Pomrenke: The whitewashing of Hal Chase

From SABR member Jacob Pomrenke at The National Pastime Museum on July 15, 2013:

When Ban Johnson founded the American League in 1901, he strove to publicly distance his league from the rowdyism and lawlessness that had characterized the National League’s first quarter-century. The 1877 Louisville Grays game-fixing scandal, which resulted in the banishment of four players, had been a serious threat to the NL’s integrity. In an attempt to head off any similar incidents in the AL, Johnson banned gamblers from the league’s ballparks. Nonetheless, betting continued to flourish in both leagues throughout the Deadball Era.

Professional athletes then liked to hang out in houses of ill repute, such as saloons and pool halls where underworld types flourished. Johnson couldn’t monitor players’ activities 24 hours a day, and many of them cultivated friendships with gamblers who bet heavily on baseball. 

These friendships were mutually beneficial. Ballplayers enjoyed the social perks of being around high rollers with big bankrolls, and gamblers could gain an inside edge in betting by finding out who was pitching the next day or when a star player was injured. Chick Gandil, later banished in the Black Sox scandal, claimed that he had frequently supplied Boston gambler Joseph “Sport” Sullivan with inside information going back to his days with the Washington Senators.

No player had more friends in the gambling world than “Prince” Hal Chase, a charming, confident Californian whose peers called him the best defensive first baseman ever. Chase’s talents were legendary: He made one-handed catches with astonishing ease, played farther off the bag than anyone had ever seen and charged sacrifice bunts with speed and agility. He also earned the reputation of being the best hit-and-run batter in the American League and frequently ranked among league leaders in batting average, RBI and stolen bases.

Read the full article here: http://www.thenationalpastimemuseum.com/article/whitewashing-hal-chase

Originally published: July 16, 2013. Last Updated: July 16, 2013.