In 1877 there were basically 2 good team: Boston and Louisville. Starting in August, Louisville went on an 8 game losing streak, and finished the season 7 games behind Boston. Louisville's team president, Charles Chase, investigated his own team, and 4 players - including Jim Devlin - confessed to taking bribes to throw the games. Chase took the step of suspending his players, and the League made permanent their suspensions at the winter meetings.
1877 was the second year of the National League. From its very first, Major League Baseball has had lifelong bans for players involved in gambling or throwing games. Whether a sign was posted in the locker room or not, this has always been the way. Look back 2 years earlier, and you can see some of the reasons why.
The National Association is credited as the start of Major League Baseball, but the National Association folded in 1875, after being founded in 1871. It's too simplistic to say that gambling was the reason for the league's failure, but it had been a big part of it. Gambling was prevalent throughout the sport and in the stands, and many teams weren't able to garner enough support. That is, there were too few fans. So what marked the difference between the National Association folding in 1875 and the National League surviving in 1876? Central authority. The League was able to do something to enforce the rules - both on teams (the NL disbanded two teams after 1876 for failing to meet their obligations) - and on individuals who put their own interests ahead of the league (see Louisville 1877). The National League was able to prove to fans that it put the game above all else, and that baseball was a legitimate athletic competition.
The history of gambling in baseball undoubtedly deserves more attention than it'll be given here. Of course there was the Black Sox scandal. Of course there was the lead up to that (indeed, it's now considered almost certain that the Cubbies threw the Series in 1918, and that there was plenty of other cheating going on before that. 1919 was peak, not isolated incident). Of course there was Pete Rose. But what might deserve some attention - more than gambling itself - is the place baseball fits in the national identity.
I've tried tracking down attendance numbers (ha!) to back some of this up, but I haven't been successful, so I'll just quote Leonard Koppett:
For all its growing glamour in the early years of the century, baseball activity was still a minority interest before World War I. The wider public was only beginning to be aware of it during the 1910's, saturated with "national pastime" propaganda, absorbing its culture from first-generation children of immigrants. The war and especially the immediate postwar period intensified both cultural unity and news (including fads) readership. The baseball scene, through 1919 and into September of 1920 [when the Black Sox scandal became public] got unprecedented publicity throughout the general population of nonfans. To them, the shock [of throwing games] was complete and unique.
In short, in order to preserve its then still-young grip on public attention, baseball needed to re-establish its legitimacy after the Black Sox scandal. Part of why so many love baseball is because of its historical importance and its cultural significance, and all that would have been lost if baseball weren't seen as legitimate. The national moments baseball has provided - Jackie Robinson stepping on the field for the first time, Lou Gehrig's speech, Yankee stadium after 9/11, the HR chases of Mantle/Maris and Sosa/McGwire - wouldn't exist if gambling were treated like other things.
And yes, there's a reason Sosa/McGwire gets mentioned here. Because gambling is different than cheating, and that contrast is important. When a player cheats - takes steroids, uses a corked bat, pretends they were hit by a pitch when they weren't - they're doing so because they're trying to succeed. Part of why many feel more disgust at steroids than pretending to be hit by the ball is because people think it tends to put the individual ahead of the team. I don't know that it's an accurate assessment, but I think it is true that people feel this way. To the extent that it is true, however, it makes sense. The team wins or loses, not the players. When you go to the stadium you'll see 50 different players' names on jerseys, but the name on the front is always the same. And so we often applaud the gamesmanship of a player trying to get to first pretending to be hit by the ball, while we boo the guy who wants to be the HR king for his own glory.
So be it. The fact of the matter is that both are trying to succeed, and that sets both - indeed all - types of cheaters apart from those who fix games.
The succinct way of putting it is probably best: you can't make yourself win a game, but you can make yourself lose one. And when someone isn't trying to win then the competition itself isn't really a legitimate competition. More than that though is the team aspect of the game. For one player, or one group of players, to agree to throw a game - they're taking that legitimacy away from everyone else involved - their teammates and coaches and owners, the opposition, the fans, the nation watching their games. Jim Devlin was one of 4 players who took away the only competitive challenge to Boston in 1877. 4 players nearly killed the sport. Not a team. Not even a guy for each team in the league. Throwing a game is a near-fatal blow that an individual can deal to a team, and even to a league.
And to me, if you're not willing to respect the legitimacy of the sport - the very nature of competition - then you weren't really playing baseball in the first place. A lifetime ban from real baseball is precisely what you've asked for, because you've denied that what is baseball really exists.
Anyway, that's my take on it. Thanks for reading if you did. I'm not gonna chime in on any conversation below, since I've said plenty. But I do hope we respect the game enough to exclude such players from the WGOM Hall - not just on our own ballots - but as a group. I know, what we're doing is pretty much a lark here. But I know I'm gonna give an effort to my ballots (and if and when I make joak votes, they too will smack with effort!), and I suspect plenty of others will too.