Baseball’s Bans and Blacklists
Players, managers, umpires, and executives have been banned from baseball ever since the first game-fixing incident in 1865. Prior to the onset of the Commissioner system in 1920, major league players were banned for a variety of offenses. The threat of blacklist was used as a cudgel to suppress player movement, to tamp down salary demands, and to punish players for drunkenness, insubordination, abuse of umpires, game fixing, obscenity, and unsavory associations. The first game fixing scandal and ensuing permanent expulsion (ultimately lifted in the case of each of the three New York Mutuals players banned: Ed Duffy, William Wansley, and Thomas Devyr) date to 1865, eleven years before the launch of what we today term Major League Baseball.
Allegations of game fixing were rampant in the so-called amateur era and in the National Association, the professional circuit that in 1871–1875 preceded the National League. Bill Craver, later to be banished by the National League, was expelled by his Troy club for throwing games in 1871; however, he was signed by Baltimore. In 1874 John Radcliffe was expelled by the Philadelphia Athletics but nonetheless was picked up by the notoriously corrupt New York Mutuals. Two other players expelled in this year, Bill Boyd and Bill Stearns, were likewise “rehabilitated” for play with other clubs. This scenario played itself out similarly in the cases of Dick Higham, George Zettlein, and Fred Treacey in 1875, as each player was booted from one club only to land on his feet with another. In short, club suspensions or bans held no force in a climate of weak league control.
The first National League player (and thus the first in MLB history) to be expelled was George Bechtel in 1876; banned by Louisville for game fixing, he too continued as an active player with the New York Mutuals for a few games until the NL stepped in. A game-fixing scandal in the following year nearly spelled the demise of the league and resulted in four players expelled for life not only by their club but by the league (Jim Devlin, George Hall, Bill Craver, and Al Nichols, all of Louisville). NL President William Hulbert declared the ban and never lifted it despite appeals for reinstatement by some of the players and their supporters. These men were compelled to play in leagues not connected with the NL, sometimes under false names (a pattern continued by banned players in the 20th century).
In the years that followed many players were blacklisted or suspended indefinitely, either by their clubs or by a committee of the league’s owners. In 1881–1882 the NL blacklisted ten players for a variety of offenses (mostly “lushing”) yet when a new rival major league, the American Association, declined to honor the NL bans and proceeded to woo the affected players, the blacklist was removed. In March 1882, the AA set a maximum penalty for drunkenness, insubordination, dishonorable or disreputable conduct: suspension for the balance of the season, plus the entire following season. Other offenses, however, might result in permanent ineligibility.
A full list of players banned in the period before 1920 may not be possible but the list compiled for this study (below) represents the most complete effort to date.
In the years leading up to the introduction of the Commissioner System in 1920 with the appointment of Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, indefinite suspensions, overt and covert blacklists, and definitive expulsions were common—more so in the years before the peace agreement of 1903 (the “National Agreement”) than before. In that year baseball established a three-person National Commission (American League president, National League president, and a chairperson) to deal with issues affecting both major leagues, including the enactment and enforcement of fines and suspensions. Ban Johnson represented the AL during this time, while five NL presidents served. Garry Herrmann, president of the Cincinnati Reds and a lifelong friend of Johnson, was the chairperson for all 17 years of the National Commission’s operation; critics thus accused Johnson of undue control over the game.
Johnson’s failure to prevail in the Carl Mays case, in which the New York Yankees overturned his ruling in the courts, spelled the end of the National Commission. Also beset by troubling rumors concerning the 1919 World Series, the owners, seeking a single firm hand to guide the game through a rough patch, disbanded the National Commission and hired Landis, a seated Federal judge.
The men receiving lifetime bans during Judge Landis’s reign and afterward are listed below, with brief discussion of each case. The phrase “permanently ineligible” may have had its origin in a Landis ruling of 1926 in the Cobb-Speaker-Wood case, in which pitcher Hub Leonard had accused the three of conspiring to fix a regular-season series between Boston and Detroit in late 1919. Landis offered these guidelines for punishments going forward, clearly looking to disassociate his term in office from the myriad messes of yore. Much of this language is reflected in MLB’s current Rule 21.
One—A statute of limitations with respect to alleged baseball offenses, as in our state and national statutes with regard to criminal offenses.
Two—Ineligibility for one year for offering or giving any gift or reward by the players or management of one club to the players or management of another club for services rendered or supposed to be have been rendered, in defeating a competing club.
