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August 29, 2012

The Lineup Card

7 Memorable Suspensions, Bans, and Blackball Cases

by Baseball Prospectus

‚Äč1. Alex Sanchez
We’ll remember that Melky Cabrera tested positive for PEDs, because he was a formerly fringy player leading the NL in hitting. We’ll remember that Mark McGwire used steroids, because he hit 70 home runs in a single season. And if we’re careless, we’ll conclude that most PED users are like Melky and McGwire: players who had eye-popping stats, bulging biceps, or both. That would be a mistake, since most PED users aren’t special, and they don’t fit the Melky/McGwire molds. They’re just fringy players hoping for a little help hanging on.

That’s why we’re lucky that the first player publicly identified as a PED user under the testing policy put in place in 2005 was the last person anyone looking for a muscular slugger would have suspected: Alex Sanchez. Sanchez, a slight, slap-hitting Devil Rays center fielder who served a 10-game suspension at the start of the season, had neither the body nor the statistics of the typical suspected steroid user. He was listed, probably somewhat generously, at 5’10”, 180 pounds. At the time he tested positive, he boasted four home runs, a .364 slugging percentage, and a .241 TAv in 1459 career major-league plate appearances. Some quotes from the ESPN article about his suspension: “I’m surprised because look at what kind of player I am,” said Alex Sanchez. “If anyone’s going to test positive for steroids, it’s not going to be Alex Sanchez,” said Alex Sanchez’s agent. “It’s surprising,” said Lou Piniella. “That little guy?” asked Bronson Arroyo.

Because that little guy came first, we might remember him, just like we remember the Melkys and McGwires. And we should remember Sanchez, since he’s a reminder that bodies and box scores aren’t proof of PED use. For that, we need an admission or a positive test.—Ben Lindbergh

2. Barry Bonds
What is Barry Bonds doing in an article about baseball players that were suspended or punished by Major League Baseball? When a player hits .276/.480/.565 in 477 plate appearances and can't find work the following season, that just doesn't compute. But what about the clubhouse—stats can't measure the possible negative impact he'd have on a clubhouse, right? No, they can't, but anyone that thinks every major-league clubhouse is filled with a roster and coaching staff full of happy-go-lucky do-gooders is foolish. A clubhouse is a work place, and just like every other work place, there are a variety of personalities and a mix of workers of different skill levels. Ultimately, talent matters, and Bonds was one of the most talented hitters in the game in 2007. If he qualified, his .429 wOBA would have ranked sixth amongst hitters that year, yet he couldn't find a team to play for in 2008.

As a free agent, Bonds failed to get any offers. It's possible, and understandable, that teams may have been concerned about Bonds' scheduled trial for 2009. However, Bonds' agent, Jeff Borris, reportedly offered his client's services to several clubs for the league minimum. Yet no one was willing to take a chance on Bonds. Regardless of whether there was collusion between clubs or not, Bonds' inability to continue to play baseball in the majors seems like pretty severe punishment to me. —Josh Shepardson

3. Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle
Since 2008 (a year after he died), former commissioner Bowie Kuhn has had a plaque in baseball's Hall of Fame. The plaque notes that Kuhn "presided over astounding growth in the game's popularity," which he did, and I've no doubt Kuhn had something to do with that (even if it's not clear what, and even if he was on the wrong side of the biggest change during his tenure). I don't really know what he did, though, and I don't believe any of us really do. We do know one thing he did, though: He banned two of the 10 or so greatest players the game has ever seen.

Kuhn didn't take kindly to the drugs or to the gambling, and went on a Kenesaw Mountain Landisian crusade against both. On the latter front, he was especially touchy. In 1979, Willie Mays (then 48, five years retired and in the Hall of Fame) agreed to serve as a "goodwill ambassador" for an Atlantic City hotel and casino. The position not only had nothing to do with betting on baseball, it had little to nothing to do with gambling at all; Mays served as a public face of the hotel at certain functions, and that was it. Kuhn banned him anyway, or, rather, required him to give up his job in baseball (as a hitting instructor for the Mets) and barred him from taking another, apparently indefinitely. Mays shrugged, figuratively speaking, and went on appearing in person and in advertisements for the casino.

