There are quite a few options on the table when discussing and ranking major controversies in Major League Baseball history. The Astros sign-stealing scandal? The steroid scandal? How do we go about ranking them? Let’s get to it.
Note, in advance, one potentially controversial omission, we won’t include in our rankings of the greatest controversies in MLB history are the labor disputes. MLB has had several labor disputes throughout its history, the most notable being the strike of 1994-1995 which caused the cancellation of the World Series. We’re going to leave that off as it’s not particularly unique, in any substantial way, to similar controversies that have existed in other sports.
5. Changes To How The Game Is Called
Major changes to how the game has been called including some major changes occurring in 2023. Some other changes that have occurred throughout history:
- Instant Replay: In 2014, MLB introduced instant replay, which allows umpires to review certain types of calls using video evidence. This has helped to improve the accuracy of calls, particularly on close plays at bases or home plate.
- Electronic Strike Zones: In 2019, MLB started using electronic strike zones, which use cameras and computer software to determine the location of pitches. This has helped to improve the accuracy of calls, particularly on balls and strikes.
- Pitch Clock: In 2015, MLB thought about introducing a 20 second pitch clock, which requires pitchers to throw a pitch within a certain amount of time. While designed to speed up the pace of the game, the 2015 model failed after a disastrous Arizona League. In 2023, Major League Baseball finally did the unthinkable and implemented a pitch clock.
- Time Limits: MLB has also established time limits for managers and players to make decisions regarding instant replay reviews and other challenges.
- Umpire Training: The MLB has made changes to the training and evaluation of umpires to improve their performance and consistency of calls.
These changes have been implemented to improve the accuracy and consistency of calls, speed up the pace of the game, and increase the fairness of the game. In addition, the electronic strike zones, pitch clock and time limits also have been put in place to make the game more attractive to a younger audience, who prefer a faster-paced game.
4. The Astros Sign Stealing Scandal
The Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal refers to the events that took place during the 2017 and 2018 seasons, in which the Houston Astros were found to have used technology to steal the opposing teams’ signs during games. The scheme involved the use of a camera in the outfield to capture the opposing team’s catcher’s signals to the pitcher, which were then relayed to the Astros’ hitters through a system of banging on a trash can in the dugout.
The scandal came to light in November 2019, when former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers, who was with the team during the 2017 season, publicly accused the team of sign stealing. The MLB launched an investigation and found that the team had indeed used technology to steal signs during the 2017 and 2018 seasons, including during their World Series-winning 2017 season.
As a result of the scandal, the MLB handed out several punishments, including the one-year suspension of manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow, both of whom were subsequently fired by the team. The MLB also fined the team $5 million, the maximum allowed by the league, and stripped the team of four draft picks. Additionally, several other teams and managers have accused the Astros of using this system even in the 2019 season, and the MLB is still investigating these claims.
The scandal had a significant impact on the league and its reputation, leading to a loss of trust among fans and other teams. It also led to changes in rules and regulations to prevent similar issues from happening in the future, such as increasing the penalties for electronic sign-stealing and increasing the surveillance in the dugout.
3. Gambling, The Black Sox Scandal and Pete Rose
The Black Sox Scandal was a Major League Baseball (MLB) gambling scandal that occurred in 1919. The scandal involved eight members of the Chicago White Sox, who were accused of throwing the 1919 World Series. The eight players were: Arnold “Chick” Gandil, George “Buck” Weaver, Oscar “Happy” Felsch, Claude “Lefty” Williams, Charles “Swede” Risberg, Fred McMullin, Joseph “Shoeless Joe” Jackson, and Edwin “Eddie” Cicotte.
The scandal came to light after the 1919 World Series, in which the heavily favored White Sox lost to the Cincinnati Reds. Rumors began to circulate that the White Sox had thrown the series for money. An investigation was launched, and it was discovered that several White Sox players had been bribed by a group of professional gamblers to throw the series. The players were accused of intentionally losing games in exchange for cash payments, and several of them were indicted on charges of conspiracy to defraud.
