Why Did Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays Get Banned From Baseball?

Two of the greatest players to ever appear on a baseball field are Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle. They had a lot in common. Both Mantle and Mays played in New York (Mays with the Giants and Mantle with the New York Yankees). Both were centerfielders. And both had tremendous power and bat speed

One other trait the two shared that isn’t quite as famous is that both men were once banned from baseball, though they’ve since been reinstated. Let’s take a closer look at exactly how they earned their ban. 

Other famous bans in baseball history

To put Mantle and Mays’ ban into context, it may help to look at other infractions throughout MLB history that earned people lifetime bans. While Mantle and Mays’ bans may not be well known, there are several bans that many fans remember: 

  • The 1919 Chicago “Black” Sox. After MLB found evidence that several White Sox players had accepted money to throw the World Series, those players were banned for life. Famously included among them was “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, one of the greatest players of that era. MLB never reinstated Jackson and he remains ineligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame. 
  • George Steinbrenner. When MLB found evidence that then-New York Yankees’ owner George Steinbrenner had hired a gambler to smear the reputation of Yankees’ outfielder Dave Winfield, they suspended him for life. After roughly two years, MLB lifted the ban. Steinbrenner continued to preside over the team for the rest of his life. 
  • Pete Rose. Banned for gambling on baseball, Rose has campaigned throughout the years for reinstatement. He at first denied the charges that he bet on Cincinnati Reds games, but he has long since admitted to the transgression and apologized. Still, Rose remains banned for life. 

One common theme you’ll note in each of these bans is baseball’s disdain for gambling. Though sports gambling has become more and more acceptable, the stain of a player, manager, or executive betting on his own team’s game has the possibility to compromise the integrity of the sport. It’s one of baseball’s cardinal sins: gambling on the games is strictly prohibited. 

Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays’ post-baseball careers

Mantle was the Yankees’ most famous player for the majority of the ’50s and ’60s. He retired with 536 home runs. Though he had a magnificent career, frequent injuries and an alcohol addiction kept him from being one of the best players ever. Following his career, Mantle became a restauranteur and also made multiple television appearances. 

Mays was the Giants’ best player for the same era and retired as one of the all-time greats in the history of baseball. Mays’ career lasted a bit longer than Mantle. He hung on for about a season and a half with the New York Mets in the early ’70s. Mays hit .232 with only 14 home runs those two years before calling it quits. 

After retiring, both men stayed active by frequently making public appearances. There was one type of appearance they made that drew the ire of MLB. 

Why did Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays get banned from baseball? 

One of the great tragedies of the sport of baseball is that many of its legends never got the opportunity to make the same kind of money today’s players make. While more people know the names of Mantle and Mays than many of today’s players, their paychecks paled in comparison to even the most pedestrian players today.

This meant that often, retired ballplayers would need to take on odd jobs to make ends meet. One job that both Mantle and Mays got involved in was working as casino greeters. This involved chatting with guests and partaking in various casino events and activities. 

According to then-commissioner Bowie Kuhn, a casino was “no place for a baseball hero and Hall of Famer.” He placed both Mantle and Mays on baseball’s permanently ineligible list. The dishonor didn’t last, however. After Kuhn stepped down as commissioner, his replacement Peter Ueberroth reinstated both men. 

It’s a good thing that baseball had the presence of mind to admit when it made a mistake. Otherwise, two MLB legends would be ineligible for the Hall of Fame.