Considered the best fielding first baseman of his day, Hal Chase (who broke in with the Yankees) managed to lead the American League in errors over four seasons— a direct result of his dishonest play. Toward the end of his career, the second-greatest player/gambler ever (behind Pete Rose) was regularly greeted by fans chanting, “What’s the odds?”
In an era marked by open betting among players, “Prince Hal” earned a shady rep for backing opposing teams. After one typically devious afternoon— “His neatest trick was to arrive at first base just a split second too late,” wrote sportswriter Fred Lief— Yankee skipper Frank Chance blurted, “He’s throwing games on me!”
Chase, a lifetime .291 hitter, was traded to Cincy, where in 1918 he was charged with a midgame attempt to bribe a teammate, pitcher Jimmy Ring. “There’s something in it for you if you lose,” muttered Chase on a trip to the mound. Chase’s subsequent acquittal was later pubicly regretted by league president John Heydler.
Tales of suspect outings continued to dog Chase, who was barred from baseball in 1920, after the trial of accused fellow player/fixer Lee Magee pointed to further tanking. According to testimony, Chase’s team— the Giants, at that point— survived one heavily bet game, despite his (and Magee’s) best efforts to blow it. Jinxed by the “tough break” of a teammate’s game-winning homer, Chase, seeking payment, told a coconspirator, “We tried awful hard.”
On his deathbed in 1947, Chase offered this lament: “I’m the loser just like all gamblers are. I was a wise guy, a know-it-all, I guess.”