Four years later, Mickey Mantle (then 52, 15 years retired and in the Hall of Fame) was offered essentially the same job at another Atlantic City Casino. According to Mantle, Kuhn warned him ahead of time that if he accepted the job, Kuhn would apply the same ban (from Mantle's position as a spring training instructor from the Yankees, and from all others). It strikes me as quintessentially Mickey Mantle-like that he went right ahead and did it anyway, though I'm sure both players stood to make more money with their casino deals than with anything available to them within the game itself.

There was never any call to remove either of them from the Hall, and the suggestion was that either of them could be reinstated immediately by severing all ties to gambling. Peter Ueberroth took over from Kuhn in late 1984, and five months later, officially reinstated both Mays and Mantle. It was a tiny blip in baseball history, a bit of comic relief if you compare it to the Rose and Jackson gambling sagas. More than anything, though, it's a reminder of how much things can change in 30 years. Major League Baseball teams currently have casino ads on their stadium walls and casino commercials running throughout their broadcasts; the network of affiliate radio stations broadcasting Minnesota Twins games is called the "Treasure Island Baseball Network," named in a partnership with a local casino. And yet three decades ago, for daring to shake some customers' hands and such at hotels that also had slot machines, two of the game's greatest living baseball players were banned from the game. —Bill Parker

4. Pete Rose
I was never a big Pete Rose fan as a kid. I thought he was cocky and the whole "Charlie Hustle" image was a fake. Growing up in western Pennsylvania, I also didn't particularly like that his Reds beat the Pirates three times in the National League Championship Series in the span of six seasons from 1970-75. Thus, it should have stood to reason that I was happy on August 24, 1989 when Rose accepted a voluntary lifetime ban from baseball from the late Commissioner Bart Giamatti for betting on baseball—and the Reds teams he managed in the 1980s, in particular.

However, as a neophyte baseball writer, I quickly came to like Rose when I began covering the game in 1988. He always had time to talk, never tried to big-league me even though he was baseball's all-time hits leader, and—best of all—everything that came out of mouth was quotable. He was a young baseball writer's dream. I knew Rose liked to gamble and especially play the horses, and there were whispers that he had many unsavory associates. There was also overwhelming evidence against Rose in investigator John Dowd's report—which was commissioned by MLB—that Giamatti had no choice but to ban him. As a youngster, I would have been overjoyed to watch on television as Giamatti read the terms of Rose's ban. Instead, I felt more sadness as Rose's life unraveled and one of the game's greats was sentenced to a legacy of infamy. —John Perrotto

5. Phil Wellman
If you're going to get thrown out of a game, then banned for a few more, you might as well get your money's worth. And you have to give Double-A Mississippi manager Phil Wellman credit, for in addition to making the most of his ejection, he gave the 4,240 fans in attendance at Chattanooga on June 1, 2007, the baseball memory of their lives.

Wellman, incensed by his pitcher, Kelvin Villa, getting ejected for using a foreign substance, communicated his feelings to home-plate umpire Brent Rice in a variety of ways. From delivering a tirade at point-blank range, to dislodging two bases, to using the rosin bag as a grenade, Wellman made sure that Rice knew precisely how he felt. The Braves went on to lose that game to the Lookouts, 7-6, but Wellman returned from his suspension to steer them to the Southern League playoffs.

A veteran minor-league instructor, Wellman was in his 20th season as a coach and his first as manager of the Mississippi Braves at the time. He led the Double-A affiliate to a Southern League championship in 2008 and joined Bobby Cox's big-league staff later that season, but the most memorable moment the 50-year-old's résumé is the aforementioned performance, which even Cox, the majors' all-time ejections leader, could never rival.

