The Spectre of Gambling
From Major Leagues by David Pietrusza:
Gambling unfortunately continued, for despite the new league's
pious hopes, human nature was not to be transformed
overnight. At the advent of the National League one Clipper
correspondent charged, "Any professional base ball club will
'throw' a game if there is money in it. A horse race is a pretty
safe thing to speculate on, in comparison with an average ball
match." Public opinion on the issue would not immediately
change--and with good reason.
"Pool-selling" particularly afflicted the game. "Pools" were not
direct bets between two parties; one might welsh on those bets.
Instead, "pools" involved a third party who held the cash, and
were formed in "pool rooms" usually near the local park.
The system was relatively complicated. Prior to a game
(actually days in advance), an auction was held, with bidding on
the right to bet on favorite clubs. Then bids were made on the
opposing nine. If the odds were not favorable, bets could be
withdrawn. The pool seller kept records of these transactions,
paid the winners, tried to maintain a reputation for honesty and
received a percentage of each bet.
Although by 1877 "pools" were being challenged by the new
English practice of "bookmaking," they were still exceedingly
popular. Straitlaced Boston alone had eight such rooms, and
pools on a single game in larger New York establishments
could reach as high as $70,000.
Rumors particularly swirled around the New York Mutuals in that
first N.L. season. The Chicago Tribune reported that a few of
the Mutuals had plotted to go into the tank on a given date, but
when their manager, William Cammeyer, became aware of the
conspiracy, it collapsed and the team won the game in
question. The New York Herald published an account of a
gamblers' plot to bribe Mutuals pitcher Bobby Mathews (21-34)
to throw a game. Mathews declined, however, and nothing
more came of the matter in regard to him. But investigations of
several pool-sellers revealed crookedness, and some were put
out of business.
William D. Perrin of the Providence Journal wrote that when
the Grays joined the League in 1879, two "professional men" of
the city got together a pool of $2,000 on the team. Five hundred
dollars was wagered at even odds that Providence would finish
above Cincinnati; the same money at the same odds that they
would best Boston; and $1,000 against $4,000 that Providence
would win the pennant. How much of this money was ever
placed is unknown.
But the greatest infamy was that of the 1877 Louisville Grays.
On August 13 the Grays had a 27-13 record and a large lead in
the pennant race. With 15 contests remaining, Louisville
needed to win roughly half. Instead, they played wretchedly, at
one time dropping eight in a row, and lost to Boston by seven
Louisville's troubles began when third baseman Bill Hague was
disabled by a boil under his throwing arm. To replace him,
Grays outfielder George Hall suggested signing utility infielder
Alfred H. Nichols, a former Mutual now with an independent
Suspicion centered on four key Grays, who were ostentatiously
sporting diamond stickpins and rings: pitcher James Alexander
Devlin, who pitched particularly poorly in the stretch (and who
like Hague was also afflicted with boils that season); shortstop
and catcher William H. Craver, who in 1870 had been expelled
from the Chicago White Stockings for insubordination and
gambling and in November of that year banned for life by the
National Association of Base Ball Players; Hall, around whom
rumors of corruption had also circulated back in his days in the
National Association; and Nichols, allegedly involved with
prominent New York City gamblers.
But there were more than rumors. As Louisville headed east to
play Hartford in Brooklyn (Hartford played home games there
due to lack of support in Connecticut) during the Grays' final
road trip, club president Charles E. Chase received an
anonymous telegram charging that gamblers were laying down
serious money against the Grays. At first Chase dismissed the
cable as a hoax.
Nonetheless, Louisville lost 5-1 as Nichols, Hall and Craver
committed errors. Chase was surprised to learn Nichols was
still in the lineup, since Hague had fully recovered. Manager
Jack Chapman responded that he had penciled Nichols in on
suggestion from Hall, who argued that the Brooklyn native
would bear down harder in front of his hometown crowd.
Chase received another mysterious cable prior to the second
game in the series, and once again Brooklyn lost (7-0) to the
Dark Blues. Devlin, Nichols and Hall made damaging errors.
Chase ordered Chapman to bench Nichols.
But the nose dive continued. The Louisville Courier-Journal
was incredulous, running headlines such as "!!!--??--!!!" and
"What's the Matter?" The paper even made the rumors public
when Devlin mysteriously regained his form in postseason
exhibitions ("The Celt has completely given himself away").
Particularly interesting was that the Courier-Journal story was
by John Haldeman, son of Louisville owner Walter N. Haldeman.
Chase confronted the suspect players, starting with Devlin. The
hurler admitted he may have been careless in some
exhibitions, but that was all. Chase wasn't buying it. "I want a full
confession," he barked. "I'll give you until 8 p.m. to tell me the
Returning to his hotel, Chase found Hall waiting for him. Hall
wrongly surmised that Devlin had cracked. Chase did nothing
to dissuade him, and soon Hall was spilling his guts, freely
admitting throwing games. He also implicated Nichols, claiming
Nichols was the contact with the gamblers.
Chase returned to Devlin, telling him Hall had confessed. Devlin
admitted his guilt.
The next evening, Chase called a team meeting. He requested
permission to obtain each Western Union telegram sent from or
received by each Gray during the season. Only team captain
Bill Craver refused, and he was summarily suspended.
The contents of these telegrams revealed that Hall, Devlin and
Nichols had been in virtually open communication with the
gamblers, particularly a New Yorker named McLeod. Fixes
occurred in both exhibition and League contests; the code word
in the telegrams for a fix was "sash." No other Grays were
proven to be involved.
