On June 9, 1920, former Red Lee Magee loses a lawsuit to return to baseball after he admitted his role in attempting to fix Reds’ baseball games.
Here’s the story from “Redleg Journal” by Greg Rhodes and John Snyder:
“A Cincinnati jury believes the charges that former Reds player Lee Magee attempted to fix a game in 1918 while playing for the Reds, and thus rules against Magee’s bid to return to baseball…Magee had sued for reinstatement when his new club, the Chicago Cubs, tore up his contract after learning of Magee’s involvement in the tainted game. Baseball applauded the verdict, but testimony in Magee’s trial revealed that Reds players had placed numerous bets on the Reds to win in 1917 and 1918 and were not disciplined.”
The 1918 game happened on July 25….again, from “Redleg Journal:”
Hal Chase and Lee Magee attempt to throw the first game of a double header in Boston. The fix failed despite Magee’s two errors and a base-running blunder. Edd Roush won the game in the 13th with a two-run home run. The Chase-Magee plot was revealed in a trial two years later.”
There’s two full pages in “Redleg Journal” devoted to the fix and the game. Pitcher Pete Schneider says he heard about the fix and begged out of the game (Chase allegedly told gamblers that Schneider was in on the fix). Youngster Hod Eller took the mound and pitched a masterful game, taking a one-hitter into the bottom of the ninth with the Reds leading, 2-1. From “Redleg Journal”:
“With two out and a runner on first, Al Wickland, the Braves right fielder, hit an easy roller to second. Magee’s obvious play was a quick toss to first and the game was over. But, inexplicably, Magee whirled around and tossed the ball towards second to force the runner. The play was so unexpected that shortstop Lena Blackburne (famous for the baseball rubbing mud used today) had not even moved to cover the bag. The ball sailed into the outfield and the Boston runner scored, tying the game at 2-2.”
Later, in the 13th inning, Magee apparently tried to get himself out on the basepaths, but a bad catcher’s throw allowed him to be safe, and Roush followed with a home run to win the game. Magee himself had scored the winning run of the game he was trying to throw.
Magee was a quality second baseman-outfielder, who had a history of causing troubles for baseball teams. The Reds had acquired him in a three-way trade in March of 1918 with the Reds dealing away aging catcher Tommy Clarke for him. Clarke played in part of one game for the Chicago Cubs after the trade and was finished at the big league level. Magee led the Reds in triples in 1918 with 13, had the second most plate appearances, and had an OPS+ rating of 122. He was a primary feature in the Reds offense. Earlier in his career, he had previously jumped from the St. Louis Cardinals to the new “Federal League,” but returned after the upstart league folded.
The Reds were being managed by future Hall of Famer, Christy Mathewson, who was sometimes called “The Christian Gentleman” and known for his honesty. Fortunately, or unfortunately (depending on your viewpoint), Mathewson was in charge of Magee and Chase, with Chase sometimes called by some to have been the “personification of evil in baseball.” Mathewson quickly suspected Chase of improprieties and had him suspended from the Reds, despite winning the National League batting title in 1916 with a .339 batting average. To read more about Chase, you can check him out here and here. Both Chase and Magee were gifted, but flawed players.
From baseball-reference.com, here’s more to Magee’s story (click the links above to read much more about Chase).
On February 10, 1920, Magee, “wanting to make a clean breast of things,” admitted to National League Prexy John Heydler and Cubs head William Veeck that he tried to “toss” a game with the Boston Braves when he was with the Reds, but that the Reds won in the 13th. Heydler will later testify on June 8th that Magee told him he became suspicious that Hal Chase had double-crossed him and so he stopped payment on the check.
On February 20, 1920, the Cubs gave Magee his unconditional release; he then sued the Cubs for his salary of $4,500, charging that his livelihood as a ball player had been destroyed through the sudden cancellation of his contract. The Cubs asked for a dismissal of the suit, saying that “previous to the making of the contract, the plaintiff was guilty of betting against the team of which he was a member, and sought to win bets by intentional bad playing to defeat said team.”
On June 9, 1920, Magee lost his suit against the Cubs. He had charged that he was released without just cause the previous February. While on the witness stand, Magee admitted to having bet on a ball game between Boston and Cincinnati on July 25, 1918, while a member of the Reds. Magee was banned.
