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What's the worst thing in baseball history?

Sep 27, 2010, 11:59 AM EDT

David Laurila of Baseball Prospectus interviews Ken Burns today. It’s a great, wide-ranging interview that should get you primed for the update to Burns’ “Baseball” documentary that will begin airing this week.  This question and answer caught my eye:

DL: From a historical perspective, just how important is the steroid era?

KB: In the scheme of the negatives of baseball it’s maybe two or three in position. I think that the gambling scandal, as epitomized by the Black Sox scandal in 1919, would probably be No. 1. I guess I’d put steroids either No. 2 or No. 3, and if it was No. 3 I’d say that the exclusion of African-Americans for six decades would be No. 2. You could argue that was the worst thing that baseball has ever done. Should there be asterisks next to Babe Ruth’s name because he never had to face Satchel Paige or play against Josh Gibson, who once hit 70 home runs in a season?

It’s a fascinating topic, no?  I think the Black Sox scandal and segregation have to be 1-2, with your particular ordering of those things depending on how much (if any) slack you want to cut baseball for the color line due to the fact that the policy mirrored the larger segregation policies enshrined in law. Though it would have been wonderful if it had, should baseball have been expected to transcend the ugliness afoot in American society much earlier than it did? Does it get credit for doing away with segregation before most of the rest of society did?  These are questions that could get you talking for hours.

One thing that is missing from Burns’ answer, though, is baseball’s cocaine problem in the 70s and 80s. Depending on my mood, I’d slide that ahead of steroids into number three. Unlike steroids, players died as a result of this scourge. Your mileage may vary, but my view is that while steroids made for an unlevel playing field by giving some players advantages over others, cocaine users intentionally disadvantaged the teams they played for, doing just as much of a disservice to their teammates that steroid users did to the opposition, with greater externalities in terms of health, etc.

We missing anything here?  Other things often thought of as negatives — teams moving cities, free agency and other business concerns — tend to have winners and losers and their negativity depends on your point of view.

If we’re leaving something out, though, by all means, let’s talk about it in the comments.  It’s a gloomy Monday in much of the United States, so let’s revel in some negativity, shall we? 

  1. umrguy42 - Sep 27, 2010 at 1:51 PM

    Well, from a totally “homer” perspective, I dunno about “worst”, but as a Cardinals fan Don Denkinger’s ’85 WS (or, Game 6, at least) is up there 😀

  2. Reflex - Sep 27, 2010 at 1:52 PM

    The comment about coke killing players and steroids somehow being less harmful has yet to be seen. Judging by the effects steroids have had on average lifespans in professional wrestling it will not suprise me if in the decades to come an unusual number of baseball players die younger than they should have of heart attacks and other problems like the wrestlers have been…
    I’ve been prescribed steroids numerous times to deal with severe asthma and other health issues. Those who think they have no effect are fooling themselves, the effects are well known and studied, and are nothing to mess around with. I’d love to live on prednisone, but the long term effects would be devastating to my health.

  3. Chris Fiorentino - Sep 27, 2010 at 2:01 PM

    “Cowboy” Joe West.

  4. Detroit Michael - Sep 27, 2010 at 2:16 PM

    I’d move the steroid use down to #5 at least.
    The collective labor work stoppages were worse. It was tough to be a fan when every three years there’d be a strike or lockout preceded by at least 12 months of news of fruitless negotiations and impasses. This was a 1972-1995 problem.
    Owners not trying to win was a big problem throughout history. Syndicate ownership in the late 19th century, Kansas City making lopsided trades with New York Yankees in the 1950s, owners colluding to not compete for free agents in the later 1980s. To me this ranks worse than steroid use, which at least consists of trying to do better, albeit in ways that may be harmful to one’s health.

  5. Giant Space Ants - Sep 27, 2010 at 2:17 PM

    Curse you and your so called “facts”!

  6. Giant Space Ants - Sep 27, 2010 at 2:30 PM

    And whatever happened to people wearing suits to ballgames?

  7. BC - Sep 27, 2010 at 2:34 PM

    Carlos Beltran since he joined the Mets.

  8. Trevor B - Sep 27, 2010 at 2:46 PM

    Super Pavario will always live on in this Twins fan’s heart.

  9. rje49 - Sep 27, 2010 at 4:39 PM

    For baseball fans, free agency is a travesty. Especially those who live in smaller markets. The biggest names only go to the richest teams. No hope for others. Yes, I realize teams like Tampa Bay happen once in awhile, but they won’t be able to sustain what they have when their better players become free agents and leave. A pity.

  10. bigtrav425 - Sep 27, 2010 at 6:45 PM

    Hmm that’s a tough one.I would put Steinbrenner buying world series championships and baseball letting them right up there,along with No salary cap,canceling the 94 World Series,Bob Costas,No DH in the NL..that’s all i can think off of hand im sure there are more i can think of

  11. RichardInBigD - Sep 27, 2010 at 7:05 PM

    It’s because they now play in Texas, where the Rangers had a stretch of four or five games where the (night) game time temperature was above 100.

  12. RichardInBigD - Sep 27, 2010 at 7:09 PM

    The death of A. Bartlett Giamatti, the ouster of Fay Vincent, and the coronation of Bud Selig. Also, let’s don’t forget the fact that the two men who currently hold the most hallowed of records, Barry Bonds and Pete Rose, through their own deeds, will probably never see their own plaques in Cooperstown.

  13. RichardInBigD - Sep 27, 2010 at 7:18 PM

    Oh yeah, and the DH, Interleague play, and the resistance to the use of video technology to fix all the upires boo-boos…

  14. bigtrav425 - Sep 27, 2010 at 7:59 PM

    no DH in NL meaning the NL should have a DH

  15. Utley's hair - Sep 28, 2010 at 12:11 AM

    The DH is one of the worst things to happen to the game, not its absence in the Senior Circuit.

  16. Seamhead - Sep 29, 2010 at 1:03 PM

    For the love of Koresh Evan, your comments are being posted! Again and again and again.

  17. MikeN - Sep 29, 2010 at 6:56 PM

    Bud Seligman. For a car salesman posing as the Commish, he makes a good car salesman. He’s both overwhelmed and underwhelming at the same time.

  18. delgriffth - Oct 6, 2010 at 6:18 AM

    One of the worst things has to be the lack of a salary cap in baseball. When a single player makes more money then an entire team, you have a competitive imbalance. Truth is more then half the teams in baseball have no shot of winning a title. The poorer half of the league has become a farm system for the richer half. Players cheating to get and edge is no different then the league allowing some teams to quadruple the spending of others to get an edge. Is that cheating? No. Is it bad for the game? Absolutely

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