As we wait for Bud Selig to do whatever he plans to do to Alex Rodriguez, let us remind ourselves that he will not be the first person to be (possibly) banned from baseball for life. He’s not even part of a small group of people which, as most people recite it, includes only Shoeless Joe Jackson, Pete Rose and him. There have been lots of baseball bans over the years. Thirty-eight have been banned, actually.
We know Rose. We know Jackson. If we think for a minute we also probably realize that Seven of Shoeless Joe’s teammates joined him as a result of the Black Sox scandal. But do you remember any of the others? Probably not most of them as the vast majority of bannings took place in the years before and just after Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis came into office, tasked with cleaning up the game following the infamous 1919 World Series.
There are some interesting cases among those early bannings. Nearly a dozen players and managers were banned from baseball for either gambling, associating with gamblers or conspiring to fix games prior to the Black Sox scandal. But it wasn’t just players and managers. There was one umpire — Dick Higam — who was banned in 1882 for conspiring to help throw Detroit Wolverines games. There was even a team physician, Joseph Creamer, who worked for the New York Giants, who was kicked out of the game in 1908.
After Landis took office he famously swept out the Black Sox, but that wasn’t the end of his ban hammer. He kicked out three or four other players for gambling in the next several years. He banned a couple for refusing to honor their contracts with their current teams (once upon a time wanting to actually control the circumstances of one’s employment was considered just as bad as gambling or steroids). Landis banned a guy for playing exhibition games which included the banned Black Sox. He even banned an owner — William B. Cox of the Philadelphia Phillies — for betting on his team’s games.
After Landis died in 1944, no one was banned for over 30 years. Then Bowie Kuhn decided to ban Fergie Jenkins after he was busted for cocaine and marijuana possession in 1980. That ban was overturned two weeks later by an independent arbitrator. In 1983 came perhaps baseball’s dumbest ban ever: Kuhn banned Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays because they took jobs as casino greeters in Atlantic City. This despite the fact that their employers prohibited them from gambling in Atlantic City and despite the fact that there were no sports books in Atlantic City at the time. Some of us may take issue with some of the specifics of baseball’s war on PEDs, but it’s a divine crusade compared to what Bowie Kuhn was up to in the early 80s.
You’re probably more likely to remember the rest of the bans: Rose for gambling in 1989. George Steinbrenner in 1990 for paying a private investigator $40,000 to “dig up dirt” on Dave Winfield. Marge Schott in 1996 for making slurs against African-Americans, Jews, Asians and homosexuals, and for making sympathetic comments about Hitler and the Nazis. There are people who will claim that A-Rod is the worst person in baseball history, but jeez, at least he’s not a Nazi sympathizer. We hope.
Anyway, whatever happens today — at least most likely today — will be huge news. But it won’t be the first time a big name is drummed out of the sport. And, thanks to Bowie Kuhn’s silly ban of Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays, if Rodriguez is banned for life, he won’t even be the biggest name banned in the past 30 years.