Skeletons in the Closet – The Reds and Gambling

“I bet on my team every night. I didn’t bet on my team four nights a week. I was wrong, I bet on my team to win every night because I love my team, I believe in my team,” Rose said. “I did everything in my power every night to win that game.”

Last week Pete showed up again, it was to be expected, we all have a Pete in our lives, someone we love, someone we are fond of and someone who equally impresses us and embarrasses us, someone who reminds us of the past and present all in one big swift kick in the gut.

Anyway, I’ve beaten this subject to death, all Reds fans have, it’s a schism of major proportions, it’s in the blood of fans who have been around throughout my life, it’s in their eyes when they watch every player that pulls on a Reds jersey, it’s inevitable, it’s as simple as breathing.

It’s an odd twist to the history of the game and the city of Cincinnati that the three biggest gambling incidents in the games history revolve around the streets of the town of seven hills.

Sure professional ball found a home for all nine of the players on the squad in Cincinnati, that much we know. That coupled with the huge response and revenue the experiment generated also created the need for side businesses, tickets, parks, equipment, advertising and of course the easy buck was the biggest draw of all, and that was simply wagering on the game itself.

Gambling on the contest did not begin with the Black Sox scandal and it likely didn’t end with the Rose debacle, the first case of professional ball and game throwing occurs on the heels of the civil war in what is remembered as “The Wansley Affair”. The National League was not without an incident or two in the 19th century, however these types of incidents receded into the shadows as the years passed by. Sure occasional whispers were heard, such as the one regarding the 1903 World Series and Cy Young being dogged by gamblers, but these were never brought up as being real threats to the game, or the National League.

Meanwhile the American League had a player who has achieved legendary status in the lour of the game, a status that is colored green with the pall of illness. This of course can only be one man, Hal Chase. Chase was an opportunist, a league jumper who knew one master, the almighty dollar.

I won’t bother recanting his history, his foibles and his path to the Reds, instead I’ll note that he might have contributed to one of the reasons that Charles Comiskey was such a tightwad in the eyes of his players. A portion of the players reserve clause included that that club had 10 days to notify the player they were being released, in turn Chase felt that the tables could be turned on the terms, so at the end of his contract he notified the White Sox that he was leaving the league and signing with the Buffalo team in the Federal League, this move generated a court case and a loss against a player(or asset) something you know the Old Roman didn’t relish. Once out of the American League it was evident that Chase had soiled his name in that circuit and return was unlikely. Therefore it’s no small wonder that following the Federal Leagues demise Chase ended up going to the National League, this was an odd occurrence in an era that didn’t see stars playing in both leagues very often. His late signing caused a stir in baseball world as exemplified in this article posted in the New York Times in April of 1916.

Chase much like Pete burst on to the scene and stole the fans hearts in his first appearance on the Westside as a Red.

Starting first basemen Fritz Mollowitz pulled a Bump Bailey when he was tossed for arguing balls and strikes in the 3rd inning. Chase was called in to finish his at bat and hit a double and promptly stole third, then as the hitter drew a walk the Reds pulled a double steal off with Chase safe at home.

Now that’s an entrance.

Adding to the excitement is the likely event that Chase slid head first, for he was one of the few that pulled that feat off back in the dead ball days.

Despite the run and the subsequent batting championship for Chase (.48 points above his career average)there were murmurs that followed Chase around, including one from young centerfielder Edd Roush, a man who had played with Chase in the American League. “I played with him in ’13 with Chicago and he was rotten then.”

Adding to the intrigue of having a man like Chase on the team was the arrival of the antithesis of the Chase persona when the Reds traded for and hired Christy Mathewson to manage the team. No man in the sport was as revered as Matty, from mothers to fathers to boys in the street. They all loved him, all the men admired him. In his clubhouse soon he could see was something amiss. It might have taken him longer to see then a few of his players. It finally came to head in 1918 when third basemen Heinie Groh believed Chase was covering ground less at opportune moments, making easy plays close but failures. He began to chart the errors committed by Chase and the moments in the game, noting they lead to flood gate opportunities for the opposition. Eventually Mathewson was convinced, some say he was furthered angered when he found out that Chase had been cheating him in Bridge weekly as well. Mathewson was particularly angered in a trip to New York, where Chase (who preferred to wow the home crowd and throw games on the road) had a breakdown on the field again, in the opening game of a four game set with the Giants, the team in first place. Following the loss Reds pitcher Jimmy Ring swore he’d never pitch again with Chase on his team. This was highlighted by a recent awareness that Chase had a compadre in crime, second baseman Lee Magee. Magee was a local Cincinnati boy, whose connections around town benefited a man like Chase, they made a perfect pair. However it was evident that they had overplayed their hand with the Res. After the Ring incident Matty served Chase with suspension papers and the charge of insubordination, invoking a seldom used Rule in the National League annuals (Rule 40).

