The Scandal at Louisville

I really wish I didn’t have to say this, but it’s true. The Black Sox are not completely unique. OK, they threw a World Series and no one else did, but the idea of throwing away a game or a season isn’t unique. Players have been accused of it for a long time. There have been questions of players taking money to lose games, of them playing less that 100% because the hated the owner or the manager. The Black Sox may have been the worst case, but they weren’t first.

By the middle of the 1877 season it became evident that the National League pennant was a two team race: Boston vs. the Louisville Grays. The Red Caps (Boston) was managed by Harry Wright. They had essentially the same team that won the last four National Association pennants then lost the first National League pennant by finishing fourth. Deacon White, George Wright (Harry’s brother), Ezra Sutton, and John Morrill handled the infield; Lew Brown caught; Andy Leonard, Harry Schafer, and Jim O’Rourke patrolled the outfield; and Tommy Bond did the pitching (both Wright’s and O’Rourke are Hall of Famers). Louisville finished fifth in 1876, but produced a strong contender the next season. The Grays featured Juice Latham, Joe Gerhardt, Bill Craver, and Bill Hague were the infield: the catcher was Pop Snyder; the outfield consisted of George Hall, Orator Shaffer, and Bill Crowley; and Jim Devlin pitched.

Th race was tight into late September, then Louisville lost four in a row at Boston, lost three of  four in Brooklyn (the other game was a tie), then dropped the final game of the season to Chicago. Boston won the pennant by seven games after Louisville led for most of the year. The official reason was that Devlin tired and the team just quit hitting. In an era of one pitcher teams, that sounded reasonable.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t so, Joe. It seems that a reporter for the Louisville Courier-Journal, who happened to be the son of the team owner, started asking questions. Little used player Al Nichols (he played six games) was serving as a conduit for gamblers to fix games. Pitcher Devlin, outfielder Hall, and third baseman Craver were the other men accused. For money, they had thrown an unspecified number of games allowing Boston to win the pennant.

The accusations and the proof, in the form of telegrams to Nichols, landed on the desk of league president William Hulbert. The National League was Hulbert’s baby and any chance that gambling was occuring was sheer anathema to him. Any chance that games were being fixed was equally anathema. In looking at his comments, it’s as if he took it as a personal affront to his honor. He moved immediately, banning all four players from the game. None ever played a Major League game again.

As a result of the castastophe, Louisville dropped totally out of the NL the next season. St. Louis attempted to sign two of the “outlaws” and was shown the door also. So the scandal had produced a questionable pennant and cost the NL two teams (which were replaced by Milwaukee and Indianapolis). At least in 1919 the AL lost no teams.

Interestingly enough Devlin, who died in 1883, found another line of work after his banishment. He became a policeman in Philadelphia (go figure).

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