Baseball Commissioner Suspends Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays for Casino Ties Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Motivated by a desire to distance Major League Baseball from any trace of gambling, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn banned retired superstars Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle from working for both major league clubs and gambling casinos at the same time. Mays, in 1979, and Mantle, in 1983, had accepted lucrative public relations positions for Atlantic City, New Jersey, casinos. The sanctions were lifted by Peter Ueberroth, who succeeded Kuhn as commissioner in 1985.

Summary of Event

In 1979, former San Francisco Giants and New York Mets star player Willie Mays accepted a lucrative job offer from the newly opened Bally’s Park Place Hotel Casino Resort in Atlantic City, New Jersey. In reaction, baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn banned Mays from being employed by any baseball club while he worked for a gambling enterprise. Four years later, former New York Yankees star Mickey Mantle took a similar position with Claridge Casino Hotel, also in Atlantic City. He, too, was banned from baseball. In taking these actions to separate baseball and gambling, Kuhn followed in the footsteps of baseball’s first commissioner, Landis, Kenesaw Mountain Kenesaw Mountain Landis, a staunch opponent of corruption in baseball. Kuhn’s sanctions provoked controversy because Mays and Mantle were two of the greatest players in baseball history. To remove them from working for baseball in their retirement years seemed to many an overreaction. [kw]Baseball Commissioner Suspends Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays for Casino Ties (Nov. 29, 1979, and Jan. 31, 1983) [kw]Mantle and Willie Mays for Casino Ties, Baseball Commissioner Suspends Mickey (Nov. 29, 1979, and Jan. 31, 1983) [kw]Mays for Casino Ties, Baseball Commissioner Suspends Mickey Mantle and Willie (Nov. 29, 1979, and Jan. 31, 1983) Baseball;and gambling[gambling] Mays, Willie Mantle, Mickey Kuhn, Bowie Baseball;and gambling[gambling] Mays, Willie Mantle, Mickey Kuhn, Bowie [g]United States;Nov. 29, 1979, and Jan. 31, 1983: Baseball Commissioner Suspends Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays for Casino Ties[01830] [c]Corruption;Nov. 29, 1979, and Jan. 31, 1983: Baseball Commissioner Suspends Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays for Casino Ties[01830] [c]Gambling;Nov. 29, 1979, and Jan. 31, 1983: Baseball Commissioner Suspends Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays for Casino Ties[01830] [c]SportsNovember 29, 1979, and Jan. 31, 1983: Baseball Commissioner Suspends Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays for Casino Ties[01830] Ueberroth, Peter

Mickey Mantle, left, and Willie Mays in 1962.

(Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Despite their historic accomplishments on the baseball field, both Mantle and Mays entered retirement after the 1968 and 1973 seasons, respectively, with few marketable skills. Both served as goodwill ambassadors for Major League Baseball. Also, Mays was a special instructor for the New York Mets and Mantle for the New York Yankees. Mantle also had a brief and undistinguished career as a sports announcer. Both had done promotional work for various businesses.

Mays was earning $100,000 for a two-year contract with the Mets when Bally’s representatives approached him with an offer: one million dollars over ten years for Mays to do public relations and entertain the casino’s big spenders. The position did not ask Mays to promote gambling directly, and New Jersey state law forbid him from gambling. It is believed that the casino required about 120 days of work per year from Mays.

From the moment Commissioner Kuhn learned of Bally’s interest in Mays, he expressed his deep concern to Bally and the Mets. The office of baseball commissioner had been created after the notorious Black Sox Black Sox scandal scandal of 1919. Eight members of the Chicago White Sox had been accused of taking money from gamblers to throw the World Series. When the judicial system failed to produce convictions, the new commissioner, Landis, banned the eight players from any connection with baseball. Using his power to protect “the best interests of baseball,” Landis restored confidence in the integrity of the sport.

After Landis’s death in 1944, gambling was considered not a major problem. Kuhn, however, warned Mays that he could not remain a special hitting instructor for the Mets and work for a casino. Mays argued that he had been doing public relations work already, that gambling was legal in New Jersey, and that as part-time Coaches;baseball coach he could not possibly corrupt the outcomes of games. For Kuhn, the mere appearance of a gambling-baseball link was unacceptable, and he encouraged Mays to stay with baseball. Proclaiming the need to provide for his family, Mays began his public relations work for Bally’s on November 29, 1979.

