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Archive for the ‘Crime’ Category

As a pitcher, no one was more intimidating than Roger Clemens. The Rocket’s red glare and intense demeanor on the mound made him one of the most feared and hated opponents in all of baseball. At some points during his career, the hard throwing right hander had such a commanding presence that the at bats of opposing hitters seemed to be over before they even started. This afternoon, federal prosecutors found out that Clemens is just as formidable an adversary in the courtroom as on the field

Clemens and lawyer Rusty Hardin leave court after mistrial was declared.

No sooner than it started, Roger Clemens’ perjury trial came to an abrupt end when U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton declared a mistrial after the prosecution revealed inadmissible evidence to the jury. Like a nervous rookie stepping into the box against the seven-time Cy Young award winner, the prosecution’s first crack at Clemens ended up a disaster. However, it wasn’t the Rocket who fired the brush backs. That role was left to Judge Walton, who chided the government’s lawyers for making such a careless mistake.

I think a first-year law student would know you can’t bolster the credibility of a witness with clearly inadmissible evidence.” – Judge Reggie Walton, quoted by Les Carpenter, Yahoo Sports!, July 14, 2011

According to Yahoo! Sports reporter Les Carpenter (@Lescarpneter), who has been covering the trial on Twitter, in addition to the mistrial, Judge Walton stated that a hearing would be held to determine if Clemens could be prosecuted again. If he rules that doing so would subject Clemens to double jeopardy, the legendary pitcher will walk away scot-free.

After falling to convict Barry Bonds on perjury charges back in April, the government’s latest strike out is particularly embarrassing. Considering all the money spent, and questionable tactics used, federal prosecutors have managed to come out looking even worse than the alleged cheaters they have doggedly pursued. Sometimes justice really is blind.

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The first step to addressing a problem is admitting you have it. After a fourth major league baseball player was charged with DUI in the last month, it may be time for Bud Selig to stand up and say, “I am the commissioner of baseball, and my sport has an alcohol problem”.

Although the most high profile case, Miguel Cabrera is not alone among baseball players recently arrested for DUI.

Last night, A’s outfielder Coco Crisp was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving, only one week after Miguel Cabrera’s more publicized arrest on the same charge. Earlier in the winter, just before reporting to camp, Indians’ outfielder and former Yankee Austin Kearns as well as Mariners’ infielder Adam Kennedy were also cited for DUI.

Because of his status as a star player, Cabrera’s arrest was covered much more prominently, but the incidents involving Crisp, Kearns and Kennedy aren’t any less serious. What’s more, this isn’t a new problem. Although baseball players have generally managed to avoid making the same kinds of criminal headlines as their NFL and NBA brethren, DUI has been one area in which the sport has run afoul. Other high profile cases like Joba Chamberlain’s arrest in 2008 and Tony LaRussa’s incident in 2007 are further examples of a problem that is gradually getting out of control.

Baseball shouldn’t need a special reason to be vigilant regarding drunk driving. Still, you’d expect the sport to be particularly sensitive to the problem after suffering the April 9, 2009 tragedy that claimed the life of Angels’ pitcher Nick Adenhart. Although Adenhart wasn’t driving under the influence, his young life and promising career were ended by someone who was. As bad as the frequent arrests have been for baseball, nothing could be worse than an incident in which an active major league player tragically causes either his own death, or the death of others.

Alcohol has long been a problem in baseball. Many of the stories that we all enjoy about the old timers were usually fermented under its influence. Jim Bouton’s “Ball Four”, for example, is full of such examples of these colorful escapades. Of course, nowadays we know these kinds of stories aren’t really funny, especially because the modern ballplayer isn’t simply stumbling back to a hotel or causing havoc on a train. What makes baseball’s current predicament even more serious is players are taking the clubhouse culture of excessive drinking and bringing with them behind the wheel of a car. This winter alone, baseball has been lucky on four occasions that one of its players didn’t cause a tragedy. The sport can’t afford to wait until one finally occurs. (more…)

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(This is the third in a series on infamous or controversial historical figures who also had a notable association with baseball. For the first installment on John Dillinger, click here, and for the second installment on Billy Sunday, click here.)

Martin Bergen’s childhood dream was to play major league baseball, but soon after realizing that goal, his career and life ended in a nightmare. In what is likely the most heinous act ever committed by a major leaguer, the former catcher awoke on the morning of January 19, 1900 and brutally murdered his wife and children with an axe before cutting his own throat with a razor. Just a stone’s throw from where he had been born, Bergen, and his entire family, lay dead amid a gruesome scene that defied description.