Nobody owned up to instigating the plot, and each man's
degree of guilt is still a matter of confusion. Hall blamed
Nichols, but many believed it was Hall himself (whose
brother-in-law, Frank Powell, had been after him for a year and
a half to throw games), as he had originally recruited Nichols for
the team. Some said it was Hall and Nichols who approached
Devlin, offering him $100 to throw a meaningless exhibition
game at Lowell, Massachusetts. Others said it was Devlin
himself who had been the first of the players to contact McLeod.
In any case, Devlin saw no harm in going into the tank for a
non-championship contest, but once involved he was virtually
blackmailed into throwing the pennant race. He claimed he
never received another cent from the gamblers, but again that
contention is disputed. Some sources indicate he received
another $300 for hippodroming three exhibitions at Indianapolis.
The League expelled all four in December 1877 "for conduct in
contravention of the objects of this League."
Devlin had been an outstanding pitcher, winning 30 games in
1876 and 35 in 1877, leading the league in games and innings
pitched both seasons, and being among the best in ERA. In
1877 he hurled every single inning for his team--the only pitcher
ever to do so. He begged the authorities repeatedly for mercy,
contending his family needed the money, and further pleading
that since expulsion his wife and child had been in penury. He
implored Harry Wright to grant him a second chance, to give
him any sort of position at all, even as Boston's groundskeeper.
"I Can asure [sic] you Harry," wrote the semiliterate Devlin, "that
I was not Treated right and if Ever I Can see you to tell you the
Case you will say I am not to Blame I am living from hand to
mouth all winter I have not got a Stich of Clothing or has my wife
and Child..., the Louisville People have made me what I am
today a Begger [sic]."
On one occasion Devlin visited League President Hulbert in his
Chicago offices, again pleading for reinstatement. The scene
was recorded in melodramatic fashion by Albert Spalding,
nonetheless portraying a very real human tragedy:
Oddly enough, Devlin was able to find work as a Philadelphia
policeman (and odder still, Craver became a highly respected
policeman in Troy, New York) before dying of consumption on
October 10, 1883. Before Devlin died, a benefit game raised
over $1,000 for him.
Adding to public disgust over baseball's gambling was an
allegation by National League umpire Dan Devinney that St.
Louis Brown Stockings manager George McManus had offered
him a $250 bribe to throw an August 1, 1877, Louisville game
to St. Louis. Louisville won that game 3-1, however, and no
further investigation took place. Devinney did not officiate in the
League the following season.
DeWitt's Base-Ball Guide was particularly harsh on the subject
of gambling. The Guide, pointing out that New York State had
legislated against poolselling in 1877, hoped that the evil had
peaked; but the publication despaired of the gambling mania in
the Western states. In Chicago even the respected Board of
Trade had sold pools on the White Stockings.
"Why the base-ball press of the West support the pool-selling
curse as they do, . . . is a mystery," the Guide editor wrote. "Of
course while reporters and club directors and managers
countenance pool-selling, as they did in so many instances in
1877, any hope of reforming players, even by expulsion, is
illusory. While the pool-box is countenanced there will be
rascality among tempted players, despite the most stringent
The St. Louis Globe-Democrat offered a gloomier picture. "The
days of professional baseball are numbered," it opined, "and
the hundreds of young men who have depended on the pastime
as their means of earning a livelihood will be obliged to change
their plans of operation."
I was sitting in the reception room and Mr. Hulbert was ...
in the inner apartment, when the outer door opened and a
sorry-looking specimen of humanity entered. It was
midwinter and very cold, but the poor fellow had no
overcoat. His dust-covered garments were threadbare
and seedy. His shoes were worn through with much
tramping, while the red flesh showing in places indicated
that if stockings were present they afforded not much
protection to the feet. Everything about the man's
appearance betokened weariness and woe. His face
was a picture of abject misery. The visitor passed me
without a glance in my direction. His eyes were fixed
upon the occupant of the farther room. He walked straight
to the chair where Mr. Hulbert sat, and dropping his
knees at the big man's feet, lifted his eyes in prayerful
entreaty, while his frame shook with the emotion so long
restrained. Then his lips gave utterance to such a plea for
mercy as might come from one condemned to the
... How Devlin reached Chicago I never knew. There was
everything in his condition to indicate he might have
walked all the way from Louisville. The situation as he
kneeled there in abject humiliation, was beyond the
realms of pathos. It was a scene of heartrending tragedy.
Devlin was in tears, Hulbert was in tears, and if the mists
of a tearful sympathy filled my eyes I have no excuse to
I heard Devlin's plea to have the stigma removed from his
name. I heard him entreat, not on his own account--he
acknowledged himself unworthy of consideration--but for
the sake of his wife and child. I beheld the agony of
humiliation depicted on his features as he confessed his
guilt and begged for mercy. I saw the great bulk of
Hulbert's frame tremble with the emotion he vainly sought
to stifle. I saw the President's hand steal into his pocket
as if to conceal his intended act from the other hand. I
saw him take a $50 bill and press it into the palm of the
prostrate player. And then I heard him say, as he fairly
writhed with the pain his words caused him, 'Devlin, that
is what I think of you personally; but damn you, you have
sold a game, and I can't trust you. Now go and let me
never see your face again; for your act will never be
condoned as I live."