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When Major League Baseball heard rumors about a game-fixing scheme involving a gambler and a pitcher, investigators did not hesitate to jump right in, as our story produced in partnership with Sports Illustrated shows. In part that’s because MLB’s problems with gambling go back nearly a century. Here are four famous scandals and two little-known cases.
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Players: Eight players from the Chicago White Sox, including star hitter “Shoeless Joe” Jackson and pitching ace Eddie Cicotte
Event: Believing they were underpaid and mistreated by owner Charles Comiskey, the players conspired to throw the 1919 World Series in exchange for payoffs from gamblers. The unsuspecting Cincinnati Reds became world champions.
Outcome: The players, nicknamed the “Black Sox,” were acquitted of fraud in 1921, but Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis banned them from baseball for life.
Manager: Leo Durocher of the Brooklyn Dodgers
Event: For years, Durocher was criticized for consorting with gamblers and gangsters. While managing the Dodgers, he responded to one critic, accusing New York Yankees owner Larry MacPhail of associating with gamblers himself.
Outcome: After an investigation, Commissioner A.B. “Happy” Chandler suspended Durocher for the season for “conduct detrimental to baseball.” Durocher later managed three other clubs, retiring in 1973.
Player: Denny McLain of the Detroit Tigers, the last big-league pitcher to win 30 games in a season
Event: In 1970, Sports Illustrated reported that McLain was a partner in a bookmaking ring in Flint, Michigan, during the 1967 season. During the season, a mob enforcer crushed two of McLain’s toes to force him to pay on a winning horse racing bet, the magazine reported.
Outcome: Commissioner Bowie Kuhn suspended McLain for half the 1970 season. He retired in 1972 and later was imprisoned for racketeering and money laundering, among other charges.
Players: Cincinnati Reds pitcher Wayne Simpson and Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench
Event: In the last publicly acknowledged attempt to fix an MLB game, a person identifying himself as “Louie” called Simpson in his Pittsburgh hotel room, according to FBI files. He offered the pitcher $2,000 or a new car if he would throw that night’s game to the Pittsburgh Pirates – and allow Pirates left fielder Bob Robertson to get a hit in the sixth inning. Louie called Bench later that afternoon, telling him to remind Simpson of the plot.
Outcome: Simpson and Bench reported the incident to Reds management. Soon, it became public knowledge. Louie never was identified. Although the Reds defeated the Pirates 6-3, Simpson did surrender a single to Robertson in the sixth inning.
Manager: Pete Rose of the Cincinnati Reds, holder of baseball’s career hit record
Event: Rose bet on 52 Reds games during the 1987 season, a baseball investigation found – part of a pattern in which he bet tens of thousands of dollars per week on sports. Rose initially denied the charges but in a 2004 memoir confessed that he had bet on baseball for years.
Outcome: In 1989, Rose accepted a permanent ban from baseball. In 1990, he served five months in prison for tax evasion.
Employee: Charlie Samuels, the New York Mets’ longtime clubhouse manager
Event: A New York Police Department investigation into a Mafia-controlled gambling ring caught Samuels betting with a bookie on a wiretap, the New York Daily News reported. Samuels later admitted to an MLB investigator that he had bet on baseball, but only on “one occasion.” Samuels also was charged with stealing $2.3 million worth of team memorabilia over the years.
Outcome: Samuels was fired by the Mets and banned from Mets games for life. He pleaded guilty to tax fraud and criminal possession of stolen property and was put on five years’ probation after he paid $75,000 in fines and taxes and returned the memorabilia, which he had hidden at a friend’s house.
Sources: “Larceny Games: Sports Gambling, Game Fixing and the FBI” by Brian Tuohy; news accounts
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