Three—Ineligibility for one year for betting any sum whatsoever upon any ball game in connection with which the bettor had no duty to perform.
Four—Permanent ineligibility for betting any sum whatsoever upon any ball game in connection with which the bettor has any duty to perform.
As stated, the great majority of baseball’s miscreants were expelled from the game long before the Baseball Hall of Fame opened its doors. The past twenty-five years, however, have produced a conflation of Major League Baseball’s need to assure the integrity of the game with the Hall’s wish to insure the sanctity of its induction process. Notably with the case of Pete Rose, but also to a lesser degree Joe Jackson and other “Black Sox,” the baseball public has come to believe that MLB enforces its verdicts on players even after their death while the Hall merely follows in step. MLB, however, derives no practical benefit from maintaining deceased players on an ineligible list.
On February 8, 1991, the board of directors of the Hall of Fame, in an attempt to preempt the baseball writers from even considering Rose’s induction, voted 12-0 to amend the institution’s by-laws so that anyone deemed ineligible to work in Major League Baseball would be similarly ineligible for the Hall of Fame. All the same, in 1992 Rose received 41 write-in votes. These votes were thrown out. After he received 14 votes in 1993 and 19 in 1994, his name was formally excluded from the balloting process.
Interestingly, in the very first Hall of Fame balloting, in 1936—long before a linkage between MLB’s ineligibility list and Hall of Fame policy–Joe Jackson received two votes. This low total reflected the electors’ perception that he had disqualified himself through his actions. (Perhaps the electors might once again be trusted to vote sensibly, without special instructions.) Jackson also received two votes in 1946; besides Rose, the only other banned player to receive votes was Hal Chase, with 11 in 1936 and 18 in the following year.
The two lists below point up the history of permanent banishments, their frequent commutations, and their sometimes whimsical enforcement. The list of banished players prior to the appointment of Judge Landis is long indeed; it has never appeared in print or on the web, and may help to form the “permanently ineligible list” that, despite its citation in MLB Rule 21, may have existed only as a figure of speech.
LIFETIME BANS SINCE 1920
Joe Jackson (“Black Sox”; this story is too well known to bear repetition here)
Buck Weaver (“Black Sox”)
Eddie Cicotte (“Black Sox”)
Lefty Williams (“Black Sox”)
Happy Felsch (“Black Sox”)
Fred McMullin (“Black Sox”)
Swede Risberg (“Black Sox”)
Chick Gandil (“Black Sox”)
Joe Gedeon Second baseman of the St. Louis Browns who, like Weaver, sat in on a meeting with gamblers, had “guilty knowledge,” and failed to share it with authorities.
Gene Paulette, banished by Landis for his association with St. Louis gamblers in 1919, even though he had played a complete 1920 season.
Benny Kauff, arrested for auto theft but acquitted at trial, was banned anyway as, in Landis’s words, “no longer a fit companion for other ballplayers.”
Lee Magee had been released by Chicago, then—after questioning at a trial over his disputed back salary elicited evidence of his gambling involvements—banned by Landis
Heinie Zimmerman was banned in 1921 for encouraging his teammates to fix games; he had been blacklisted since 1919. As with Hal Chase (see section below on pre-Landis bans), Landis’s declaration after the Black Sox trial is seen as formalizing Zimmerman’s blacklist as a permanent banishment.
Heinie Groh was banned after rejecting Cincinnati’s salary offer; Landis’s condition for reinstatement was that he could return to play for the Reds only; two days after the ban, Groh did.
Ray Fisher declined a Reds’ pay cut, and sat out the season until hired by the University of Michigan to coach its baseball team. Landis banned him from Organized Baseball for violating the reserve clause but Fisher never returned. The ban was overturned by Bowie Kuhn in 1980.
Dickie Kerr, a “Clean Sox” hero of the 1919 World Series, was banned after he played in an outlaw league in 1922 rather than accept the Chisox pay offer. Thus violating the reserve clause, Kerr was banned. Landis reinstated him in 1925, and he pitched for Chicago again.
Jim “Hippo” Vaughn played a semipro game under an assumed name while under contract to the Cubs in 1921. His case was referred to Landis, who banned Vaughn for the rest of the season. When he signed a three-year contract with the Beloit Fairies, a semipro team out of Beloit, Wisconsin (backed by the Fairbanks-Morse Company), his status as a contract jumper was solidified. Although Landis permitted his reinstatement in 1931, Vaughn failed in his attempt to make the Cubs’ squad.
