Since its birth as a professional sporting league, MLB has been filled with controversy. From players to general manager to ownership groups, cheating has become a secret weapon for success in the league. The good news is that the worst offenders almost always get caught. From the Black Sox World Series of 1919 to the Astros sign-stealing campaign in the 2010s, teams caught breaking the rules have been met with severe and swift punishment from the league office. These are the biggest controversies MLB has seen and how the league dealt with them!
Astros Steal Signs, And The World Series
In 2019 the Houston Astros were placed under investigation by MLB for using modern technology to steal signs of opposing pitchers. Once they knew the signs, a coach or player would bang a certain number of times on trash can in the dugout for the hitter to know what was coming.
Once the investigation concluded, the team’s manager A.J. Hinch, as well as general manager Jeff Luhnow, were both suspended one year. The team was also docked $5 million and lost their first and second-round draft picks in 2021 and 2022. Shortly after the punishment came down, the team owner fired both Hinch and Luhnow.
The 1957 All-Star Ballot Box Stuffing
The 1957 MLB All-Star game was marred in controversy when Cincinnati Redleg fans stuffed ballot boxes, voting for all but one starter on the NL squad as one of theirs. According to reports, one fan-filled out 1,400 ballots by herself.
The only non-Cincinnati player voted in was Stan Musial. Knowing something had to be done, MLB Commissioner Ford Frick stepped in. He removed two Redlegs, replacing them with Hank Aaron and Willie Mays. He then banned fan-voting for all future All-Star games, a practice that lasted until 1970.
Too Much Pine Tar
Pine tar is used by batters in MLB to make sure they get a proper grip on the bat. There are limits to how much pine tar can be used, though, and those limits were tested by George Brett in 1983.
The Royals’ legend hit a go-ahead homer against the Yankees in a game, only to be ruled out when his bat was deemed too tarred-up. The Royals appealed the ruling, won, and forced the Yankees to finish the game later that season. The Yankees protested by putting their pitcher in the outfield and having Don Mattingly play second base.
Pete Rose Bet On Baseball
Pete Rose was one of the greatest hitters the game of baseball has ever seen. Unfortunately, he also had a problem with gambling and put his money on games during his playing career. Although he claims he never bet on games he was involved in, the league still gave him a lifetime ban.
Because of the ban, Rose will never be eligible for the Hall of Fame. For years he has appealed the decision by MLB, but the commissioner has always rejected his case.
Free Agent Values Tanked
Looking to pinch pennies in the ’80s, owners colluded with each other to keep the market price of free agents down. That meant that players like Kirk Gibson and Tim Raines found zero offers from teams on the open market.
These players were then forced to sign contracts with their original team for less value. The most famous of these cases came from Andre Dawson, who refused to return to Montreal and told the Cubs he would sign for anything. Chicago offered him a contract for $500,000, a third of his expected market value.
The Black Sox Threw The World Series
The 1919 MLB season was one of the most controversial in league history. The Chicago White Sox played in the World Series that year, but several players were paid off to purposely play poorly and ensure the Reds won the World Series.
Eight players were handed down lifetime bans by MLB, including Shoeless Joe Jackson. To this day, many fans still believe Jackson wasn’t involved because he had 12 hits in the World Series and finished with a .375 batting average.
A Second Year Embarrassment
The National League was in its second year of existence when the Louisville Grays were caught in controversy. The team steamrolled its way through the season and had a multi-game lead when they suddenly fell apart.
After going 1-9-1 down the stretch, Boston caught up and took over first place. The Grays were then accused of throwing games at the end of the season for gamblers. Four players were banned for life, although no evidence was found to prove without a doubt they were guilty.
Ty Cobb’s Entire Career
In modern MLB circles, Ty Cobb is remembered as being one of two players in league history to retire with more than 4,000 hits. What has been forgotten in nearly 100 years is just how controversial his career was.
In 1912, Cobb got tired of a fan heckling him from the crowd and ran into the stand to beat them up. He was banned indefinitely, a ruling which was later reversed. He was also found guilty of betting on games and attacking a night watchman.
The 2015 Cardinals Hack Of The Astros
Houston Astros GM Jeff Luhnow may have found himself in hot water in 2019, but it wasn’t the first time he was connected to a controversy. In 2015, the St. Louis Cardinals were caught hacking into the Astros’ database to gain access to sensitive information.
Luhnow was a front-office employee with Houston at the time. Chris Correa, the Cardinals’ scouting director, was the man responsible for the hack, was arrested for corporate espionage, and sentenced to 46 months in prison.
Biogenesis Proved Steroids Were Still Prevalent
MLB had thought it had cleaned steroids up from the game when the Biogenesis controversy blew up in 2013. An anti-aging clinic in Florida, Biogenesis was found guilty of supplying several MLB stars, including Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez, with steroids.