Bergen was considered one of the best catchers in the game during his four years with the Beaneaters.

Bergen was born in North Brookfield, Massachusetts in 1871. Just five years later, professional baseball came within 60 miles of the town when the Boston Red Caps (today’s Atlanta Braves) were inaugurated as a charter member of the brand new National League. The proximity to the town and the game’s growing popularity in the region must have had an impact on the Bergen family because Marty and his younger brother Billy became absolutely enthralled by the sport.

Both brothers exhibited considerable aptitude for the game, so it wasn’t a surprise when Marty embarked on a professional career in 1892. The elder Bergen bounced around various leagues in New England before ending up playing for the Kansas City Blues of the Western League. In addition to being an outstanding defender, Bergen also exhibited impressive ability as a hitter, so not before too long, the now firmly established National League came calling.

In the 1890s, the Beaneaters emerged as of one of the National League’s best teams. In the first five years of the decade, they finished first or second in every season. After the 1893 season, however, the team lost star catcher Charlie Bennett to a train accident that resulted in the amputation of both his legs. Since the tragedy, the Beaneaters had been unable to find a suitable replacement, so the early reports about Bergen were very encouraging. After receiving a positive scouting report, the team reportedly paid over $1,000 to the Blues for the rights to Bergen. The only problem, however, was the suspicious catcher didn’t want to come. Instead of being excited about the chance to play for his hometown team, Bergen felted unfairly treated and insisted that he be compensated as well. Only after Beaneaters’ manager Frank Selee made personal assurances that he would be treated well did Bergen decide to return home.

Bergen was the Boston Beaneaters’ primary catcher from 1896 to 1899, a period during which the team won two additional pennants. Although his batting statistics never lived up to the advanced billing, he was widely considered to be the best defensive catcher in the game. Even the immortal Cap Anson referred to him as one of the game’s best backstops, and, in its May 29, 1898 “Current Baseball News” column, the New York Times concurred, calling Bergen the equal of Deacon McGuire and “a better man than Bennett was in his best days”.

While Robinson and Clarke of Baltimore are good catchers, old Ganzel and young Bergen of Boston can have my money.” – Cap Anson, The New York Sun, June 16, 1897

Despite enjoying a fine reputation as a player, Bergen was also widely regarded as somewhat strange. From his very first days in Boston, the talented catcher exhibited erratic behavior, which included unexplained absences, mood swings, and bouts of paranoia. Most in the organization and the media attributed his behavior to eccentricity, and looked the other way in favor of his great talent…an early day version of “Marty being Marty”. So, despite the numerous trade rumors that swirled around him, the Beaneaters were never really tempted to part with their elite backstop.

During the 1898 season, Bergen’s worst tendencies offered an early glimpse at his potential for violence. First, in the middle of the season, the catcher struck rookie pitcher and future Hall of Famer Vic Willis in the head during breakfast. Then, after an altercation on the bench toward the end of the season, the catcher expressed the desire to bludgeon some of his teammates with a bat. It was hardly the reaction you’d expect from a sane man…even one still angered by a fight. After the incident, the whispers about Bergen’s mental state grew louder. However, the Beaneaters won their second consecutive pennant in 1898, so even these drastic incidents were overlooked.

The 1899 Boston Beaneaters

When the 1899 season rolled around, the growing divide between Bergen and his teammates had not abated. As a result, Bergen’s feelings of paranoia were exacerbated, and his behavior became even more erratic. Then, when his son Willie died of diphtheria at the start of the season, and he missed the funeral because he was on the road, Bergen’s demeanor became even more morose.

Finally, in July, everything came to a head while the team was traveling from Boston to Cincinnati. Earlier in the month, the weary catcher had requested a leave of absence from Selee, but was turned down. So, when the train came to a stop in Washington D.C., Bergen simply hopped off.

Despite pleas from club president Arthur Soden and demands from manager Selee to immediately rejoin the club, Bergen remained on his North Brookfield farm until the team returned to Boston on August 4. In the interim, the weary catcher gave a scathing interview to former Beaneaters’ player and current Boston Globe sportswriter Tim Murnane. In the exchange, Bergen talked about being mistreated by his teammates and threatened with fines by Selee whenever he would request time off.  

Upon the team’s return to Boston, the desperate Beaneaters immediately placed Bergen back into the lineup, and, to everyone’s surprise, the hometown crowd greeted him like a conquering hero. When Bergen knocked in the game winning run, the cheers were even wilder. Apparently, Bergen’s interview had won the sympathy of the crowd. Needless to say, his teammates were not impressed.

