Originally published by The Sporting News web site. Link here.
Prior to Pete Rose’s being banned from major league baseball by Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti–as upheld by current Commissioner Rob Manfred Dec. 13–the last person to be ejected from the game for gambling was William Cox, president and owner of the Philadelphia Phillies, in 1943.
The accompanying saga, beyond the pain once again inflicted on Philadelphia sports fans, was a sure bet to keep the audience glued to the sports pages and radio broadcasts over the months it developed.
Cox was supposed to be the answer to the ownership problems the Phillies had suffered under Gerry Nugent, whose financial struggles kept the team in the National League basement and in debt.
A local lumber magnate, Cox bought the team in February 1943 from the National League, which had to take it over and assume its debts a few months before.
Barely six months later, rumors emerged that Cox was betting on Phillies games. The supposed informant was Bucky Harris, whom Cox had dumped as manager on July 27, though a more likely source was Harris’s outraged friends.
Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who had been hired as the first commissioner after several Chicago White Sox players were paid off by gamblers to throw the 1919 World Series, asked Cox about the rumors.
According to the November 25, 1943, Sporting News, the Phillies owner lied (see a parallel here?) and told Landis that a business associate had made the bets and that Cox had instructed him to stop. Under Landis’s persistent questioning, Cox finally admitted in early November that he had bet on the Phillies until May 20, when he learned (or so he claimed) that an owner was not allowed to bet on his own team.
With that evidence in hand, Landis informed Cox November 15 that he would schedule a hearing on December 4 to address the charges. Without acknowledging anything, Cox replied to Landis three days later and said that he would resign as Phillies president and sell his team. He also stated that in view of those actions, he saw no reason to attend what promised to be a public flogging.
The commissioner/judge was not accustomed to such a response to his invitations and promptly informed Cox that he would be banned from baseball immediately and permanently. The team was sold to the Carpenter family, part of the DuPonts, who would own the team until 1981.
Cox added drama to the proceedings by appearing on WOR radio station the night after Landis’s announcement for a farewell interview. “I made some small and sentimental bets before I learned of the rule against this,” he said. In closing, he said, “Good luck and goodbye to everyone in baseball.”
Just as quickly, Cox had a change of heart and asked to attend the December 4 hearing, to clear his name. Landis opened the hearing to sports writers, to record the spectacle.
As reported by the December 9, 1943 Sporting News, Cox claimed that his confession was actually part of a plan to expose a disloyal employee and presented three witnesses who supported his story.
His version was contradicted by Nathan Alexander, a longtime friend, who said that the charges were also aired at a Phillies team directors meeting, where Alexander had called on Cox to resign. Harris came forward this time and also testified against his former boss.
Cox’s attorney attempted to flatter Landis as an “eminent judge of vast experience on the federal bench,” but the irascible Tennessean cut him short. “Save your energy,” Landis said with a dismissive wave of his hand. He upheld his decision, citing not only Harris’s and Alexander’s testimony, but Cox’s own words over the radio.
With that, Cox was out, and held the “last person to be banished from baseball” for the next 46 years, until Rose assumed the dishonor in 1989. Manfred’s statement citing Rose’s dishonesty had the same effect as Landis’s shutdown of Cox’s attorney – a dismissive wave of the hand that leaves Rose banished to baseball’s sideline, in the same hall of shame occupied by William Cox and eight members of the Chicago White Sox.
John Carvalho is an associate professor of journalism at Auburn University, where he focuses on sports media history. He is the author of an upcoming biography of Ford Frick, commissioner of baseball from 1951-1965. He discusses sports media issues on Twitter at @John_P_Carvalho.