Braun, who had previously won an appeal on a failed steroid test, was suspended 65 games. Rodriguez was given a 211 game suspension and missed the entire 2014 season. Other players named received 50 game suspensions.
The Home Run Record Problem
The ’90s and early aughts for MLB were marred by rampant steroid use. From Mark McGwire to Sammy Sosa to Barry Bonds, the game’s greatest power hitters were all caught in massive steroid controversies.
The biggest one was Barry Bonds, who never admitted to knowing trainers were giving him steroids. His denial ended up in court, where he was tried for perjury and obstruction of justice. During his first trial he was found guilty, but a second trial overturned the initial ruling.
A Steinbrenner Kind Of Good Time
During Dave Winfield’s career with the Yankees, team owner George Steinbrenner was constantly fighting the star. Near the end of the ’80s, and his ten-year, $23 million contract, the owner even paid a gambler to dig up dirt on Winfield.
This came after Winfield sued Steinbrenner for failing to make a charitable donation to his foundation, which was stipulated in his contract. The Yankees’ owner was banned for two years for his actions by then MLB commissioner Fay Vincent.
Corked Bats Are Bad
In MLB, some players take batting practice with corked bats. These bats, which are considerably lighter, are supposed to give the hitter an advantage and are illegal to use in games. Of course, that hasn’t stopped multiple players from trying.
The most famous corked bat incident happened in 1994 with Albert Belle. After a complaint from an opposing manager, Belle had his bat taken away during a game. Then, with the game still in progress, a teammate used a crawl space to sneak into the locker room and steal the bat back. He got caught and Belle was given a ten-game suspension.
Ten Cent Beer Night Was A Bad Idea
In 1974 the Cleveland Indians held the promotion to end all promotions when they had a ten-cent beer night. Fans came to the game ready to spend on libations and did not hold back.
Unfortunately, a stadium full of heavily intoxicated fans led to several in-game interruptions. One fan streaked onto the field after a home run. Another father and son duo ran onto the field and mooned the crowd. Finally, a fan ran onto the field and tried to steal a player’s hat, leading to the dugouts being emptied. Shockingly, Cleveland continued to hold discounted beer nights after!
A Yankee Style Wife Swap
In one of the stranger controversies MLB has ever seen, two Yankees players essentially switched lives with each other in 1972. Both players, Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson, held unusual press conferences in 1973 to let the world know they had “traded” wives.
Peterson’s new relationship didn’t last long and was seemingly over before it began. Kekich’s relationship lasted longer, but he eventually married another woman. Hollywood stars Matt Damon and Ben Affleck have played with the idea of turning the wife-swap into a big-budget movie for years.
A 1908 Bribe That May Not Have Happened
If it wasn’t for a supposed failed bribe that took place during the 1908 World Series, the Chicago Cubs title drought could have lasted longer than 108 years. Playing against the Giants, a team physician reportedly tried to bribe and umpire to give the Giants the win.
The ump refused, and the Cubs took home the title. The physician was given a lifetime ban from MLB, although rumors persist that Giants manager John McGraw was responsible for four the entire coup.
The Player Strike That Ended The Season
The 1994 MLB season ended early when players decided to go on strike in August. It was the first time in 22 years that there had been a work-stoppage in the sport and it lasted for 232 days.
Thanks to the strike, the MLB season was brought to an abrupt end. There was no postseason and no World Series. The team impacted the most was the Montreal Expos. They had a six-game lead in their division and were considered favorites to win it all. When the stoppage ended, they slashed payroll and got rid of their best players.
The Banning Of Willey Mays And Mickey Mantle
MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn took the idea that gambling has no place in baseball a little too far in 1984. He banned legendary superstars Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle when he found out the pair served as greeters at an Atlantic City casino.
When Kuhn was replaced as commissioner with Peter Ueberroth, the ban was lifted. It was one of his first acts as the head of baseball, a tenure that was filled with cleaning up the mistakes from the past.
Did The A’s Throw The 1914 World Series?
In 1914 the Philadelphia Athletics were heavy favorites to beat the Boston Braves in the World Series. The Braves stunned the world by winning the title, although MLB historians tend to believe the A’s blew it on purpose.
According to reports from the time, A’s players hated the team owner Connie Mack. The rumor states that they even hated him enough to intentionally lose the World Series. While this has never been proven, Mack believed it was true and spent the offseason getting rid of his best players.
Substances Stained The 1985 Season
Illegal substances were as common as pop flies in MLB in the ’80s. The issue came to a head in 1985, when the Pittsburgh Pirates took center stage in one of the league’s biggest controversies ever.
MLB suspended several Pirates for one season if they were caught using illegal substances. As for those players found distributing them, they went to prison. Potential Hall of Famer Dave Parker was entangled in the issue and has never been voted in as a result.