Catcher Bergen got out of a row with the Boston players by claiming that Tim Murnane ‘incorrectly’ quoted him.  That’s an old dodge, resorted to by all shades of men when reflection brings  for things that had better be left unsaid. But will Murnane stand for being made out a prevaricator and news fakir?” – Deseret Evening News, August 23, 1899

In order to avert a strike by the rest of the team, Bergen claimed that he was misquoted, but the writing was already the wall. Over the final months of the season, there would be more unexplained absences, louder whispers from disgruntled teammates and increasing examples of bizarre behavior. Finally, in October, Bergen suffered from a mental breakdown during a game. According to reports at the time, the troubled catcher feared that someone was trying to stab him as each pitch was thrown, causing him to move out of the way after each delivery. After numerous passed balls, Bergen was lifted from the game and then derided by the Boston press.

After the crazy events of 1899, there was little doubt that Bergen would be traded. The Cincinnati Reds were rumored to be in hot pursuit that December, but no deal had been reached as of January 19. According to the press accounts, Bergen awoke before dawn on that fateful morning and committed the three grizzly murders. In what can only be assumed was a psychotic stupor, Bergen struck down his wife Hattie and three-year old son Joseph with the forceful blows of an axe before cutting the throat of his six year old daughter Florence and then doing the same to himself. When Bergen’s father Michael discovered the bodies that afternoon, the house was covered with blood. Before much longer, the newspapers were filled with ink.

Unlike many other incidents of extreme violence, everyone who had known Bergen didn’t seem that surprised. “Tragedy Explains All” blared The Boston Globe’s banner. The signs of impending tragedy were everywhere. Bergen knew it; his family knew it; and his teammates knew it. For some reason, however, no one was able to do anything about it.

Almost the entire town of North Brookfield bid farewell to the Bergen family at the funeral on January 21, but only one teammate, Billy Hamilton, attended. In a sad touch of irony, Bergen’s feelings of abandonment by his teammates, which in life were born of paranoia, were finally confirmed by his death.  

At the time of the tragedy, Marty’s brother Bill Bergen was on the verge of making it to the majors. Although he spent 11 years playing for the Cincinnati Reds and Brooklyn Superbas, one wonders if Billy would have traded it all in for just one more game with his older brother?

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Tragedy Touches Baseball World

The senseless violence in Tuscon, Arizon that claimed six lives and sent shockwaves throughout the nation’s political system has also exacted a painful toll on major league baseball. According to now confirmed reports, Christina-Taylor Green, the nine year-old girl killed during yesterday’s horrific tragedy, was the daughter of Dodgers’ scout John Green and granddaughter of Phillies’ executive advisor and former manager Dallas Green.

The Phillies organization expresses our heartfelt condolences to Dallas and Sylvia and the entire Green family on the senseless, tragic loss of Christina’s life. She was a talented young girl with a bright promising future. Her untimely death weighs heavily on our hearts. Our thoughts and prayers are with all the families affected by yesterday’s horrific shooting.” Phillies team president David Montgomery, quoted in an official team statement

“We lost a member of the Dodgers family today. The entire Dodgers organization is mourning the death of John’s daughter Christina, and will do everything we can to support John, his wife, Roxanna, and their son, Dallas, in the aftermath of this senseless tragedy. I spoke with John earlier today and expressed condolences on behalf of the entire Dodgers organization.” – Dodgers Owner Frank McCourt, quoted on MLB.com

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The United States government illegally violated the privacy rights of 104 major league baseball players who tested positive for performance enhancing drugs during a survey period in 2003, according to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in San Francisco.

The government’s illegal seizure of steroid testing results led to Arod’s eventual admission.

The courts decision was a reaffirmation of an earlier judicial rebuke, but it will undoubtedly come as a small consolation to those players whose names have already been leaked. Regardless of how one feels about players who took PEDs, the government’s reprehensible conduct in seizing the information as well as its irresponsibility in leaking it are by far the much bigger crime.

Although the government will no longer be able to use the list as the basis for further investigations, damage has already been done to players like Alex Rodriguez, whose name was reportedly on the list. After all, the backbone of the allegations against Arod was the illegally obtained list, so had the government not acted outside the bounds of the law, the Yankees’ third baseman would not have been exposed to the scrutiny that eventually led to his admission.

