Betting against one’s team is the cardinal sin in baseball. Chicago Cubs outfielder Lee Magee found that out on this day in 1920, when he was released after he admitting to betting against the Cincinnati Reds while playing for them.
Gambling and baseball were fairly inseparable in the early days of the game. Despite attempts to remove that element, gamblers and baseball players would continue to consort, until the time that betting on the game became grounds for a lifetime banishment from the sport. And yet, players would persist in wagering on the game, at least until the Chicago Black Sox scandal made gambling the cardinal sin in baseball.
However, before that time, Major League Baseball had a warmup act to get ready for the impending storm. Chicago Cubs outfielder Lee Magee, fearing that his attempts to throw a game would catch up to him, admitted to team president William Veeck and National League president John Heydler that he had attempted to throw a game.
Heydler had already begun an investigation of his own into the matter. Back in 1918, Magee and Hal Chase had approached a gambler in Boston, putting up $500 each as a down payment for a portion of his winnings when they would lose to the Braves. Magee did his part, making two key errors and barely running around the bases. However, the Reds won 4-2 in the 13th inning, as Magee himself was forced to score the winning run. Fearing that he had been double crossed by Chase, he stopped payment on the check. This ruined his relationship in the clubhouse, leading to a trade to the Dodgers. When Magee and the Dodgers returned to Boston in 1919, that gambler served him with papers for non-payment of a debt, sparking the investigation.
Given that background, and how Magee simply could not be trusted, the Cubs made their decision to cut him loose. And so, on this day in 1920, the axe fell, as Magee was let go, ending his baseball career. He had been approximately league average with the bat when he played, posting a career .276/.325/.350 batting line, although his baserunning and fielding were questionable at best. Yet, at 30 years old, he likely would have had a few years left in his Major League career.
Magee felt the same way. He would sue the Cubs for his $4500 salary in 1920, claiming that his livelihood was destroyed because of the sudden termination of his contract. A litany of baseball officials, reporters, and former teammates testified against Magee, leading to his case being dismissed in June.
That attempt to get his salary actually had unintended consequences. While the suit was between Magee and the Cubs, Hal Chase fell under the spotlight for his role in the proceedings. Chase would later come under fire three months later for his role in the Black Sox scandal, the final act in a list of gambling incidents dating back to 1910. Although he left the Majors by that time, Chase would end up being banned for life.
Gambling and throwing a game is the most unforgivable crime in the game. Lee Magee learned that lesson the hard way on this day in 1920, when he was released by the Chicago Cubs.