Saturday, March 5, 2016

William "Babe" Borton (1888-1954): Baseball player mired in scandals

Babe Borton and the Main Mausoleum at Mountain View Cemetery


William Baker "Babe" Borton was born on August 14, 1888 in Marion, Illinois to Reuben Borton and Martha Simmons. He is best remembered for his involvement in some well-publicized bribery scandals that rocked baseball in the early 20th century. 

Borton played for the Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees, St. Louis Terriers, and St. Louis Browns from 1912 to 1916. During his playing years, he was listed at 6' tall and 178 pounds. He batted and threw left-handed.

Borton was born in Marion, Illinois in 1888. He started his professional baseball career in 1910, at the age of 21. In 1912, he was hitting .369 in the Western League when he was acquired by the White Sox late in the season. He played one season for them before being traded to the Yankees for Hal Chase. He hit just .130 in New York and was released. In 1914, he played in the Pacific Coast League. 

1915 was Borton's only full major league campaign, and he made it count. With the St. Louis Terriers, he led the Federal League in walks (92) and runs scored (97) and was fourth in on-base percentage (.395). After the season, the Federal League folded, and Borton was purchased by the American League's Browns. He hit just .224 in 1916 and never played in the majors again. From 1917 to 1920, he played in the Pacific Coast League. He batted .303 in 1919, as his team – the Vernon Tigers – won the pennant. In 1920, he was batting .326 late in the season when he was suspended. 

Babe Borton and St. Louis Browns team photo (he is second from the left in the second row from the top)
In July 1920, Borton had tried to bribe an opposing pitcher into throwing a game. According to "The Fix Is In: A History of Gambling and Game Fixing Scandals" by Daniel Ginsburg, "In late July of 1920, Borton met with pitcher Ralph Stroud of Salt Lake in the Lankershim Hotel in Los Angeles and offered him $300 to throw a game to Borton's Vernon club. Stroud refused the offer and left the hotel. Just after this incident, Borton met with Maggert and paid him $300, which looked suspicious...Despite the fact that he refused Borton's offer, Stroud pitched poorly and was knocked out in the first inning. After the game, Borton approached Stroud in the hotel lobby and him $300, saying, "You earned it." Stroud refused the money, insisting that he tried to win but just had an off day." Newspaper accounts verify the claim that Stroud did accept $300 from Borton and outfielder Harl Maggert in a hotel lobby, but Stroud claimed it was payment for an unrelated gambling debt.

In October 1919, the famous Black Sox Scandal erupted (when two Chicago White Sox players admitted taking money to throw the 1919 World Series) and, according to Ginsburg, Borton's name emerged again when players were called to testify. Salt Lake player Tub Spencer claimed Borton offered him $1,700 at the end of the season and pitcher Wheezer Dell said Borton offered him $300 to throw a game. Despite denying the charges, Borton claimed that he only offered Spencer $500.

As details in the scandal emerged, it was discovered that he and some Vernon teammates had also bribed opponents in 1919 to throw the pennant to the Tigers. Borton was eventually cleared of any criminal charges in December, but along with Harl Maggert, Gene Dale, and Bill Rumler, Borton was expelled from the Pacific Coast League.

Borton never played in organized baseball after 1920. He worked for the Standard Oil Refinery in Richmond, California from 1926 until his retirement in 1953. He died on July 29, 1954 at his home in Berkeley.

Sources: Society for American Baseball Research, "The Fix Is In: A History of Gambling and Game Fixing Scandals" by Daniel Ginsburg, Ogden Standard-Examiner, Oakland Tribune, Wikipedia, Ancestry. com

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