I am sure most people have no sympathy for Rodriguez, or any other player ensnared because of the government’s illegal search and seizure, but that doesn’t change the fact that their rights were violated. If not for the negative public response, players like Rodriguez would be wise to consider suing the federal government for the damages its illegal actions caused. That’s unlikely to happen, but at the very least, hopefully this decision will force federal prosecutors to not only pull in the reigns, but perhaps turn their attention to the more concerning leaks emanating from their ranks. After all, breaking the law and violating the rights of citizens is not worth uncovering PED use among athletes. Perhaps in light of the recent Wikileaks scandal, the federal government now has a better understanding of this principal.

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(This is the beginning of a series on infamous or controversial historical figures who also had a notable association with baseball. In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this series is also being syndicated at TheYankeeU.)

When the notorious bandit Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed banks, legend has it that he matter-of-factly replied, “It’s where the money is”. When Cliff Lee eventually signs his mega free agent contract, his motivation will likely be the same, but when it comes to money, baseball players aren’t always as honest as bank robbers. Just ask John Dillinger. He tried his hand in both professions.

Dillinger was gunned down outside the Biograph theatre in Chicago.

On July 22, 1934, the Yankees swept a doubleheader from the White Sox at Comiskey Park. In the first game, Babe Ruth pushed aside father time and an injured leg to knock in four runs and belt homerun number 702, one of his last in pinstripes. Meanwhile, over on the North side of town, the nation’s public enemy number one had decided to take in a movie at Chicago’s Biograph theatre. Unfortunately for Dillinger, as he and two female companions (his girlfriend and Anna Sage, the infamous “lady in red” who betrayed him) watched Clark Gable in Manhattan Melodrama, the FBI was waiting in ambush. Only moments after leaving the theatre, Dillinger was shot at least twice, including once in the chest and once in the back of the head. No longer the most wanted man in America, Dillinger’s lifeless body now laid face down in the street amid a pool of his own blood. Perhaps he should have gone to the baseball game instead?

John Dillinger has taken up baseball as a pastime to while away the hours spent in eluding the law enforcement agents of the nation”. – UPI, June 28, 1934

The idea of Dillinger attending the White Sox vs. Yankees doubleheader isn’t far fetched at all. During his time in Chicago, Dillinger was believed to have attended several baseball games, including a contest between the Cubs and Dodgers at Wrigley Field on June 26, 1933. According to eye-witness Robert Volk, Dillinger took a seat beside him in at the top of the bleachers before departing during the seventh inning stretch.  

Dillinger depicted in a baseball card created by Dave Stewart, a Vietnam veteran who created several picture card sets to raise money for disabled American veterans.

Anyone who had known Dillinger in his youth would likely not have been surprised that he had risked capture to take in a major league game. After all, aside from crime, baseball was perhaps Dillinger’s greatest passion.

At various stages of his life, Dillinger not only played the game, but did so with notable accomplishment. His first known exploits were as a member of a local club in Mooresville, Indiana, the farming town where Dillinger’s family relocated. Part of the motivation for the move was the senior Dillinger’s attempt to get Johnnie, as he was known as a boy, to settle down and turn away from the life of petty crime that had dogged him in Indianapolis. Unfortunately for his father, Dillinger’s success as a second baseman and pitcher for the local team did little to curb his deviant behavior.

Dillinger eventually joined and then deserted the Navy in 1923 before settling in Martinsville, Indiana and eventually getting married on April 12, 1924, just in time for the start of the baseball season. According to Elliott J. Gorn, author of Dillinger’s Wild Ride, the future bank robber was “good enough to pitch and play shortstop on a Martinsville semiprofessional team”. Even if Dillinger wasn’t really pro-material, he was certainly good enough to earn some extra cash playing ball. In fact, he even earned a $25 bonus from a local furniture store for being the best hitter on the Martinsville team. Unfortunately, when the season ended in August, Dillinger had little prospects for a job and no means to replace the income he had been receiving from playing baseball.

Dillinger (top row, far right) pictured with his teammates on the Martinsville, IN semi-pro baseball team.

Even in his early days as a youth in Indianapolis, Dillinger was predisposed toward the wrong side of the law, but it wasn’t until meeting William Edgar Singleton (a distant relative of his step mother and umpire in the league in which he played) that his life turned down the path that would lead him to his demise outside the Biograph.

