During the 1908 season with Kid Elberfeld at the helm, Chase was criticized by New York management and media for uninspired performance. The media began referring to Chase’s play as “laying down,” which refers to not giving their best effort, or even worse, intentionally throwing games. As it turned out, Chase didn’t like playing for Eberfeld.
Chase quit the team with a month left to play, and refused to play any more for Elberfeld. At season’s end, Elberfeld was fired, and the media uncovered extensive team strife caused by the ineffectual manager. Chase’s departure at year-end, in hindsight, was looked upon sympathetically by New Yorkers. Chase was welcomed back the following year. After the fact, historians have inaccurately latched on to the description of Chase as one who “lays down” as early evidence that he threw games.
In 1909, owner Frank Farrell hired George Stallings to manage the Highlanders. Toward the end of the season, the writing was on the wall that Stallings would be fired and replaced as manager by Hal Chase. Conflict between the two ensued, during which time Stallings attempted to discredit Chase by stating in the press that Chase “layed down” in games, implying that Chase was accepting bribes.
Owner Frank Farrell responded,
“If Chase is guilty of Stalling’s charges, there is no place on the New York American League team for him, or any other team, in my judgement. If he is not guilty, he should be promptly cleared of the charges, that he may stand vindicated before the public… No ball player can afford to have his reputation and the reputation of his club besmirched by such charges.”
League President Ban Johnson promptly summoned Stallings to investigate the claims. In no uncertain terms, Johnson sided with Chase and ordered Stallings out of the league. The next day, Hal Chase replaced Stallings as the manager. Johnson released a statement:
“Stallings has utterly failed in his accusations against Chase. He tried to besmirch the character of a sterling player. Anybody who knows Hal Chase knows that he is not guilty of the accusations made against him, and I am happy to say that the evidence of New York players given to Vice President Somers this morning showed Stallings up.”
Historians also point to comments by the reputable Hall of Famer Frank Chance, who managed Chase in 1912, who used the term “laying down” when referring to Chase. Again, writers have used that reference as evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Chase.
In truth, Chase was going through a slump brought on by injuries and personal difficulties. Chance understood. In fact, he recollected once being emotionally moved by the sound of Chase crying alone in a bathroom stall in the locker room during this period.
Chance later clarified his comments publicly. He said he had approached the press out of frustration, and he uncharacteristically complained about Chase’s play. But he said that he never suspected that Chase was losing games on purpose or not giving his all. He just felt that injuries and age limited his ability to play; he called him “broken.”
“…[Chase is] trying to do his level best, but he just cannot play the way he used to. His days as a star are over. Now he’s trying to accomplish things, but it’s too late.”
In 1918 when playing for the Cincinnati Reds and manager Christy Mathewson, relief pitcher Jimmy Ring reported to Mathewson that Chase had approached him offering $50 to throw a game. Mathewson took the matter up with the National League President, and a few weeks later, Mathewson suspended Chase without pay indefinitely for “indifferent work.”
Mathewson was not present during the subsequent inquiry because he was serving in the military during WWI. Instead, he forwarded his testimony in writing and stated that he had no proof of any wrongdoing, but suspected from Chase’s poor judgment in the field that he had purposely made bad plays.
The allegations from the most admired and righteous player in baseball history, particularly when combined with the Ring’s report, appeared damaging. But Ring’s testimony was viewed as weak. And although affidavits were obtained from numerous individuals, and many in Organized Baseball stated that the evidence was conclusive, the National League chose not to pursue the case further to evade potentially damaging publicity. Chase and Mathewson subsequently reconciled and both joined the New York Giants – Chase as a player and Mathewson as the eventual replacement for Manager John McGraw.
In 1920, Spider Baum pitched for the Salt Lake club in the Pacific Coast League in his final season as a player. He had been a fixture in west coast baseball for two decades. Baum’s first game pitching for the Los Angeles Angels in 1904 had also been Chase’s debut with the club.
According to Baum, Chase approached him seeking tips for placing bets on Pacific Coast League games. Perhaps such a conversation would have been benign at any other time, but the League was on alert for unwanted gambling activity. Baum, in particular, had been commissioned by his team owner to keep his ear to the ground and to report any evidence of gambling he witnessed. Contrary to Chase’s account, Baum claimed that Chase offered him $300 to throw a game. Once reported, Chase was banned from all Pacific Coast League ballparks.
The accusation was damaging to Chase’s reputation considering Baum’s stellar reputation and because Baum and others in West Coast Baseball were former teammates and friends. But Chase was no longer a professional player in the major leagues or in the Pacific Coast League; he may have simply been asking about any friendly insider dope that could help him in a bet.
It would appear that accusations prior to 1918 are conjecture. After 1918, the preponderance of accusations point to an affection toward gambling, one that Chase didn’t deny. That he ever took money to intentionally throw games in which he played has never been proven. He admitted to betting on games when betting on games was legal. After betting on games as a participant became illegal in 1918, he apparently continued to bet on games, including the 1919 World Series, when he was not a participant. This practice likely continued in 1920 on the West Coast.