This week the baseball world was rocked by bombshell news that could turn into one of the biggest MLB scandals of all time when it’s all said and done. According to the New York Times, the FBI is currently investigating members of the St. Louis Cardinals front office for hacking into the Houston Astros’ database of proprietary statistics and confidential communications.
Of course, despite the overabundance of hot takes on this scandal, which offer myriad theories presented as facts about to who did what and why, at this point we don’t actually know very much. Somebody accessed the Astro’s computer system, and that somebody is a member of the Cardinals front office. But who and why they did it, which will determine the severity of this transgression and subsequent punishment from MLB? That’s not so clear.
The hacking could have been (and the Cardinals will almost certainly argue that it was) the work of one rogue, low-level, front office employee. Or it could have been the work of people higher up in the organization.
Whoever it was could have been seeking to obtain useful information and get an unfair edge on other teams in the league. Or they could have been trying to see if Astros GM Jeff Luhnow, the Cardinals’ former analytics czar, took any of their intellectual property with him to Houston. Or they could simply have been out for revenge, as Luhnhow was a very divisive figure in St. Louis who didn’t leave behind many friends. Or it could be a combination of any or all of these.
Whatever happened, this is a huge black eye for what has been, in recent years, baseball’s model franchise. And given their recent run of success, and the animosity that such success breeds, the hacking scandal is not something rival fans are going to forget anytime soon.
Where will #hackgate rank in the pantheon of MLB scandals? It’s difficult to say at this point. But if you’re into jumping the gun, here you’ll a list of the most shocking MLB scandals of all time. Feel free to draw your own premature conclusion.
Neither the Mitchell Report nor the Biogenesis scandals were really shocking. By 2003 or so everybody realized the muscle-bound dudes hitting 600-foot home runs by the dozen were probably juicing.
Still, when the Mitchell Report was released in 2007, summarizing the investigation into the use of PEDs in baseball and, more importantly, naming names, it was a very big deal. It turned out that it wasn't just the meatheads obliterating home run records that were taking steroids. It was also pitchers like Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte, as well as guys nobody had ever even heard of.
As for the Biogenesis scandal in 2013, which blew the lid off the "second wave" of PED use in baseball, it did not catch fans completely off guard. But it certainly had a huge impact on the game, earnign historic suspensions for A-Rod and Ryan Braun, as well as regular old suspensions for guys like Nelson Cruz, Jhonny Peralt, and 10 others.
9. Tie: Biogenesis & Mitchell Report
This scandal seems to have been largely forgotten. But let's dredge up bad memories, shall we?
In 1987, the 40th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball, Ted Koppel interviewed Dodgers general manager Al Campanis on ABC's Nightline. It was a natural choice, really, since Campanis was not only the Dodgers GM, but he had also played with Robinson and was known to be a friend of his.
Unfortunately, when Koppel asked Campanis why there weren't more black managers and general managers in Major League Baseball, the guy said blacks "may not have some of the necessities to be, let's say, a field manager, or, perhaps, a general manager."
Realizing how terrible the that came off, Koppel tried to give Campanis a chance to clarify his position, but Campanis didn't take it. In fact, he made it worse by talking about how black people don't swim well "because they don't have the buoyancy."
Obviously, people were outraged, and not long after the interview Campanis resigned.
The sad thing is, black and latin players who knew Campanis well defended him, insisting that he is not a racist and just misspoke. But you just cannot unsay certain things.
8. Al Campanis Nightline Interview
Former Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott said all sorts of racist things over the years about all sorts of people. One of her employees, for example, accused her of saying "sneaky goddamn Jews are all alike," and a Sports Illustrated interview quoted her explaining how she didn't like it when Asian American kids outperformed "our kids" in high school.
However, the worst, most scandalous thing Marge Schott ever said was about Hitler. As in, Adolf, the most reviled man of the 20th century who orchestrated the murder of six million Jews. In an interview on ESPN in 1996, Schott said of Hitler, "Everybody knows he was good at the beginning but he just went too far."
Obviously, people didn't think that was such a great thing to say.
Three years later she was "gently encouraged" to sell the team.
7. Marge Schott Shares Her Thoughts on Hitler
Imagine if Andrew McCutcheon, Michael Wacha, and Josh Donaldson became free agents at the end of this season, but not a single team offered any of them a contract. You'd immediately think something was very wrong, right?
Well, that's what actually happened for three years in the mid 80s. In 1985, former Yankees GM and American League President Lee MacPhail (pictured left), then the Director of the Player Relations Committee, gave a speech to MLB owners encouraging them to "exercise more self-discipline" and "resist the temptation to give in to unreasonable demands of experienced marginal players."
