Baseball embarrassments come in a veritable rainbow of shades, or something along the lines of the Houston Astros uniforms of the 1980s.
To start, you have your garden-variety, one-moment-in-time blooper play: Jose Canseco hitting a ball over the wall, in right field, with his head. Tommy John making three errors on one ground ball back to the box. Larry Walker giving the baseball to a kid in the stands after what he erroneously thought was the third out. Junior Felix playing the outfield at any moment.
Then you have your embarrassments of historic propositions, the errors and gaffes that live in infamy. Mickey Owen dropping a third strike. Bill Buckner doing the wicket thing in 1986. Fred Merkle getting lost on the base paths. Tommy Lasorda pitching to Jack Clark in 1985. A coatless Bowie Kuhn sitting in the cold of a night World Series game. The Mets trading Nolan Ryan. The Cubs trading Lou Brock. Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson trading wives.
You also have your what-were-they-thinking embarrassments, the flubs that have become synonymous with failure. The Baseball Network. Movie ads on the bases. The Cubs' College of Coaches. Roseanne Barr.
But here we're interested only in what's at the far end of the embarrassment spectrum, the serious stuff that left a stain on the game that cannot be cleansed. So forget for the moment two Yankees runners being tagged out at home on the same throw. Forget Enzo Hernandez and Mario Mendoza and Anthony Young. Forget the 1973 Padres and their uniforms. What follows here is the toxic stuff we wish we could forget but can't. The stuff that reminds us just how great an institution baseball is, for it has survived these 10 most embarrassing moments.
1. Commissioner Kenesaw Landis in 1942 announces there is no policy, official or otherwise, barring blacks from baseball.
Landis, who would be dead in two years, claimed, "There is no rule, formal or informal, or any understanding -- unwritten, subterranean or sub-anything -- against the hiring of Negro players by the teams of organized baseball.'' He added, "Negroes are not barred from organized baseball ... and never have been in the 21 years I have served.''
No black player would be welcome for another five years, when Jackie Robinson arrived with the support of Dodgers GM Branch Rickey and commissioner Happy Chandler. Bill Veeck had intended to buy the Phillies in 1943 and stock his roster with stars from the Negro leagues, but NL president Ford Frick and Landis made sure Veeck didn't get the team. (It went to William Cox, who was later banned for life for betting on baseball.)
The systematic exclusion of blacks, dating from the late 1880s to 1947, is the game's greatest disgrace, and it was abetted by Landis.
2. The 1919 Black Sox
You can argue that White Sox owner Charlie Comiskey paid his players unfairly, leaving them vulnerable to the financial temptations of big-time gamblers at a time when the game was all too familiar with gambling. You can argue that Comiskey knew or suspected the fix was in while his Sox were playing the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series. You can argue that Joe Jackson hit well in the series and that Buck Weaver, who also played well and took no money in the fix, was railroaded out of the game simply because he did not turn in his teammates to authorities. You can argue that the White Sox players Landis later barred from the game for life were rubes when matched against the likes of Comiskey, cunning gamblers such as Arnold Rothstein and federal investigators.
All true. But the bottom line is that a group of White Sox players, led by Chick Gandil, initiated the idea that they could throw the World Series for financial gain. Nothing before or since so threatened the core integrity of the game: that the outcome of all games, especially the World Series, are decided entirely on the merit of honest effort.