Shufflin’ Phil Douglas of the Giants, angry with John McGraw, got drunk and sent a letter to a friend on the Cardinals suggesting that he would “disappear” when the club came to St. Louis. Landis banned him for life.
Jimmy O’Connell, a second-year player with the Giants in 1924, offered a bribe to Heinie Sand of the Phils; perhaps he was the naive victim of a joke perpetrated by Giants coach Cozy Dolan. Landis banned both. John McGraw’s involvement has long been surmised but never proven.
Cletus Elwood “Boots” Poffenberger was suspended by Landis at the request of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1939, after he declined to report to Montreal. He then was reinstated at Brooklyn’s request in early 1940 so that his contract could be sold to Nashville of the Southern Association, for whom he won 26 games. He pitched for several other clubs in the minors but never returned to the majors.
William Cox, Phils’ owner, was banned for betting on baseball games and forced to sell his franchise. Occurring in 1943, this was Landis’s last banishment. (In 1953, St. Louis owner Fred Saigh was forced to divest his control of the Cardinals when he began a fifteen-month sentence for tax evasion; that paved the way for Saigh’s sale of the team to Anheuser-Busch. Saigh was not formally banned, however.)
Sal Maglie, Max Lanier, Ace Adams, Danny Gardella, Luis Olmo, and others were banned for five years after jumping to the Mexican League in 1946. Happy Chandler rescinded many of these bans, however, in settlement of lawsuits.
Ferguson Jenkins, after being arrested in Toronto for possessing cocaine in August 1980, was banned two weeks later by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. An arbitrator overturned the ban in September.
Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays were banned by Kuhn in 1983 because they worked as greeters at an Atlantic City casino. Commissioner Peter Ueberroth reinstated both in 1985.
Pete Rose was banned by Commissioner Bart Giamatti in 1989. Several appeals have been unsuccessful, most recently in 2015.
George Steinbrenner was banned by Commissioner Fay Vincent in 1990, who reinstated him two years later.
Steve Howe, after six prior drug suspensions, was banned on the same day that Vincent reinstated Steinbrenner. The ban was overturned by an arbitrator in November 1992.
Marge Schott, Cincinnati Reds owner, was banned by Bud Selig in 1996 for bringing Major League Baseball into disrepute by repeatedly uttering racial, ethnic, and homophobic slurs. She was reinstated in 1998.
Jenrry Mejia, Mets pitcher, received a permanent suspension from Organized Baseball on February 12, 2016, following a third failed drug test.
BANNED PROFESSIONAL LEAGUE PLAYERS (1871-1920)
Note that many of these bans or indefinite suspensions, for a variety of offenses, were later lifted by club or league resolve. Bans by minor leagues are not included, nor are suspensions levied for stated durations. Bans not marked as “[permanent”] below were ultimately truncated or rescinded, but when they were levied, an affected player would not know when or if he might return to good graces. Some players were subject to “lifetime” bans more than once; several Hall of Famers are on this list.
AA = American Association
UA = Union Association
PL = Players’ League
Bill Craver, 1871
Scott Hastings, 1872
George Hall, 1872
Candy Cummings, 1873
Bill Boyd, 1874
Bill Stearns, 1874
John Radcliffe, 1874
Dick Higham, 1875
George Zettlein, 1875
Fred Treacey, 1875
George Latham, 1875
Billy Geer, 1875
Henry Luff, 1875
George Bechtel, 1876 [permanent]
Tommy Bond, 1876
Joe Battin, 1877 [permanent]
Joe Blong, 1877 [permanent]
Jim Devlin, 1877 [permanent]
Bill Craver, 1877 [permanent]
George Hall, 1877 [permanent]
Al Nichols, 1877 [permanent]
Lew Brown, 1880
Charley Jones, 1880
Mike Dorgan, 1881
Lipman Pike, 1881
Sadie Houck‚ 1881