So, how did the betting go down? Again, from the baseball-reference.com “bullpen“:
Magee’s case was the warmup act for the Black Sox Scandal. A second baseman of some ability on both sides of the ball, he was anything but deft in trying to be one of the World War I era’s numerous “players for sale”. Between his brain and his mouth, he not only got himself thrown out of baseball, but also provided a final nail in the coffin of Hal Chase.
In 1918, Magee and Chase, then teammates with the Reds, approached a Boston gambler with a scheme for throwing the first game of a July doubleheader against the Boston Braves. Each player put up a $500 check, accepting a promise of one-third of the gambler’s winnings when Cincinnati lost. But despite Magee’s own efforts in the contest (two crucial errors and dawdling on the basepaths), Cincinnati won, 4-2, with the infielder himself forced to score the final run after reaching base on a bad-hop single.
To make matters worse, he then stopped payment on his check. None of this did anything for his relationship with Chase, on the one hand, or with teammates suspicious of his behavior, on the other, and it didn’t come as much of a surprise when he was packed off to Brooklyn in 1919. But when Brooklyn visited Boston in June, the aggrieved gambler had Magee served with papers for non-payment of a debt. This prompted the Dodgers to unload him on the Cubs and National League President John Heydler to start sniffing around into the gambler’s charges.
Heydler needn’t have bothered because it was Magee himself who, in January 1920, confessed to Cubs owner William Veeck that he had been involved with Chase in the Boston shenanigans, insisting, however, that his bet to the gambler had been on the Reds, not against them. When Veeck responded by cutting him from the Cubs, Magee went to court to get his salary owed him under his contract with Chicago.
Thanks to a parade of league officals, newspapermen and former teammates who showed up as witnesses for the Cubs, he didn’t have a chance. More to the point, the June 1920 trial emphasized the role played by Chase in everything, and offered final justification for the unofficial blacklisting of the first baseman. It was three months after the Magee trial that the grand jury began hearing testimony about the 1919 World Series.
Former Reds’ pitcher Rube Benton said that Chase made $40,000 betting on the 1919 World Series. Benton was another player implicated in gambling schemes at the time and later made a small confession to making “$20” off rumors of a fix concerning the 1919 World Series. Benton was with the New York Giants in 1919, the same team as Chase, who had been traded to the Giants after his baseball hearing was dismissed since Mathewson was somewhere in Europe in World War I and could not testify against him. (Noted from the book “Ballclubs” by Donald Dewey and Nicholas Acocella). Pat Moran was named manager of the Reds, replacing Mathewson. (Chase was later banned from baseball when Heydler “disclosed” that he had never really closed the investigation and and found canceled checks as evidence to prove that Chase had bet against the Reds while a member of the team.)
The book “Ballclubs” goes even further in questions about the Reds players:
“…suspicions subsequently emerged that a few of the Reds had also been open to bribes from gamblers. Roush, for one, went on record as saying that he had such misgivings about the effort of some of his teammates in the opening game that he complained to Moran. The manager then called in Eller, who confirmed that he had had to threaten a couple of gamblers who had approached him. No Cincinnati player was named in the criminal investigation conducted a year later into the Series, although the involvement of former Red Chase as a middleman between two gambling factions kept speculation alive about his ex-teammates.”
I suppose a big question in my mind is how many Reds’ players knew about the 1919 World Series fix? Chase had been on the team as recently as 1918 and undoubtedly had inside information on the squad. Manager Mathewson was no longer with the Reds. He had enlisted in the military to serve in World War I and was accidentally exposed to poison gas which damaged his lungs and led to an early death at age 45. However, baseball brought him back to observe the 1919 World Series and to identify players and plays that may be contributing to a fix of the World Series.
It’s a complicated story, but it does appear that under oath, Reds players were implicated on betting on their own team to win in 1918. In fact, according to “Redleg Journal”, even the “Christian Gentleman” manager, Mathewson, knew the Reds were betting on themselves to win, despite the fact that he was aware of the National League rule prohibiting gambling. Matthewson also testified that Reds’ president, Garry Herrmann, knew of the Reds gambling but had taken no action.
Oh, one more thing to consider. Benton, was temporarily “ineligible” to play in the National League because of “undesirability“, after being caught up in the gambling scandal. He was later reinstated to baseball by the commissioner, Kennesaw Mountain Landis.