During the trial, it was revealed that the players had accepted cash payments from the gamblers in exchange for throwing the series. However, all eight players were acquitted of the charges in a criminal trial, but baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis banned all eight of them from professional baseball for life.
The Black Sox Scandal had a significant impact on the league, leading to a public loss of trust in the sport and a decline in attendance. It also led to stricter rules and regulations in baseball, including stricter penalties for gambling and a strengthened commissioner’s office with more power to investigate and punish misconduct. The scandal remains one of the biggest controversies in baseball history and the eight players involved in the scandal are still banned from the Hall of Fame.
In 1989, 70 years after the Black Sox scandal, the Commissioner’s office investigated Rose and found that he had indeed bet on baseball games, including games involving the Reds. As a result, Rose was banned from baseball for life, preventing him from participating in any official capacity with the MLB. He also remains ineligible for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. The scandal was a violation of baseball’s longstanding rule against gambling on the sport and had a significant impact on the integrity of the game.
2. The Steroid Scandal
Of course this would be on the list, the question was where?
The baseball steroid scandal refers to the widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs), including steroids, among Major League Baseball (MLB) players in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The use of PEDs became a major issue in baseball during this time period, as several high-profile players, such as Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire, were implicated in their use.
The scandal came to light in the late 1990s, as several players began to break longstanding records for home runs and other offensive statistics. This led to suspicions that the players were using PEDs to enhance their performance. In 2002, a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office identified several MLB players who had been using steroids, leading to further investigation and increased public scrutiny of the issue.
In response to the scandal, MLB implemented a new drug testing policy in 2004, which included testing for steroids and other PEDs, as well as penalties for players who tested positive. The league also began to investigate and penalize players who were found to have used PEDs in the past.
The scandal had a significant impact on the league and its reputation, leading to a loss of trust among fans and calls for stricter regulations on the use of PEDs in sports. It also led to changes in rules and regulations to prevent similar issues from happening in the future, such as increased testing and harsher penalties for players who test positive for PEDs. Many players who were implicated in the scandal have been excluded from Hall of Fame voting, and their records and achievements are still debated and questioned.
1. The Color Line (and breaking it)
Everyone knows the history of #42 breaking the MLB color line in 1947, but few know his personal history and the history of the rule. In fact, there wasn’t always a color line in the sport. In fact Jackie Robinson was not the first black player to play in Major League Baseball. That honor belongs to Moses Fleetwood Walker who played until 1889 played before African Americans were banned from playing baseball. He would be the last for nearly fifty years.
Born in Cairo, Georgia, and raised in Pasadena, California Jackie Robinson was a four-sport athlete at UCLA, where he was the first athlete to win varsity letters in four sports: baseball, basketball, football, and track. He was also the first UCLA Bruin football player to earn varsity letter. After completing his college education, he served in the U.S. Army during World War II.
Robinson’s exceptional talent as a baseball player was first recognized by the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League. He played for the Monarchs for one season before being recruited by Branch Rickey, the general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, to play for the team’s minor league affiliate, the Montreal Royals. In 1947, Robinson was called up to the major leagues to play for the Dodgers, becoming the first African American to play in the major leagues since the late 19th century.
Robinson’s debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers was met with racist taunts and death threats, but he persevered and went on to have a successful career in baseball. He was the National League Rookie of the Year in 1947, and he was named to the National League All-Star team six times. He was also the first African American to win the league Most Valuable Player award, which he did in 1949. After his playing career ended, Robinson became an advocate for civil rights and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.
Robinson died on October 24, 1972, at the age of 53. In recognition of his achievements and contributions to the game of baseball, Major League Baseball has retired his uniform number, 42, across all teams. In 1997, MLB also established April 15th as “Jackie Robinson Day” to honor the player and his legacy.