The next month, MLB commissioner Peter Ueberroth told a group of owners that giving players long-term contracts was dumb. And the month after that, at the winter meetings, everyone was talking about "fiscal responsibility."
Of course, what they were all really talking about was driving down salaries by agreeing not to sign each other's free agents. So when the Tigers' Kirk Gibson, one of the best outfielders in baseball, became a free agent after the 1985 season, nobody made him an offer. Ditto for Tommy John, Phil Niekro, and Carlton Fisk.
The MLBPA was suspicious immediately and filed a complaint. MLB toned down their efforts over the next two seasons to make them less obvious. But they were still screwing players over, driving salaries down for the first time since the advent of free agency. As a result, there were still grievances filed.
By 1990, the players had won all their grievances, and it was determined that owners had bilked them out of $280 million—which is like $509 million in 2015 dollars.
6. Owner Collusion Scandals
In 1985, the same year that owners began colluding to put the kibosh on free agency, 13 former and current Major League Baseball players were called before grand jury in Pittsburgh to testify against a drug ring. Seven of the players were Pittsburgh Pirates. They were Dale Berra (pictured), Lee Lacy, Lee Mazzilli, John Milner, Dave Parker, and Rod Scuffy. The other six were Willie Mays Aikens, Vida Blue, Enos Campbell, Keith Hernandez, Jeffrey Leonard, Tim Raines, and Lonnie Smith.
Their testimony? It blew people away. Cocaine use was rampant in Major League Baseball. Keith Hernandez estimated that 40% of players were snorting in those days. Tim Raines said he used to keep a vile of coke in his pocket. And John Milner admitted to buying coke during a game in a Three Rivers Stadium bathroom stall.
In the end, MLB suspended 11 of the 13 players. However, all the suspensions were commuted in exchange for fines and community service.
Obviously, 1985 was not a good year for Major League Baseball.
5. Pittsburgh Drug Trials
In 1981, late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner signed Dave Winfield away from the Padres with 10-year, $23 million deal that made him the highest paid player in baseball. (Isn't that cute?) And over the next eight years, Winfield hit .291/.357/.497, averaging 25 home runs and 102 RBI a year.
Unfortunately, that was not good enough for The Boss, who felt Winfield choked in September and October. So in 1989, in an effort to get out of the last few years of the Winfield contract, George Steinbrenner paid a gambler named Howie Spira $40,000 to dig up dirt on Winfield.
Let me repeat that: a Major League Baseball owner paid a guy to find incriminating information about one of his players so he could use that to release the guy.
Of course Spira, being a scumbag, decided to extort Steinbrenner. And when MLB found out what was going on in 1990, Steinbrenner got a lifetime ban from commissioner Fay Vincent...which was commuted three years later.
4. Steinbrenner Suspension
There were a lot of things that led to the 1994 players strike. But the biggest issue had to do with a proposed salary cap: owners wanted one, players did not. So when negotiations failed to go anywhere, the players walked off the job on August 12. Then, on September 14, with a deal not yet in place, MLB cancelled the remainder of the season and the entire postseason.
It was the first time the World Series had been cancelled since 1904, and the first time one of the major sports leagues had cancelled its postseason. (The NHL would later become the second in 2004-05.)
Fans of course were outraged, and it would take over a decade for the league to recover. However, in the end the players were right. MLB didn't need a salary cap. The league practically prints money these days, and players' salaries are astronomical.
3. 1994 World Series Cancelled
You want a scandal that shocked the sports world? This one shocked the sports world. On March 21, 1989, Sports Illustrated published a story claiming that Pete Rose, baseball's hits king and manager of the Cincinnati Reds, had been betting on baseball since at least 1985.
Rose denied it of course. But on August, 24, 1989, commissioner Bart Giamatti banned Rose from the game for life.
Of course, this has been a raging debate within the game ever since. Some say Rose has served his due and should be reinstated in some capacity. Others say he violated the game's most sacred rule and should remain banned.
Either way, it's one of the biggest scandals in sports history, let along baseball.
2. Pete Rose Gambling Scandal
The most shocking MLB scandal off all time? Yep, it's the Chicago Black Sox scandal, in which eight members of the White Sox were accused of taking money from gamblers to throw the 1919 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds.
Did they do it? Definitely. Or at least, some of them definitely did it. What everyone still debates is whether Shoeless Joe Jackson was in on it. Some say he was not, citing his solid batting line in the Series that year. Others say the guilty players gave him a cut of the money, but he didn't want it. While others still insist he was in on it, citing the fact that Jackson played much worse in the games the White Sox lost.
Whether or not Jackson as in on the fix, though, the Black Sox scandal is still the biggest in MLB history nearly 100 years later.
Read more about it here.