Friday, March 23, 2012

"Prince Hal" Chase

"I wasn't satisfied with what the club owners paid me. Like others, I had to have a bet on the side and we used to bet with the other team and the gamblers who sat in the boxes. It was easy to get a bet. Sometimes collections were hard to make. Players would pass out IOUs and often be in debt for their entire salaries. That wasn't a healthy condition. Once the evil started there was no stopping it, and club owners were not strong enough to cope with the evil."

Harold Homer Chase born on February 13, 1883 in Los Gatos, California, played for the NY Highlanders (would later become the Yankees), Chicago White Sox, Buffalo Blues, Cincinnati Reds, and NY Giants.

Considered by many one of the best fielding first-basemen in the game, which had to lead to some suspicion when it was Chase who would boot balls to throw games he himself bet on.  Hal Chase would bet on his team to lose!

He was selected by the New York Highlanders from the Class-A Pacific Coast League Los Angeles Angels in a Rule 5 draft on October 4, 1904.

Chase played for the Highlanders until June 1, 1913 when he was traded to the Chicago White Sox. With New York he compiled 1182 hits, scored 551 runs while hitting 22 homers.

(per In 1910, the Yankees had a chance for the AL pennant, fighting against the White Sox for the flag.  In a mid-season game at Sportsman's Park, in St. Louis, manager George Stallings accused Chase of deliberately losing games.  Hal took offense.  Punches were about to be tossed but teammates intervened (the way baseball brawls usually do, you know like a dance hall scene except there's no music).  After the incident, Chase was not often penciled into Stallings' lineup. His accusation against Chase shocked the fans and team ownership. It was a charge that would follow Chase throughout his career.

President Ban Johnson, the head of the American League, said: "Stallings has utterly failed in his accusation against Chase. He tried to besmirtch the character of a sterling player. Anybody who know Hal Chase knows that he is not guilty of the accusation made against him, and I am happy to say that the evidence of the New York players given to Vice-President Somers this morning showed Stallings up."  According to the Hal Chase place site, President Johnson was obviously eager to disbelieve any charges against Chase. He didn't want the prize jewel of the New York franchise branded as a cheater. Johnson developed a protective attitude toward Chase and shielded him from controversy to maintain good will with the American League fans. The so-called thorough investigation by New York owners, Frank Farrell and Bill Devery never did take place.

In 1914, Chase found conflict playing for Charles Comiskey and quarreled about his contract. A feature of many of Comiskey's contracts, and of other clubs at the time, was a "ten day clause."  Meaning the team could terminate a player's contract within 10 days.

"At the time, Comiskey called me into his office and asked me to have the 10-day clause stricken from my contract. I demurred at this. A contract, it seemed to me, ought to bind both parties to the agreement. If that agreement allowed him to dispose of my services with ten days notice, I didn't see why I shouldn't enjoy the same privilege."  The next month, Comiskey and the White Sox took Chase to the Supreme Court. On July 9th, the White Sox and Hal met in court. Long before Curt Flood challenged baseball's reserve clause, Hal Chase found himself in the midst of a historic case against basebll ownership. Whether he was just motivated out of selfishness or principle in fighting his contract, the judge in the case saw his point. The ruling in the case of the Chicago White Sox vs. Hal Chase, as given by Judge Herbert Bissell, is as follows:

"While the services of these baeball players are ostensibley secured by voluntary contracts, a study of this system...reveals the involuntary character of the servitude which is imposed upon players by the strength of the combination controlling the labor of practically all of the players in this country. (This makes it) necessary for the player either to take the contract prescribed..or abandon baseball as a profession and seek some other livelihood...This system of servitude...provides for the purchase, sale, barter and exchange of the services of ball players, skilled laborers, without their consent...(the players servitude) under the operations of this plan of agreement is contrary to the spirit of American institutions (and) to the spirit of the Constitution of the United States...This court will not assist in enforcing an agreement which is part of a general plan having for its object the maintenance of a monopoly, interference with the personal liberties of a citizen, and the control of his free right to labor wherever and for whom he pleases."

(I wonder if Curt Flood's people (reps) referred to this case at any time during his case? In some manner of speaking for the ways of the world, however "layman's term" this may sound, Hal Chase's case vs. Comiskey's White Sox set the precedent and it should have been referred to as proof that this unfair treatment has been tolerated for too long.)     

In 1916, with the Cincinnati Redlegs, he led the National League in hitting, batting .339 and hits with 184.

Per the Wikipedia information on "Prince Hal" he played at a time 'when gambling was so rampant that whenever a player was not at his best, particularly in a big city such as New York, there were claims of players laying down, whether it was true or not.'

Midway through the 1918 season, Chase allegedly paid pitcher Jimmy Ring $50 to throw a game against the Giants. Christy Mathewson (the Reds manager) got wind of it and suspended Chase for the rest of the season. Although Mathewson brought formal charges against Chase for fixing games National League president, John Heydler acquitted him because he did not have enough evidence to convict "Prince Hal."

An "unknown individual" sent NL President Heydler a copy of a $500 check that Chase received from a gambler for thowing a game in 1918.  This was just the evidence Heydler needed to contact Giants' owner, Charles Stoneham, and order Stoneham to release Chase.

During this time, no American League team would sign Hal Chase (on the advice of Detroit Tiger manager, Hughie Jennings).  And as a result, Chase was effectively blackballed from the big leagues.

Hal Chase was a career .291 hitter, who scored 980 runs and had 2,158 base hits.  These are the numbers of someone who very well could have been voted into Cooperstown.  But NOT when you are blackballed from baseball. 

(thanks to and Wikipedia for their information on Hal Chase)

Kevin J. Marquez