The two most distinct times the game of professional baseball has had its integrity challenged came several years after each other. It is not to say that there were not other times- before, between, and after- that have worried the game's purists over whether baseball would ever be the same. From the earliest of professional baseball times, other professional baseball leagues have popped up, both challenging the status of the "major leagues" and giving players the free market of choosing which professional baseball league best suited their personal needs. In addition to potentially making more money, players that jumped to the American Association (1882-1891), the Players League (1890), the Federal League (1914-1915) and even the Pacific Coast League and Mexican Leagues of the 1940's and 1950's, could consider playing in locations closer to home and had a choice over which owner, executive or manager they could choose to play for.
It is fair to say that gambling in sports is as prevalent today as it was in the early part of the twentieth century. It is also a fact that many more athletes than should be are involved in gambling on sports in different integrals. However, the difference between athletes gambling now and the gambling that went on in the early 1900's is the fact that athletes are mostly all better off now than they were then. In fact, any athlete that is playing in a major league professional sport (baseball, football, basketball, hockey) makes a minimum salary at least more than four times what the average successful American brings home ($400,000 to $100,000).
The thought of any professional sporting event not being "on a level" is frightening. It is a direct threat of the integrity of that sport and fans of said sport would not be expected to give their full trust in the event that the competitiveness is questioned even a little bit. For a good part of the 20th century, baseball players were not compensated fairly in comparison to many other jobs. Players would often have to work a second job during the off season simply to make ends meet. Owners were extremely greedy, which led to simple things such as road living conditions, eating expenses and even not paying for the laundering of players' uniforms being points of contention.
Gamblers played the key role of the swarming birds that smelled the blood of the proverbial corpse on the baseball field in the early 1900's. Baseball players were not being compensated properly and it was leading to dysfunction between the players and the owners. The gamblers were well aware of this. Common proposals that would be made to throw baseball games gave the players involved the ability to earn more money than they would have with their basic salary. Even the most well intended of players were faced with a dilemma, to barely be able to support their families with a below entry level salary and still have to work in the off season, or to take the gamblers money and compromise the integrity of the game they spent their live trying to grow and love.
From the outside, conventional wisdom would lead many to make the correct decision. But to many who had to deal with the negativities of poor compensation, especially those with an addictive personality, a fair case could be made to those who chose to bet on the game they represented. In addition to the infamous "Black Sox scandal," there were many other examples, mostly before 1919, that players took money to throw baseball games so the gamblers could cash in. A legit comparison can be made to another dark era that most of us have had the chance to experience and see.
Whether the "steroids era" is over or not is something that nobody will ever know for sure. Odds are, it is not over, but evidence shows that a considerably less percentage of players are using than were during the time of the 1980's to the early part of the 2000's. During the height of this so called era, players were facing a similar dilemma from the ones that were being pursued by the gamblers during the first part of the twentieth century. Because steroids were so prevalent during that time, players had to choose whether to dishonor their game or risk losing an attempt to make a great salary in the major leagues at the expense of the steroids user. Of course, salaries in major league baseball have skyrocketed, but it has been proven that players cannot live on a minor league salary for a long period of time. It was pretty similar to what the players were dealing with when forced to choose between honoring their game and gamblers.
From the outside, it makes sense to vilify those who dishonored their game by betting and using steroids. In both cases, there was fault that existed that could not be attributed to the players. The early 20th century owners and players who regularly used steroids put these other players in a predicament. Many made the correct decision, which led to losing out on opportunities and a lesser quality of life. Many also choose the latter and had to deal with the consequences of being either banned for life or blackballed by the baseball community. This piece will close with a simple question, which choice should be looked at as worse? Was it those who chose to throw a game or was it those who chose to dishonor the all time numbers of baseball?