bring disgrace and contempt upon it . . . . Now it strikes me, the exposure and conviction upon their own confession of the four men named, makes our forthcoming League meeting an excellent time and place to strike an effective blow.”

The annual league meeting was held in Cleveland during the first week of December, and league officials quickly ratified the expulsion of the Louisville players.

[...]Significantly, the best full-length work on the famous Black Sox scandal, Eight Men Out, by Eliot Asinof, makes only a brief error-ladened mention of the Louisville Grays’ scandal in a background chapter, and the scandal seems to have had no impact on the Black Sox decisions made by Judge Landis and his advisers.
From what I can tell, I don't see any rule being cited in the Louisville case. The team and the league had the power to kick the players out, so they did.
   16. Ron J2 Posted: March 13, 2014 at 04:40 PM (#4671072)
#6 Landis added two rules. Or to be more precise, added a new part (guilty knowledge) to the existing rule about betting on baseball (same penalties, merely enforced) and the new "no gifts" rule.

As to AL/NL, it's easy to document that Cap Anson was betting on the Chicago games. In one case even betting against them (with one of his players -- Clark Griffith -- in an attempt to motivate Griffith. Only ten bucks, but still. Players didn't make a heck of a lot of money back then) and Hal Chase's only formal disciplinary hearing came in the NL. Heydler thought Chase was guilty but didn't think it was proven beyond a reasonable doubt and thought that was the standard that had to be applied (Landis knew otherwise) so did not suspend Chase. Says something about Heydler though that he didn't drop the matter and eventually came up with incontrovertible evidence against Chase.
   17. Tiboreau Posted: March 13, 2014 at 04:40 PM (#4671073)
Much Thanks, Powderhorn!
   18. Tiboreau Posted: March 13, 2014 at 04:55 PM (#4671087)
Reading Powderhorn's link, I did not know that gambling was another motivation behind Hulbert's formation of the National League.

I recall the relationship b\w East & West--especially Boston's dominance--as well as the contract breaking mentioned in that article, and formalizing issues such as schedules (basis for ousting the original NY & PHI teams) & bar of entry (including territorial rights). Also, I seem to recall that greater organization control of clubs for their financial supporters, such as Hulbert, was a motivation behind the formation of the National League. . . .
   19. Tiboreau Posted: March 13, 2014 at 05:10 PM (#4671094)
Also, did not know the expulsion of the Louisville 4 spelled doom not only for Louisville but also for the St. Louis ball club, who had signed 3 of the 4 after the '77 season. Thanks again, Powderhorn.
   20. AndrewJ Posted: March 13, 2014 at 07:48 PM (#4671196)
Vis-a-vis the Black Sox, I understand the US government had closed the racetracks during WWI, so gamblers found themselves needing action (which would help explain the rumors that the 1918 Series was also fixed).
   21. Howie Menckel Posted: March 13, 2014 at 08:33 PM (#4671215)

The first Monmouth Park racetrack in New Jersey opened in 1870, but indeed such gambling fell out of governmental favor in the early 1900s.
   22. Morty Causa Posted: March 13, 2014 at 09:59 PM (#4671247)
Good piece well told, but I wish it were better sourced since it's a historical piece. See Harold Seymour's version Baseball The Golden Age.

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