Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Bad News Bees, Part 2a, Harl Maggert

Caught red-handed taking bribe money

(Part 1 of this series, detailing the involvement of Gene Dale in the 1919 Pacific Coast League gambling scandal, was presented here on June 14-15. An introduction that will help you pick up the story was presented on those days.)

Harl Maggert

By midway through the 1920 season, tensions in the Pacific Coast League were running high and nerves were chafing raw. Accusations once whispered in the locker rooms had become louder and spilled over onto the playing field.

The gist of it was that the Los Angeles Angels, who had lost the 1919 P.C.L. pennant to cross-town rival Vernon in the final days of the season, blamed Salt Lake City for laying down in a crucial late-season series with Vernon. When certain S.L.C. players could no longer stand the gaff, team management began to get the drift of the rumors.

On July 27 the Bees blew into L.A. for a series with Vernon. Apparently a tail was placed on one or more of the Salt Lake players. Whether the gumshoes were hired by the team or the league is unknown. The mists of nearly a century of passed time have obscured some of the details.

What is known is that a private detective spotted Salt Lake City center fielder Harl Maggert accepting $300 in cash from Vernon first baseman Babe Borton.

In what may have been a prearranged confrontation designed to get Maggert off the field while the investigation continued, he was thrown out of the July 29 game, fined and suspended for arguing with an umpire.

A bad-ass ballplayer all of his professional life, it was not Maggert’s first set-down – he had once been suspended for fighting with a P.C.L. umpire after accusing him of betting on a ballgame – but it would be his last. He demanded that the fine be lifted, threatening to quit the game. The more he protested, the deeper he dug himself into a hole. Eventually he said too much and Salt Lake City management dismissed him.

Maggert attempted to explain the $300 payoff as settlement of a year-old debt accrued by Borton in a card game. It was a story he would later attempt to peddle to a grand jury. Nobody was buying.

As the weeks wore on an investigation chaired by league president William McCarthy began to piece together the scandal. Borton and Maggert were joined on the suspended list by Salt Lake City right fielder Bill Rumler, effectively ending the team’s contention for the 1920 pennant. Gene Dale, who had pitched for the Bees in 1919, but moved on to Dallas in 1920 was also caught in the net and eventually (apparently unofficially) blackballed.

With his paychecks stopped, Maggert threatened to sue everyone in sight. McCarthy offered him a league hearing or the opportunity to defend himself in a civil action. Maggert never made good on his threats.

That, however, didn’t keep him out of the courtroom.

Among several Pacific Coast League baseball card sets in
which Harl Maggert appeared was the 1910 Bishop & Co.
(E99) candy issue.

In October a grand jury was convened in Los Angeles to determine whether criminal charges were warranted in connection with the baseball scandal. On Oct. 20 Maggert was called before the panel.

In a two-hour grilling he implicated teammates Dale, Rumler and Eddie Mulligan (who was never sanctioned in connection with the mess), along with Vernon’s Borton and second baseman Bobby Fisher (also exonerated).

After months of examination, the grand jury handed down indictments in early December charging Maggert, Borton, Rumler and West Coast gambler Nate Raymond with conspiracy to throw ballgames and bribe ballplayers. Shortly before Christmas a judge quashed the indictments for the very valid reason that fixing games was not illegal under California law. While that effectively ended the prosecution of Maggert, his professional baseball career was also ended.

That career had begun in 1906 when the 23-year-old Maggert split time between Sharon in the Ohio-Pennsylvania League and Ft. Wayne in the Interstate Association, both Class C circuits. Available records show Maggert his .244 for Sharon, the I.A. folded on July 8 without promulgating stats.

Maggert was not a big man. He stood 5'8" and in his prime weighed 155 pounds. He batted left and threw right.

A year later Maggert was in the Big Leagues. After playing most of the season with Wheeling in the Central League (Class B), where he hit .270 and stole 28 bases, Maggert was taken on for a trial with the Pittsburgh Pirates. In half a dozen at-bats over three games with the Bucs, Maggert failed to garner a hit, though he did walk twice and stole a base. He was turned back to Wheeling for the 1908 season.

Hitting .225 at mid-season, Maggert was released to Springfield in the Connecticut State League. In the final two months of the season he hit .312 to help the Ponies capture the pennant.

Maggert sent the first half of 1909 with Springfield, hitting .307. Though he played in only 94 games, his 30 doubles were tied for fourth in the league. With the team headed for a fifth-place finish, Maggert was sold to Oakland for $1,500.

In two months with the Oaks, Maggert hit .265. His fielding average was the worst among Pacific Coast League outfielders in more than 50 games.

While his batting average dropped off slightly, to .254, with Oakland in 1910, the rest of Maggert’s game improved considerably. His 34 doubles were tied for fourth and his nine home runs tied for fifth. With 91 runs scored he was in the top 10 in that category, and his 58 stolen bases were second-best in the circuit. Maggert’s glovework improved to the point that he was 10th in fielding average among outfielders  in more than 100 games. Oakland finished second in the P.C.L. that season.

Maggert’s 1911 season was limited to about half of the P.C.L.’s traditional 220-game schedule, through a combination of injuries and inability to get along with Oaks manager Harry Wolverton. He hit .314, which was third-best among batters in over 100 games or 300 at-bats, but the bottom again fell out of his fielding. He was third from last among outfielders in more than 100 games.

With only 75 games in the majors, it's not surprising that
all of Maggert's baseball cards depict him as a Pacific
Coast Leaguer. This 1911 Obak T212 cigarette issue
is the most common of Maggert's cards.
In December, Maggert was purchased by the Philadelphia A’s. The Sporting News sent him off to the American League with less than a ringing endorsement that attested to Maggert’s growing reputation as a difficult ballplayer. “Maggert is hard to handle, but withal is a fine sticker, base runner and fielder. He is fast, hits on a line and can cover ground like a lion. Connie Mack will probably have use for him if he behaves.

“This season Maggert batted among the leaders,” the paper continued, “but was banished from the game because he made trouble for Wolverton just as he had every other manager whom he had worked under. As a base runner Maggert is hard to beat. He’s a foxy, wide-awake player, and but for his ill-temper would easily be held as an idol by the public.”

The A’s, coming off consecutive World Series wins in 1910-11 were able to work Maggert into about half their games as a replacement for the regular garden trio of Bris Lord, Rube Oldring and Amos Strunk. Maggert responded by hitting a mediocre .256 and fielding in the bottom 40% of the league’s outfielders. The A’s finished third in the A.L. in 1912.

For 1913 Maggert was returned to the Pacific Coast League. He would never play Organized Baseball in any other circuit for the remainder of his career.

(Continued tomorrow)

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