If anything has defined the baseball rule book and the authority of the Commissioner’s office, it’s the Black Sox scandal; essentially every legal discussion going back to the anti-trust exemption originates with the league taking authority of the game into its own hands, with one of the lone exceptions of government interference being the Mitchell Report and the BALCO scandal.
But in terms of betting, baseball institutes wide authority to ban any player—and yes, even owner—for performing conduct contrary to the game’s best interests. We know the Black Sox players who were banned, but the owner precedent was set a little later, in 1943, when Phillies owner William D. Cox was forced to sell his team to his minority partner for making “approximately 15 or 20 bets” of $25 to $100 for the Phillies to win.
In the MLB Constitution the language is very explicit and broad:
“In the case of conduct by Major League Clubs, owners, officer, employees or players that is deemed by the Commissioner not to be in the best interests of Baseball, punitive action by the Commissioner for each offense may include any one or more of the following: (a) a reprimand; (b) deprivation of a Major League Club of representation in Major League Meetings; (c) suspension or removal of any owner, officer or employee of a Major League Club; (d) temporary or permanent ineligibility of a player; (e) a fine, not to exceed $2,000,000 in the case of a Major League Club, not to exceed $500,000 in the case of an owner, officer or employee, and in an amount consistent with the then-current Basic Agreement with Major League Baseball Players Association, in the case of a player; (f) loss of the benefit of any and all of the Major League Rules, including but not limited to the denial or transfer of player selection rights provided by Major League Rules 4 and 5; and (g) such other actions as the Commissioner may deem appropriate.”
One arena where this rule was applied that can be applied to the example I will later lay out is Marge Schott, former owner of the Reds. Schott is most infamous for making essentially every racist and Nazi-apologist comment in the book, ranging from calling her players the “million dollar n-word,” making favorable comments about Adolf Hitler, describing Jews as “sneaky,” and doing racist impersonations of the Japanese prime minister.
Schott wasn’t banned, although the rule is to point out that she could have been; instead she was slowly forced out. A four-man committee banned her from baseball operations in 1993, and with another suspension looming, she sold her shares and left.
This time around, there is now clear precedent to both take action a la Schott, and take further action a la Donald Sterling, where the NBA had similar rules on removal and Adam Silver forced a sale of the Clippers.
Yesterday, patriarch of the Chicago Cubs-owning Ricketts family, Joe Ricketts, was revealed to have a trove of deeply offensive and racist email chains. This is already on the heels of Ricketts shuttering DNAInfo in response to their unionization efforts, as well as dropping $650,000 on pro-Brett Kavanaugh advertisements during his confirmation hearing.
These emails are not for the faint of heart. In them are fantastical conspiracy theories, racist jokes and rants, and paranoia (nearly) unparalleled for a man as powerful as the former chairman of TD Ameritrade. Well, here are just a few snippets:
- “Muslims are naturally my (our) enemy due to their deep antagonism and bias against non-Muslims.”
- “Have any interest in this..?” in response to an email chain asserting that Barack Obama was a drug mule and gay sex worker.
- “I [sic] tired of Political Correct, Multicultural and Diversity aspects of our culture.”
- Responds “great laugh” to a joke about making an agreement not to call your black, Southern wife the n-word.
There is a lot more. I think everyone out there knows an uncle or parent or relative who has shared this stuff, or at least is sympathetic to the email chain craziness, but this guy is a multi-billionaire who engages in the day-to-day operations of the Chicago Cubs, an organization that claims to be understanding of inclusivity, like when they had a Pride Day at Wrigley despite still trading for and justifying Daniel Murphy’s presence at said event.
Tom Joe Ricketts, the actual chairman of the Cubs, responded with this statement:
“I deeply regret and apologize for some of the exchanges I had in my emails... Sometimes I received emails that I should have condemned. Other times I’ve said things that don’t reflect my value system. I strongly believe that bigoted ideas are wrong.”
Tom Ricketts, son of Joe and actual chairman of the Cubs, also issued a rebuttal of his father’s words:
“We are aware of the racially insensitive emails in my father’s account that were published by an online media outlet. Let me be clear: the language and views expressed in those emails have no place in our society. My father is not involved with the operation of the Chicago Cubs in any way. I am trusted with representing this organization and our fans with a respect for people from all backgrounds. These emails do not reflect the culture we’ve worked so hard to build at the Chicago Cubs since 2009.”
And in the emails you can tell they somewhat tried to push back, like when son Joe told him to “go to www.snopes.com,” but Joe promptly responded with, “Thanks Peter. However, I think Islam is a cult and not a religion.” There’s no fact-checking hatred, people.
As a league there should be no contradictions here. If they want to uphold the pillar of Jackie Robinson’s legacy or whatever that is, they should immediately form a committee to investigate the Ricketts and, in particular, Joe’s bigotry and their family’s relative complicity with that.
What involvement does he have in day-to-day operations? Have there been people working in the organization or their orbit that have discrimination claims because of his words or actions? These are the kind of things the league should be worried about, a million times more than, say, pace of play nonsense. The game’s strength is rooted in its diversity and inclusivity so they can grow ranks and provide a fun and communal space, so when you read this from fans...
...the league should rightfully be scared witless. If people of color cannot feel safe in their home ballpark because of the owner and their family, just like someone may not have felt comfortable seeing the Reds with Schott at the helm, it’s well within the league’s rights to take swift and aggressive action. Whether that is banning Joe Ricketts from participation in baseball operations or forcing a sale, they should do whatever it takes to root out bigotry where it takes hold.
Correction: Originally it was stated that Tom Ricketts issued an apology and those were in fact Joe Ricketts’ words; Tom’s comment has also been appended.