The Reds never announced why or what the reason for the suspension was, however the always cocky Chase would let the press know it was for the suspicion of betting on baseball. In Hal’s case it was betting against the Reds. Meanwhile this event was shadowed by a larger world event, the war in Europe, an event that had caused the season to end earlier and many of the games finest to enlist or find war related jobs. Because of this Mathewson was out of the country when the trial finally occurred, and in a show of power Chase arrived with three lawyers in tow. The League was not prepared for the vent as much as they should have been and despite the witnesses and the innuendo of the proceedings Chase found innocent. Furthering the sheer craziness of the moment was that Giants skipper John McGraw who was there in honor of Matty and his charges told the court that Chase was a fine player, one who was the best in the game at his position. Little known to most was that McGraw had been lusting after Chase to play for the Giants, despite the fact that he openly admitted that pitcher Pol Perritt had told him Chase had propositioned him with cash to let up a little the prior season. Five hours of testimony led to an acquittal and the following statement from National League president John Heydler, concerning Chase: “he acted in a foolish and careless manner, both on the field and among the players” also adding that the Cincinnati club was damaged “many rumors which arose from the loose talk of its first baseman.”

The following day McGraw headed to Cincinnati to get Chase for the Giants. At the same time Heydler was determined to not let the issue die and promised to pursue the matter further. Furthering the audacity of McGraw’s flip flop and signing of Chase was that once Matty returned from France he became a Giants coach, regarding Chase Matty too changed the tune he had whistled the year before, claiming that he had only charged Chase with uneven play.

This pang of disappointment was lost in the glare of the Reds 1919 season surge to the National League title, in August Heydler finally found what he had been searching for, proof that Chase had bet on a game.

As simple as pie, or was it?

This event came to fruit mainly because of the carelessness of Chase and Magee. It seems that had cut a deal with a Boston gambler to throw a July 25th game in Boston, however their plans went awry when the Reds starter dropped out and then Edd Roush drove a ball into the depths of the outfield with Magee on base, before he knew it he was on the heels of Magee, who had $500 on a Reds loss and wanted no part of the upcoming run. Roush barked as he hit his heels… “Run you son of a bitch.” Despite the loss Chase paid his debt, Magee on the other hand stopped payment on the check. A year later the angry gambler lurked around the Reds in hope of finding out what had become of Lee. He intimated to Roush that Roush’s home run was the spoiler. Meanwhile Chase was also being careless in New York, by late summer McGraw had seen enough and suspended Hal and Heine Zimmerman quickly followed. It was Chase’s modus to employee his schemes across the clubhouse to other willing players, leading many historians to scan the rosters of Chase teams and ponder who might have been Hal’s boy that year.

“How many good young ballplayers, may have asked, Chase gets away wityh it year after year, so why shouldn’t we pick up a little extra money when the chance is offered us?”
Fred Lieb

This incident coupled with the documents from Boston obtained by Heydler was the death knell to Chases long career. He was banned from the game (as was Lee Magee)and later was also banned from a league in California. It has been said that Chase made $40,000 on the 1919 World Series, betting on the Reds. It has also been said that Hal never bet on anything but a sure thing, and that leads to more affirmation that the series was obviously not on the up and up.

“I knew it years ago and I know it more clearly now – that my life has been one great mistake after another.”

Hal Chase on his deathbed.

Every family has a skeleton in its closet, every franchise in professional sports does as well, many times these incidents fade into the past and gather dust, other times it rings as a pivotal moment in the history of the franchise. The Chase incident is an example of a bad time in Reds history that has faded due to the other bad times that the franchise has endured. It seems almost comical, if not tragic in a Shakespearean manner that the Cincinnati Reds themselves are so saddled with the stigma of being involved with perhaps the three largest gambling incidents in the games history, incidents that involve Red players and Reds games, in most staunch homes they’re the type of incidents that you try to avoid at the dinner table. It just upsets the stomach too much.

“I made a big mistake. It’s my fault, It’s nobody’s else’s fault.”
Pete Rose

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