Last night, a bunch of us got together to watch Eight Men Out, the story of the 1919 Chicago White Sox, several of whose team members accepted bribes to lose the World Series. The film portrays the players as underpaid, unappreciated and conflicted athletes who grow tired of being taken advantage of by their team’s owner Charles Comiskey. After being cleared of any wrong doing by the law, they are eventually banned from baseball by the sport’s first commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis.
In the discussion afterward, the parallels between this scandal and the steroids era seemed obvious. Yes, the players cheated, but it’s not like it was unheard of during the time. Match fixing was rampant during the early part of the 20th Century, much like drug use was in the later part. However, only a select few were punished for their involvement in cheating. The owners and managers turned a blind eye to the cheating, and much like today, fans seemed equally disappointed in both the cheating and the punishments levied out against the select few.
Perhaps the only difference can be found in the commissioner’s office. Where Bud Selig is probably just as complicit as the owners in being blissfully/willfully ignorant to the use of performance enhancing drugs in baseball, Landis, with his absolute power and lifetime reign, wrested control of the game from the owners and banned the players involved in the Black Sox Scandal, likely to the dismay of Comiskey.
In fact, a parallel between Landis and steroids may bring a more apt comparison. Looking back through the history of baseball, one could easily wonder if both weren’t a type of necessary evil for the game to continue to exist.
Without Landis, it’s very likely that baseball doesn’t survive. From Bill James’ Historical Baseball Abstract:
The Black Sox scandal and related embarrassments, coming on the heels of seven seasons of poor attendance, so terrified major league owners that they were willing to accept changes; desperate, indeed, to climb aboard any ship that looked like it might be headed toward a safe port no matter which direction. From a structural standpoint, Judge Landis provided that ship.
At a time when the public began to question the validity of baseball, Landis enters and restores the game’s image. Baseball undergoes change as a result and the emergence of Babe Ruth as a star brings people back to the ballpark. With Landis in charge, the owners were unable to do what they previously would have, which according to James, “would have been to take some action to prevent Ruth, as they would see it, from making a mockery of the game.”
The end result is success for the game.
It wasn’t all good of course. Landis was a terrible racist, chauvinist and completely slow to accept several innovations that were knocking on baseball’s door.
Similarly, after the work stoppage that canceled the 1994 World Series, fans were also disillusioned with the game. The only thing to bring them back was the incredible power displays and record chasing of first Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, and then Barry Bonds, which was later found to be fueled by performance enhancing drugs.
You can argue that it’s all fine and dandy for consenting adults to put whatever they want in their systems, but like it or not, ballplayers are role models and the worry is that their dependence on performance enhancers influences the youth to start using steroids, without fully understanding the repercussions.
In other words, former Mets GM Steve Phillips wasn’t completely out to lunch when he said on a recent radio show, “Thank God for steroids. It brought the game back from extinction.” But much like Landis saved the game, during his time as commissioner, he also caused it a lot of damage.
Even as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens both fight federal authorities bent on making them pay for lying about their performance enhancing drug use, the issue has stayed in the public’s attention, and the use of potentially physically harmful drugs has tainted the records and prestige of baseball in the minds of many fans.
And The Rest:
With four home runs in four games, Nelson Cruz is record chasing.
The Toronto Blue Jays have the second highest priced hot dogs in all of baseball, but the Red Sox, Yankees and Cardinals have the highest priced beer.
Wrigley Field? More like The Wrigley Trop.
Is there anyone more insufferable in all of baseball than Kevin Millar. What is it with people’s fascination with such a mediocre baseball player who stayed in the league long past his expiry date because of a gratuitously exaggerated reputation as a clubhouse leader?
Tim Collins is the new David Eckstein. Get in the ground floor of Mighty Mouse t-shirts in the Kansas City area right now.
Pedro Feliciano had his widdle feewings hurt.
How all thirty teams came to be called what they’re now called.
The Philadelphia Phillies are being thanked for building yet another team’s farm system with their prospects. And people wonder why they’re the oldest team in baseball.
Finally, Philadelphia The Good:
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