Why Did Frank Shugart Get Banned From Baseball?
When Byron Bancroft “Ban” Johnson set out to dislodge the National League from its monopolistic pedestal as the only major league baseball league in America, one crucial component was to eliminate the rowdyism from his brand of baseball. The National League had become known for aggression, fighting amongst players, umpires, and fans, and other rude behaviors that had turned play from a gentleman’s game to something more out of the Wild, Wild West. In 1894, Johnson inherited control of the Western League, then a fledgling minor league, and by 1899, he had reinvented the league into the top minor league in the country—much in part because of his low tolerance for unprofessional behavior. A year later, Johnson rebranded his circuit as the American League, and going into the 1901 season, Johnson withdrew his league from the National Agreement. That was the final step in successfully taking on the National League, which ultimately was forced to recognize the American as its equal before the 1903 season in order to bring peace to the national game.
But despite his insistence that the American League wouldn’t play the National League style of rowdy baseball, Johnson still had unpleasant moments flare up on the field. Among the most notable—or perhaps un-notable as Johnson would have seen it—occurred on August 21, 1901, at American League Park in Washington, D.C., in the “most disgraceful exhibition” ever seen in the American League. That day, the Senators hosted the Chicago White Sox, the defending league champions who at 61–39 were in the race to win a second straight title. Washington, despite a lowly 40–55 record, wasn’t intimidated by Chicago, and they dashed out to a lead in the fourth inning before a chaotic scene unfolded that left an upset victory for the Senators the secondary news of the day.
With two runners on and two out, Chicago starter Jack Katoll found himself in position to get out of a jam without allowing any runs by working a full count against Bill Coughlin. Katoll’s next pitch was called ball four by umpire Jack Haskell, which drew protest from the pitcher’s mound. Billy Clingman followed with a bases-clearing triple, and on the next pitch, Chicago catcher Joe Sugden couldn’t corral the ball, which struck Haskell in the shoulder. Haskell ruled it a passed ball and correctly awarded Clingman home plate.
Katoll became so incensed that he intentionally threw the ball at Haskell, striking him in the shin and causing significant injury that required multiple operations. Haskell ejected Katoll from the game, but that was just the start of the trouble.
Fiery Chicago shortstop Frank Shugart was among several White Sox players who raised an argument with Haskell. According to the Washington Post, Haskell pulled out his watch and gave Shugart one minute to get to the bench, but Shugart failed to comply, instead trying to grab Haskell’s watch. Sugden shoved Haskell, and while Haskell was off-balance, Shugart punched him in the mouth.
Haskell said the punch was landed while he wasn’t looking, but according to Shugart, he was defending himself from an imminent attack by Haskell. Whatever the case, Haskell’s lip was bloodied, and he was out for revenge. It was reported Haskell had put Shugart into a headlock and was ready to punch him, but police, players, and spectators intervened before the brawl could further escalate.
Katoll and Shugart were arrested following the incident—Shugart posted $20 collateral and Katoll $10 for their releases. Haskell finished umpiring the game.
“Both Shugart and Katoll made a mistake when they clashed with Haskell on the field,” said White Sox player-manager Clark Griffith. “If they wanted to do anything like that, they should have waited until some other time. Such actions are a detriment to the national game.”
Ban Johnson Delievers Heavy-Handed Punishment
Johnson received word of the incident over the wire and immediately gave both players indefinite suspensions, with a promise that more discipline could come once he received more detailed reports of the incident. Punishments doled out by Johnson were based upon umpires’ reports, a policy the Post criticized, considering Haskell was widely graded as a “poor” umpire. Therefore, despite his inferiority to the top umpires hired by the league, Haskell was “clothed with full power.”
“Mr. Johnson punishes only those men who are reported to him by the umpires,” retorted Milwaukee Brewers manager Hugh Duffy, who himself was suspended after punching an umpire in Cleveland on August 7. “He does not rely on newspaper accounts, on letters from managers, or on miscellaneous hearsay evidence. He puts the matter wholly within the hands of his umpires, and there is where it belongs.”
Two days after the incident, on August 23, Johnson made good on his promise of maintaining a clean style of play—he banned Shugart from the American League for life.
“I have expelled Shugart from the league for life for assaulting Umpire Haskell,” Johnson said. “No slugging will be permitted in this league in the future while I am president of it, and each man who commits that offense will be expelled forthwith. That is final. We will never permit rowdyism in this league.”
The banishment was met with mixed reviews in Chicago.
The Chicago Tribune opined that Johnson was right in banning Shugart because “any player who so far forgets himself and his employers as to disgrace both and put a big black blot on the great sport by which he makes an easy living has no right to look for sympathy from any source, unless from the rougher, uneducated class of fandom which prefers a scrap to anything else in the category of sport.”
Meanwhile, the Chicago Inter Ocean felt Shugart was used as a scapegoat: “President Johnson, it is supposed, felt that the charges of favoritism to the Chicago club could be best answered by heavy punishment for one of the regular players of the champion team, and hence the penalty meted out to ‘Shug.’”
“I am surprised at what has been done, and I think Johnson has acted hastily. It seems to me he should have investigated all the facts first before coming to a judgement, which is bound to carry such serious consequences with it,” Griffith said. “The players will not stand idly by and see a man’s livelihood taken away in this high-handed manner. Mr. Johnson will find that he has the Players’ Protective Association to deal with, and the American League cannot afford to antagonize that body. Unless Mr. Johnson reconsiders his action, I shall at once lay the matter before the association.”
Shugart had little to say after the punishment was levied, announcing only that, “... when the facts all come out, it will be found that I was not to blame. Haskell struck at me first. I don’t believe I can be deprived of the means of getting my living, and I believe there are ways to protect myself.”
On Sept. 14, 1901, Shugart was reinstated by Ban Johnson. He finished out the season with the White Sox, but he never appeared in another Major League game. The incident damaged his reputation to the point he was blackballed from the league. In 1902, Shugart became captain of the San Francisco Germans of the California Baseball League and played for six other minor league teams through 1908.
“Haskell Mobbed by White Sox,” Chicago Inter Ocean. August 22, 1901. Page 4.
“Haskell’s Side of the Row,” Chicago Inter Ocean. August 22, 1901. Page 4.
“League in Dire Straits,” Chicago Tribune. August 25, 1901. Page 19.
“Looks Easy to Duffy,” Washington Post. August 24, 1901. Page 8.
“Quick Punishment,” The Evening Star. August 24, 1901: Page 8.
“Review of Baseball,” Washington Post. August 25, 1901. Page 8.
“Shortstop Shugart Expelled,” Washington Post. August 24, 1901. Page 8.
“Shugart Expelled by Ban Johnson,” Chicago Inter Ocean. August 24, 1901. Page 4.
“Shugart Now in Good Standing,” Chicago Inter Ocean. September 15, 1901. Page 17.
“Shugart’s Name on a Blacklist,” Chicago Tribune. August 23, 1901. Page 4.
“Two White Sox Under Arrest,” Chicago Tribune. August 22, 1901. Page 4.
“White Sox Arrested,” Washington Post. August 22, 1901. Page 8.
© 2021 Andrew Harner