Why the MLB’s Biggest Scandal Was Actually Good for Baseball
By Max Toth
It’s been just over a hundred years since the 1919 “Black Sox” scandal rocked Major League Baseball.
Despite other notable wrongdoings in baseball's past, such as the 1990's steroids scandal and the recent signal stealing hijinks of the Houston Astros, the "Black Sox" sins remain untouched in terms of blemishing the reputation of America’s favourite pastime.
But here's a shocker.
While most baseball fans view the fixing of the 1919 World Series as a permanent stain on MLB’s record, it may have actually been good for the sport.
Grab a seat in your nearest dugout and allow me to explain.
At first glance, it appeared that baseball was in a good place back in 1919. This was before the founding of the NBA and NFL, so baseball was by far the most popular sport in the U.S.
But dig a little deeper, and there were a few scars on the old horsehide.
The Baseball Player's Association was years away from establishment, so the owners were able to push players around with a number of unfair rules such as the lack of free agency, which led to owners underpaying players and cheaping out on basic amenities. That kind of mistreatment was the driving force behind the decision of eight players on the 1919 Chicago White Sox to hook up with gamblers to fix that season's fall classic.
But you might be surprised to discover that this wasn't the first time the World Series had been suspected of being fixed. The 1903, 1905, 1914, 1917 and 1918 Series had all allegedly either been fixed or came close to being subjected to a little gambling hanky panky, which makes this poem published by the Philadelphia Inquirer from 1919 seem pretty ironic.
Obviously, MLB had a huge problem on its hands. So, to help solve the crisis, they brought in the first ever baseball commissioner.
Keneshaw Mountain Landis was a United States federal judge and a baseball fanatic. He had already presided over a prominent baseball case when the upstart Federal League sued MLB, which ended in a settlement that included the Federal League's disbandment. MLB owners must have been impressed with Landis because in 1920, they hired him as commissioner. The first thing he did in his new post was permanently ban the eight players involved in the 1919 gambling scandal, even though they had previously been found not guilty by a grand jury. This would set a standard for Landis’s time as commissioner, as he ruled the league with an iron fist and handed out punishments to players and managers that were at times seen as unfair, especially when it came to gambling. (Landis, by the way, is also credited with the creation of the All-star game and deciding that World Series games should be played with six umpires.)
Of course, Landis wasn’t a perfect commissioner.
He was a very stubborn man and dug in his heels on innovations such as the development of the minor leagues and introducing night games.
Worst of all, he was accused of dragging his feet when it came to integrating baseball. But some people described Landis as being more liberal in his thinking and claimed it was actually the owners who were the driving force in banning black players from the Majors.
Despite his flaws, however, Landis ultimately delivered the goods on his main mission statement. He was hired to clean up a decaying sport and restore trust in baseball fans and, in the end, that's exactly what happened.
As it turns out, The Black Sox scandal had some other benefits as well. It made fans realize that the players were human beings and had real flaws and struggles. Some owners also began treating players more fairly, although it would still be decades before free agency was created.
So, even though the 1919 scandal almost brought down a sport that prided itself on integrity, it also exposed a number of problems in the Major League's infrastructure and baseball became better because of it.
The next step?
Well, let's just hope that in another hundred years baseball fans will say the same thing about the steroids and Astros scandals.