Last weekend, Pete Rose got a one-day reprieve from his lifetime ban from baseball so he could celebrate the 25-year anniversary of breaking the all-time hit record. It was a nice gesture from Major League Baseball, though too little, too late for a player punished cruelly. Rose got banned in 1989 for betting on baseball and is among a small group of players formally barred. Every so often, a ballplayer is informally shunned as well.
Here are four men who were never officially banished, but effectively may have been:
Mike Marshall: In March 1981, Jim Bouton issued a follow-up to his bestseller, Ball Four. In it, he wrote of his former Seattle Pilots teammate who had been released by the Twins at the end of the 1980 season and not yet picked up by another team. Bouton wrote:
Why would the Twins release a guy they still had to pay for two more years, who had won or saved 31 games for them as recently as 1978? And why hasn’t any other team signed this 39-year-old physical fitness expert who could probably pitch for another five years?
Well, because baseball hasn’t changed that much. Everybody but the Baseball Commissioner suspects the owners want to keep Marshall, a militant leader, out of the Player’s Association. His release keeps him off the very important joint study committee working on the question of free agent compensation. Also, Marshall has been heard to say that when Marvin Miller retires, he would like a shot at Marvin’s job. If there’s anyone the owners fear more than Marvin, it’s Mike.
Marshall finally found a team to sign him for 1981 on August 19, weeks after the strike that year ended. It doesn’t seem coincidental to me that Marshall was team-less before, which likely kept him out of strike negotiations. Despite going 3-2 with a 2.61 ERA for the New York Mets for the rest of the season, Marshall was released in October and gone from baseball.
Carl Furillo: In another baseball classic, The Boys of Summer, Roger Kahn detailed the lives of former Brooklyn Dodger greats, about a decade beyond their careers. Kahn located the former rightfielder installing elevator doors in the old World Trade Center, then under construction.
The Dodgers released Furillo at 38 in 1960, and he sued because he was injured at the time and the club refused to pay the balance of his contract, which violated its terms. While the legal matter was pending, Furillo wrote to 18 teams in the spring of 1961 offering to pinch-hit or play. No one signed him.
If one thinks of blacklist in terms of the old McCarthyism when the three television networks in concert refused to employ writers or actors with a so-called radical past, then Carl Furillo was not blacklisted. As far as anyone can learn, the owners of the eighteen major league clubs operating in 1961 did not collectively refuse to hire him. What they did was react in a patterned way. Here was one more old star who wanted to pinch-hit and coach. He could have qualified marginally, but once he sued, people in baseball’s conformist ambiance decided he was a ‘Bolshevik.’ Hiring him at thirty-nine was not worth the potential trouble. Walter O’Malley was no Borgia, plotting to bar Furillo from the game. Only Furillo’s decision to hire lawyers was at play. The existential result was identical.
Dave Kingman: I heard Susan Fornoff speak at a SABR meeting in Sacramento in July. Fornoff helped get female reporters admitted into locker rooms in the 1980s, and she said at the meeting that Kingman sent her a rat in the press box. The A’s released Kingman subsequently, he never played again in the majors, and he later sued Major League Baseball for collusion and got some money. Fornoff told us, “I think baseball can collude pretty easily.”
Rafael Palmeiro: Several players connected to steroids have seemingly been excised from the game, from Jose Canseco to Barry Bonds to Roger Clemens. Perhaps no one had as much left as Palmeiro, who played just seven games after an August 2005 suspension for a positive steroid test. Palmeiro hit .266 in 2005, was starting until the time of his suspension, and would have been 41 to start 2006. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to think he could have been a designated hitter for another year or two.