Lou Dickerson‚ 1881
Mike Dorgan‚ 1881
Bill Crowley‚ 1881
John Fox‚ 1881
Emil Gross‚ 1881
Ed “The Only” Nolan‚ 1881
Ed Caskins, 1881
John Clapp, 1881
Morrie Critchley, 1882 [permanent]
Hoss Radbourn, 1882 [expelled from AA only]
Sam Wise [expelled from AA only]
Bill Holbert [expelled from AA only]
Jerry Denny, 1882 [expelled from AA only]
Art Whitney, 1882 [expelled from AA only]
Pud Galvin, 1882 [expelled from AA only]
Charlie Bennett, 1882 [expelled from AA only]
John Bergh, 1882 [expelled from AA only]
Ned Williamson, 1882 [expelled from AA only]
Fred Lewis, 1882
Herman Doscher, 1882 [permanent]
Dick Higham, umpire, 1882 [permanent]
Phil Baker, 1883
Joe Gerhardt, 1883
Frank “Gid” Gardner, 1883
Tom Deasley, 1883
Jack Leary, 1883
John Milligan, 1883
Billy Taylor‚ 1883
John Sweeney, 1883 [permanent]
Frank Larkin, 1883
J.J. Smith, 1883
Harry Luff, 1883
Mike Mansell‚ 1883
George Creamer, 1883
Al Atkinson, 1883
Joe Sommer, 1883
Bill Traffley, 1883
Phil Powers, 1883
Charles Sweeney, 1884
Tommy Bond, 1884
Frank Gardner, 1884
Tony Mullane, 1884
Jack Brennan, umpire, 1884
Lew Dickerson, 1884
Chappy Lane, 1884
Tom Gunning, 1884 [expelled from UA only]
Ed Colgan, 1884 [expelled from UA only]
Frank Meinke, 1884 [expelled from UA only]
Steve Behel, 1884 [expelled from UA only]
James Hillery, 1884 [expelled from UA only]
P.F. Sullivan, 1884 [expelled from UA only]
Jack Farrell, 1885
Dave Rowe, 1885
George Gore, 1885
Jim Mutrie, 1885 [expelled from AA only]
Sam Barkley, 1886
Pete Browning, 1886
Jack Gleason, 1886
Jerry Denny, 1886
Toad Ramsey, 1887
Chief Roseman, 1887
Toad Ramsey, 1888
John “Phenomenal” Smith, 1888
Lady Baldwin, 1888
Yank Robinson, 1889
Jack Glasscock, 1889 [expelled from PL only]
Jack Clements, 1889 [expelled from PL only]
John Clarkson, 1889 [expelled from PL only]
Marr Phillips, 1890
Denny Lyons, 1890
Denny Lyons, 1891
Jack Stivetts, 1891
Bones Ely, 1891
John Dolan, 1891 [expelled from AA only]
Bert Inks, 1891 [expelled from AA only]
Frank Knauss, 1891 [expelled from AA only]
John Reilly, 1891 [expelled from AA only]
Silver King, 1891 [expelled from AA only]
Hoss Radbourn, 1891 [expelled from AA only]
Rowdy Jack O’Connor, 1891
Al Buckenberger (manager), 1891
Bill Barnie (manager), 1891
Fred Pfeffer (manager), 1891
Red Ehret, 1891 [expelled from AA only]
Harry Raymond, 1891 [expelled from AA only]
Jocko Halligan, 1892
Patsy Tebeau, 1896
Fred Pfeffer, 1896
Jack Taylor, 1897
Ducky Holmes, 1898
Jack Taylor, 1899
Burt Hart, 1901
Hugh Duffy, 1901
Jimmy Jones, 1902
Joseph Creamer, trainer, 1908
Jack O’Connor and Harry Howell, manager and coach of the St. Louis Browns, were banned in 1910 for attempting to fix the outcome of the 1910 American League batting title for the beloved Nap Lajoie against the reviled Ty Cobb. O’Connor gave his third baseman, Red Corriden, an odd order: to go stand in shallow left field whenever Lajoie came up to bat. With no one covering third base, Lajoie got seven hits in the day’s doubleheader, six of them bunts, and slipped past Cobb for the batting title.
Horace Fogel, club owner, 1912
Joe “Moon” Harris of the Cleveland Indians was banned for life in 1920 (before Landis’s appointment) for violating the reserve clause in his contract, after he chose to play for an independent team rather than the Cleveland Indians. He was reinstated by Landis in 1922 due, in part, to his creditable service during World War I.
Hal Chase, never formally banned but blacklisted in February 1920 from the National League after hearings showed evidence of game fixing with Cincinnati in 1916 and, certainly, before and after; his crowning swindle was to bring gamblers and fixers together to throw the 1919 World Series. Today, Landis’s declaration after the Black Sox trial that no one who bet on baseball would ever be allowed to play is recognized as formalizing Chase’s blacklisting. He continued to play in outlaw leagues in the West.