1877 Louisville Grays Baseball Betting Scandal: The Story BehindStories
Are you a baseball fan? Have you ever heard about the Louisville Grays? If the answer is no, this doesn’t mean that you are not a true baseball fan because this team was established in 1876 and played just two seasons. However, even after almost 150 years, this former member of the National League is still attractive, at least for those analyzing betting scandals. By the way, this is not the only well-known US sports scandal. From 1978 to 1979 the Boston College basketball point-shaving scandal also made headlines in media.
Of course, we are talking about the infamous 1877 Louisville Grays scandal, one of the biggest match-fixing events in the 19th century. That’s right, even in those days, some people were more interested in making money illegally than participating in regular sports and betting activities.
This Louisville baseball cheating event may have brought disgrace upon the team. Still, it has helped baseball as a sport because fans, players, and authorities became aware of the possibility of illegal activities in this sport. Now let’s learn more about this incident that involved four Louisville Grays players.
What led to the scandal?
Modern readers may not be aware of this. Still, even in the 19th-century, people have witnessed foul play in baseball (and other sports). It seems that once one sport or team has become popular, the criminals start making plans for how to take advantage of that popularity. So, there were many cases when fans believed that players received money to secretly play against their own squads, but no one could prove that. This scandal, on the other hand, was concluded with serious, undisputed evidence.
Needless to say, one of the main reasons for that was the popularity of gambling. This activity was becoming more available and famous in the United States. In fact, William Hubert, a famous American businessman, decided to create the National League in 1876 to prevent fraudulent matches. So, like many other people, Hubert has witnessed the rise of match-fixing cases in the early 1870s. Yet, even in the first year of the National League, there were matches with scores that didn’t add up. These unexpected problems for the National League culminated in 1877 with the Louisville baseball cheating scandal and the banning of the players involved in the process.
The players behind the match-fixing scandal
The criminals in sports cheating scandals are always looking for weak links. It may be challenging to do this in a team sport, but not impossible. This time they were targeting four players that they’ve found “suitable” for bribes.
First, we have Jim Devlin. He was a professional baseball player for over three years. He played in a Major League Baseball team since 1873 and joined the Louisville Grays as a pitcher in 1876. During his first season at this club, his win-loss record was 30-35, a solid record.
Additionally, Devlin had earned a run average of 1.56. Finally, we should mention that he was some sort of MVP in 1876, being the most successful player when it comes to strikeouts, inning pitched, and complete games. 1877 started successfully for this pitcher with 35-25 and an earned run average of 2.25. He was also the leader in innings pitches and completed games again. It’s also good to know that he was part of the starting team (and the finishing team) in all 61 games for the Louisville Grays.
Next, there was George Hall. He was another successful player who was 28 at the time of the scandal. Before the Louisville Grays, he played for a few other teams, including the Washington Olympians, Baltimore Canaries, and the Boston Red Stockings (National Association teams). He used the opportunity to play for the newly formed National League in 1876 by joining the Athletic of Philadelphia. However, the Athletics were not very successful that season. On the other hand, Hall was among the best players (he was the first player to score two home runs in a single match, for instance).
Due to the poor results, the Philadelphian team was forced to leave the league, and George Hall joined the Louisville Grays. This was an excellent season for Hall again. He hit .323, hit eight triples, and scored 51 runs.
William H. Craver (Bill Craver) was the third baseball player contributing to match-fixing. He played on two positions in his career – a catcher and a middle infielder. Bill started his journey in the world of professional baseball players in 1871 when William joined the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players. Like Hall, he switched a few teams before joining the Louisville Grays (Troy Haymakers, Baltimore Canaries, Philadelphia White Stockings, New York Mutuals, etc.).
Interestingly, there were rumors that Bill Craver was beaten by a gambler for not fulfilling his request despite his promise in 1876. So, he was not unfamiliar with match fixing, and this illegal activity of his culminated in 1877.
Alfred Henry Nichols (Al Nichols) was the last player involved in the Louisville baseball cheating scandal. He was an Englishman who played in the English Major League Baseball for three seasons before moving to the United States. He was the third baseman most of the time, although he fitted well in a few different roles.
First, he joined the Brooklyn Athletics in 1875. After that, he played for the New York Mutuals, where he met Craver. Unlike the rest of the infamous players, Nichols was not known as an outstanding player. He had an average score. This means that the current form of each player didn’t play a significant role in their decision to get involved in criminal activities. Like the rest of these players, playing for Louisville in 1877 was the last time this baseball player was active. This is not a surprise because all of them were banned.
What really happened?
So, what was the 1877 Louisville Grays baseball betting scandal all about? It all started during august when the Grays were the leaders in the league with four games advantage over St. Louis. They had 27 wins and just 13 losses. There were around 20 games left before the season ended. So, it was almost impossible for this team to lose the leading position. It looks like the four abovementioned players have decided to use that “almost impossible” scenario for match-fixing.
So, the team faced a series of losses and one tie starting from August. They had nine winless matches, to be more precise. Of course, the players were wise, and they didn’t want to draw suspicion and made extra effort to help the squad win some of the remaining matches. As a matter of fact, they’ve won six out of seven games before the season’s end. Yet, Boston became a champion while the Louisville Grays were second.
Both fans and the team’s management didn’t believe that there was foul play involved. Still, the club president (Charles Chase) started getting telegrams about a potential problem involving suspicious gambling activities as early as September. That’s why he conducted an investigation, and Hall and Devlin admitted that they’ve thrown more than one exhibition game to get extra money. They’ve won up to one hundred dollars per match. Of course, these figures meant much more back then.
Chase asked the team to provide the telegrams at the beginning of October. All players except Craver did that, which made him an obvious conspirator in the Louisville baseball scandal. The telegrams confirmed that Nichols was part of the scheme too. None of the players were arguing against the accusations. All four players were expelled from the Louisville Grays by the end of October. A few days later, they were expelled from the National League.
This scandal was so powerful that it made the team’s management terminate their presence in the National League. In other words, the Louisville Grays ceased to exist, and 1877 was their last season. The authorities have become more aware of these illegal activities. Many players were monitored closely for their performance and relationships with gamblers. As a result, sports betting scandals in the United States of America became rare for at least a few years.
Nichols, Hall, Devlin, and Craver didn’t get a chance to play professional baseball again. They were forced to look for other jobs despite being talented players. Only Nichols continued his baseball career, but this time as a semi-professional player. Additionally, he worked as a shipping inspector and clerk.
It’s good to know that Craver started working as a police offer (hopefully not a crooked one). Even though all players were asking for reinstatement, Devlin was especially persistent. He talked publicly about this and literally begged to play again, but his pleas were rejected every time. That’s why he became a police officer in Philadelphia. There’s not much information about the fate of George Hall out there. According to some sources, he kept playing baseball for non-league teams. Also, some say that he worked as a steel engraver. What’s known for sure is that he died at the age of 74 in New York.