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Looking Back at Some of Baseball’s Biggest Scandals

As America’s favorite pastime, baseball has seen its fair share of scandals. From performance-enhancing drugs to illegal betting and cheating, these scandals have shown how this sport is not shy when it comes to controversy. 

Baseball players were essentially role models for many sports fans and young children, so it’s no wonder why these allegations were taken so seriously. Let’s have a look at some of baseball’s most memorable scandals.

Say It Ain’t So, Joe

In 1919, eight Chicago White Sox players, including “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, faced accusations of colluding with gamblers to lose that year’s World Series.  It was the following September when the players would be charged with conspiracy to defraud the public. 

One of the accused, pitcher Eddie Cicotte, admitted to accepting a $10,000 bribe, providing baseball fans with a famous line: “I did it for the wife and kiddies.” Three years after the World Series, a jury acquitted the eight men. However, baseball’s first commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, banned the men from ever playing the sport again, announcing, “Regardless of the verdict of juries, no player that throws a ball game…no player that sits in a conference with a bunch of crooked players and gamblers …will ever again play professional baseball.”

Another famous quote that came from this scandal was a heart-wrenching moment between a young boy and Joe Jackson, as the kid pleaded, “Say it ain’t so, Joe. Say it ain’t so.”

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Dirty Dealings Of Steinbrenner

Now this one’s a doozy. In 1974, the New York Yankees owner, George Steinbrenner plead guilty to making illegal campaign contributions to President Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign. He was also convicted of pressuring employees to lie on his behalf. Bowie Kuhn, the commissioner at the time, had Steinbrenner suspended for two years.

However, Steinbrenner’s dirty dealings did not stop there. In 1990, another commissioner banned Steinbrenner after discovering that he paid a gambler, Howard Spira, to seek dirt on one of the Yankees. The player was none other than, outfielder Dave Winfield, with who Steinbrenner had a vendetta. Eventually, Steinbrenner took back control of the team in 1993.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Roses Aren’t Always Red

The gambling scandals did not end there. In 1989, a lengthy investigation found that Cincinnati Reds star Pete Rose was found gambling on baseball games. The commissioner, A. Bartlett Giamatti, publicly declared that Pete Rose was involved in illegal betting. It was later agreed upon, by MLB, that Rose would face a permanent ban from the sport. 


Rose initially denied the claims, but in his 2004 memoir, My Prison Without Bars, he would go on to admit that he would gamble on the Reds always winning. Having been banned, Rose would never be eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame. 

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Steroids, Steroids, And More Steroids

In 2007, former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell issued a 400-page report that would cause more damage than the MLB ever imagined. In the report, 90 baseball players were accused of using performance-enhancing drugs, steroids included. Pitcher Roger Clemens and slugger Barry Bonds were a few of the major names on that list.

Senator Mitchell stated, “Everyone involved in baseball over the past two decades—Commissioners, club officials, the Players Association, and players—shares to some extent in the responsibility for the steroid era. There was a collective failure to recognize the problem as it emerged…as a result, an environment developed in which illegal use became widespread.”

A Sign-Stealing Scheme

Two years after the 2017 World Series, The Athletic published findings accusing that year’s winners, the Houston Astros, of illegally using a camera to steal signs from opponents at home games. This was the first title the team had ever won, making the accusations more disheartening to die-hard fans.

Both players and employers watched a camera feed to observe the opposing catcher’s sign. Once the signs were decoded they would bang on a trash can to communicate the pitch that was coming. Another report done by the MLB discovered that the coaches and players would also text each other at the dugout.

In January 2020, the team’s general manager, Jeff Luhnow, and A.J. Hinch were suspended for one year. The Houston Astros were also forced to forfeit multiple draft picks. It was on that same day, that both men were fired.


Manfred chose not to take away the Astros’ 2017 title. This decision was met with further criticism, as he referred to the World Series trophy as simply a “piece of metal.” Manfred would later go on to apologize.