Like Dillinger, Singleton was a petty criminal who was in need of some quick cash. According to most accounts, the older Singleton recruited Dillinger to assist in a stick up. The target was Frank Morgan, an elderly grocer who was known to carry the day’s receipts with him after closing up the shop. So, on September 6, the plan was hatched. During the attempted assault, however, Morgan managed to fight off Dillinger, discharging the latter’s gun in the process. Scared away by the shot, Dillinger fled on foot while Singleton sped off alone in the getaway car.

Because of his odd behavior following the botched robbery, suspicion was immediately cast upon Dillinger, who, taking his father’s advice, immediately confessed to the crime with the hope of receiving leniency. There was none forthcoming. Dillinger was sentenced to 10-20 years in the Indiana State Reformatory. Meanwhile, Singleton, now being called the “accomplice”, was convicted of a lesser crime and only served two years.

For the first time, baseball had steered Dillinger wrong. To that point, it had been a stabilizing force in his life, but now, thanks to the influence of Singleton, it proved to be his downfall. While in prison, however, Dillinger didn’t turn away from the game. In his attempt to be a model prisoner and earn an early release, Dillinger participated in several prison activities, but it was baseball that proved to be his greatest solace, especially after his wife served him with a divorce five years into his sentence.

On the day before his first parole hearing, Dillinger played in a prison baseball game in front of Indiana Governor Harry Leslie, one of the men who would preside over his fate the next day. According to John Toland, author of The Dillinger Days, the convict played so well in the game that the governor told an Indianapolis reporter, “That kid ought to be playing major league ball”. The rest of the parole board apparently did not agree. His parole was denied.

One of Dillinger's many mugshots.

This is the point where most historians believe Dillinger, whose bitterness over the unfairness of his sentence was now compounded by the denial for parole, crossed over the edge. However, despite his shock over the decision, baseball still wasn’t far from his mind. When asked if he had anything to say before returning to prison, Dillinger requested a transfer to the Michigan City State Penitentiary. Confused by the odd preference for a tougher prison, a trustee on the board asked why. “I want to go up there and play baseball. They have a real team,” Dillinger replied, according to Toland’s book. With prodding from Governor Leslie, Dillinger’s request was granted.

Well, baseball season is nearly here but I don’t care to try for the team here although I love to play, if I hadn’t played on the team at the reformatory, I don’t think I would have been sent up here; and I’m sure I would have made a parole there this Winter, so you can see why I am not so enthusiastic about making this team”. – John Dillinger, in a letter home from the Spring of 1930, from The Dillinger Days by John Toland

Life at the state penitentiary wasn’t what Dillinger expected, and he soon came to regret his decision, even going so far as to convince himself the denial of his parole and subsequent transfer were really motivated by the board’s desire to have him play shortstop for Michigan City. When baseball stopped being his favorite prison pastime, it was replaced by the lessons in a criminal lifestyle being offered by fellow inmates like Russell Clark, Harry Pierpont and Homer Van Meter, all of whom would eventually join Dillinger’s notorious gang. Any fanciful notions about playing profession baseball were now replaced by plans for a future of robbing banks, but Dillinger still needed to be released from prison to put his new ambitions into action. The opportunity finally came on May 10, 1933, when he was granted parole.

Public Enemy #1.

Almost immediately upon being released, Dillinger returned to a life a crime, adding bank robbery to his already lengthy rap sheet. Once again, however, he was quickly captured and pled guilty to the charges. While awaiting extradition to the Ohio state penitentiary in Columbus, Dillinger penned a letter to his niece, with whom he had developed a strong bond, and expressed as one of his regrets his inability to drive to Washington and New York to attend the World Series being played by the Senators and Giants.

Dillinger never made it to Columbus. On October 12, his fledgling gang was successful in breaking him out of prison, setting in motion a crime spree that included dozens of bank robberies and nearly as many murders. Unfortunately for Dillinger, however, the escape didn’t happen until five days after the Giants bested the Senators in the World Series.

Who knows…if not for Dillinger’s ill fated decision to rob a grocery store, one of the most notorious criminals in the nation’s history might have been better known for his contributions to the national pastime? Instead of robbing banks, he could have been stealing bases. Instead of knocking over police stations, he could have been knocking balls out of the park. Instead of gunning down law enforcement agents, he could have been throwing out base runners from the shortstop hole. It’s probably a leap to suggest that baseball could have been Dillinger’s salvation, but it does seem to be the only influence that could have steered him away from a life a crime. However, in an ironic twist, baseball actually helped lead him down his ill-fated path…one in which sliding into home was replaced by laying in a pool of blood on the corner of Fullerton Street and Lincoln Avenue.

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