And all it cost Wellman was a three-game suspension handed down three days later. When you talk about a manager getting his money's worth, this was the steal of the century. —Daniel Rathman

6. Michael Barrett
In 2006, I lived a nice leisurely mile-long walk up Clark St. away from Wrigley Field. And despite the fact that I think that interleague play was a (successful) marketing gimmick based mostly on bad geographic puns, even I couldn't help but feel a little shiver when the Red Line series came around each year. If there's a moment that shows the divide between the North and South Sides of the city, it was the day after the White Sox' 2005 World Series victory. The papers all proclaimed the news, but around the Fullerton El stop, you would have gotten about the same reaction if you had said that the San Diego Padres had won the World Series. It was just another chilly October day. Sure, bully for the White Sox fans that you knew, but the Sox weren't "our team." We didn't hate the South Siders... we just lived in two different cities that happened to share the same mayor.

And then on May 20, Michael Barrett punched A.J. Pierzynski (who else) after Pierzynski knocked him over on a play at the plate. Benches cleared and Barrett got 10 games to life. Suddenly, what started as an interleague tilt became an internecine feud. I had friends on both sides of fandom aisle—and keep in mind that my friends were mostly clinical psychologists normally dedicated to keeping people from needless violence—got into the fray. Calls to award Barrett a medal were common, as was admiration for the "hard-nosed" play of Pierzynski. Maybe we all should have gotten 10 days in time out for taking a game of baseball so seriously. The thing about feuds between teams is that the fans of the other team generally live a few states over. I remember that Chicago was a little chippy that day. Fortunately, tempers abated and Pierzynski and Barrett even made their peace a few weeks later. But Michael Barrett gets my "most memorable suspension" award not for what he did to the game of baseball, but to what he almost did to an entire city. —Russell A. Carleton

7. Marge Schott
For the most part, team players, owners, and executives enjoy a right to free speech without incurring serious consequences. That is, until Marge Schott opened her yap, earning her the distinction of being the only woman (thus far) to be banned by baseball, and the first person to be banned for the content of his or her speech.

After becoming the majority owner of the Cincinnati Reds in 1984, Schott got off to a fantastic start by refusing to dish out money to shape her beloved Reds into a contending ballclub, and she didn't want to hire scouts. Though she'd occasionally make disparaging remarks about her players, it wasn't until the 1990s that Schott's vitriol toward African-Americans, Asians, homosexuals, and the Jewish community, and her disregard for human life, came into the spotlight.

In 1992, former Reds employee Tim Sabo filed a lawsuit against the club, which revealed Schott's unwritten rule of not hiring blacks. Cal Levy, the Reds' former marketing director, stated in a deposition for Sabo's lawsuit that Schott referred to outfielders Eric Davis and Dave Parker as "million-dollar n******," a comment Schott later alleged she made in jest. Her actions and words speak to the contrary. Oakland Athletics executive assistant Sharon Jones told the New York Times she overheard Schott say, "I'd rather have a trained monkey work for me than a n*****" on a conference call. 

Those incidents weren't the only times Schott showed utter disregard about others. She mocked the Japanese accent; claimed she didn't understand how "Jap" was a racial slur; labeled men wearing earrings as "fruits," a derisive term likely aimed at the homosexual community; and complained when the Reds' home opener in 1996 was postponed after home-plate umpire John McSherry collapsed and died just before first pitch. Once she gathered herself after that last incident, she remembered she should send flowers... so Schott re-gifted flowers that had been given to her, slapped a sympathy note in them, and sent them off to a funeral home.

Schott's anti-Semitic stance is also well-documented, and it finally proved to be her downfall. Levy claimed that Schott had a Nazi swastika armband at home and overheard her make derogatory marks about Jewish people. In addition, Schott made public comments sympathizing with Adolf Hitler and stated he "was good in the beginning, but went too far." Acting Commissioner Bud Selig banned her from 1996 to 1998, and following her banishment, Schott finally agreed to sell her stake in the team, ending her reign as one of the most disgraceful owners in major-league history. —Stephani Bee

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