When Mantle accepted a similar offer from Claridge on January 31, 1983, Kuhn reminded him of the consequences. Mantle was earning only $20,000 from the Yankees as a spring-training batting instructor in addition to doing public relations work for a Dallas insurance company. Claridge offered Mantle $100,000 per year to attend a wide variety of public and charitable functions and to play golf with good customers. Nevertheless, Kuhn forbid Mantle from working in baseball.

Mantle and Mays put public pressure on Kuhn by avoiding all baseball functions, including Old Timers’ games and the yearly Hall of Fame ceremonies. An exasperated Kuhn explained that his decision did not prohibit all association with baseball. The two stars, however, repeatedly referred to being “banned” and “kicked out of baseball.” Mantle, Mays, and sympathetic sportswriters accused Kuhn of hypocrisy because team owners in the past had invested in casinos, and George Steinbrenner of the Yankees and John Galbreath of the Pittsburgh Pirates participated in the Horse racing horse-racing business. Kuhn defended himself by citing his policy of forcing owners to divest of all interests in casinos, and he had recognized that gambling on horses also was unseemly. To that end he had frustrated an attempt by Chicago White Sox Edward DeBartolo to purchase the Chicago White Sox in 1981 because of his ownership of racetracks.

The ostracizing of Mantle and Mays did not help Kuhn’s increasingly rocky tenure as commissioner, as he also faced labor strife and the advent of free agency. The owners did not reelect Kuhn to a third term and instead chose Peter Ueberroth as his successor. Ueberroth had been recognized as the genius behind the profitable 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics. He took over from an embattled Kuhn in October, 1984. On March 18, 1985, Ueberroth welcomed Mantle and Mays back into baseball. The new commissioner asserted he was not soft on gambling but that there was a need for new rules. A grateful Mantle noted that “no one likes to be banned.”

Impact

Mantle and Mays earned their Hall of Fame credentials during the 1950’s and 1960’s when players’ salaries were shockingly low. Soon after they retired they witnessed far-less-able players earn enormous sums of money because of the introduction of free agency rules. The two stars’ acceptance of the casino offers was perfectly understandable. Mays later admitted another benefit of the casino job: It exposed him to the workings of the business world and, thus, compelled him to be better disciplined to survive in that setting.

Kuhn’s puritanical stance on gambling connections and other related issues led to his demise as commissioner, but his fierce resolve is understandable. Gambling has been an ever-present threat to the reputation of baseball. In 1989, allegations surfaced that Pete Rose, the manager of the Cincinnati Reds and baseball’s all-time hits leader as a player, had placed bets on baseball games, including those involving his own team. In an age when baseball was wracked by labor disruptions and faced increasing competition for the public’s entertainment dollars, it could not afford the Rose scandal, nor any other.

Commissioners and club owners desperately sought to maintain the profitability of the multibillion-dollar business. At the same time, Kuhn and his successors wrestled with how to preserve baseball’s almost mythological status in the United States and the devotion of its fans to its heroes, including Mays and Mantle. Baseball;and gambling[gambling] Mays, Willie Mantle, Mickey Kuhn, Bowie

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Burk, Robert E. Much More than a Game: Players, Owners, and American Baseball Since 1921. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001. Solid and concise history of baseball as a business that provides an overview of the commissioner’s and baseball’s role in curtailing gambling.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Castro, Tony. Mickey Mantle: America’s Prodigal Son. Washington, D.C.: Brassey’s, 2002. Contains a solid account of Mantle’s difficult retirement years.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fimrite, Ron. “Mantle and Mays.” Sports Illustrated, March 25, 1985. Celebrates the return of both Mantle and Mays to baseball after they were reinstated by Ueberroth, with a focus on the star players’ retirement activities.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ginsberg, Daniel E. The Fix Is In: A History of Baseball Gambling and Game Fixing Scandals. New York: McFarland, 2004. A valuable overview of a neglected aspect of baseball history.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kuhn, Bowie. Hardball: The Education of a Baseball Commissioner. New York: Times Books, 1987. Commissioner Kuhn’s perspective on the casino controversy with Mays and Mantle.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mantle, Mickey. The Mick. New York: Doubleday, 1985. A straightforward narrative of Mantle’s life that includes discussion of his dealings with Kuhn.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mays, Willie. Say Hey: The Autobiography of Willie Mays. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988. Contains Mays’s version of his “banishment” from baseball.

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