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8 People Who Were Banned from Baseball

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In a welcome development for Yankee haters, sanctimonious steroid hand-wringers, and Riley Cooper, Alex Rodriguez is dominating the sports news cycle again today. Not only is the much maligned infielder wrapped up in another performance-enhancing drug mess, he's also reportedly facing a lifetime ban from baseball.

Recent rumors indicate that Rodriguez may be negotiating a deal with Major League Baseball to avoid a permanent blacklisting. But if A-Rod does end up on the wrong end of a ban, at least he'll be in good, if shady, company. Plenty of other stars have gotten the permanent heave-ho from the big leagues. You probably know why Pete Rose, the "Black Sox" who threw the 1919 World Series, and countless other gamblers and fixers got the boot, but they're hardly lonely in their baseball exile. Here are a few more bans that don't get quite as much attention.

1. Jack O'Connor: Rigging the 1910 Batting Title

Ty Cobb was a jerk. Truly great at baseball, but really a loathsome individual. O'Connor, the former player-manager of the St. Louis Browns, hated Cobb so much that he couldn't let the Georgia Peach win the 1910 American League batting title on his watch. When Cobb entered the final day of the season locked in a tight duel with Nap Lajoie for the crown, O'Connor decided to intervene on Lajoie's behalf to spite Cobb.

O'Connor's Browns team was squaring off against Lajoie's Cleveland squad in a doubleheader to end the season. O'Connor gave his third baseman, Red Corriden, an odd order: to go stand in shallow left field whenever Lajoie came up to bat. With no one covering third base, Lajoie could easily bunt down the line for singles. He wound up with eight hits over the course of the day. This late surge gave Lajoie the batting title by virtue of a slight edge over Cobb.

Supposedly even Cobb's teammates sent Lajoie telegrams congratulating him for his triumph, but baseball officials weren't so amused. O'Connor was chased from the majors for rigging the batting crown race.

2. Horace Fogel: Crying Foul

Some fans think it's silly to see players and coaches get slapped with fines for criticizing the officiating after heated games, but the punishments could be considerably more draconian. Just ask Horace Fogel. Fogel served as the Philadelphia Phillies' owner and president from 1909 to 1912, but he ran afoul of the National League when he publicly claimed that the umpires preferred to see the New York Giants win and made biased calls against the Phils to ensure Giants victories. The league tired of Fogel's bombastic claims that the pennant race was fixed, so it banned him for life in 1912.

3. Benny Kauff: Possibly Selling Stolen Cars

Kauff, an outfielder, was a rare talent. In 1914 and 1915, he won the Federal League's batting titles and stolen base crowns, and in 1914 he also led the league in runs and doubles. His combination of batting eye, speed, and power earned him the nickname, "The Ty Cobb of the Feds," but he quickly got in more trouble than the actual Ty Cobb ever did.

For much of big league baseball's history, most players didn't scratch out enough money to live on playing the game, so they held offseason jobs. In Kauff's case, he owned a used car dealership with his half-brother, which is where he got into hot water. In 1919 the police found a stolen car they'd been searching for, and the driver told the cops he'd picked up his new wheels at Kauff's dealership. Kauff was arrested on a charge of receiving stolen property, and Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis didn't even wait to see what happened in the trial. He gave Kauff the permanent heave-ho from baseball just for being indicted.

As it turned out, Kauff might not have even known about the stolen cars, and he was acquitted on the charges following his trial. In 1922 Kauff applied to Landis for reinstatement on the grounds that he wasn't actually guilty of anything. Landis, a former federal judge, balked at the idea of letting a jury trial establish guilt and flatly refused, commenting that, "That acquittal was one of the worst miscarriages of justice that ever came under my observation."

4. Ray Fisher: Coaching College Baseball

Fisher, a starting pitcher, racked up a 100-94 record with a 2.82 ERA over his career with the Yankees and Reds. As the 1921 season was starting, the Reds offered Fisher a new contract, but it would require that he take a pay cut of $1000. Instead of stomaching the lowered salary, Fisher left the Reds to take a job that seemed to offer more security, coaching the University of Michigan's baseball team.

Fisher hoped the Reds would release him, but instead Landis stuck him on the ineligible-to-play list. Later on that summer, Fisher started mulling the idea of playing again. Branch Rickey of the Cardinals and an "outlaw" team from Franklin, Pennsylvania, tried to secure his services. Fisher wanted to play right by the Reds, though, so he wrote the team a letter asking what exactly his contract situation was and offering them first crack at him. To Commissioner Landis this query smacked of Fisher trying to weasel out of his contract with the Reds, which earned the pitcher a lifetime ban.

Things ended up okay for Fisher, though. He spent 38 very successful seasons as Michigan's baseball coach. In 1980 then-Commissioner Bowie Kuhn reinvestigated Fisher's ban by Landis and overturned the ruling, which meant the 82-year-old hurler was once again a retired MLBer in good standing.

5. Phil Douglas: Writing Drunken Notes

Douglas had a pretty good career as a pitcher, and he even won two games in the 1921 World Series for the New York Giants. However, he didn't get along with hot-tempered Giants manager John McGraw. Douglas looked to be on his way to an ERA title in 1922 when he and McGraw got into an argument that ended with a suspension and a hundred-dollar fine for Douglas.

Like any reasonable person would do, Douglas went out and got sloshed to take the edge off of his anger. He then sat down to write some letters. Douglas didn't see how he could help someone he disliked as much as McGraw win a pennant, so he decided he'd just skip out on the team. He drunkenly wrote this letter to his buddy Les Mann of the St. Louis Cardinals: "I want to leave here but I want some inducement. I don't want this guy to win the pennant and I feel if I stay here I will win it for him. If you want to send a man over here with the goods, I will leave for home on next train. I will go down to fishing camp and stay there."

The letter eventually ended up on Commissioner Landis' desk, and the old hanging judge came out with his customary punishment: a lifetime ban for Douglas.

6 & 7. Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays: Hanging Around Casinos

mantle-mays.jpgThese two all-time greats were long retired when they received their lifetime bans, but that didn't mean that Major League Baseball didn't see fit to paternally meddle in their lives. Following their careers, Mantle and Mays spent some of their time working as goodwill ambassadors for casinos in Atlantic City. They weren't working for MLB at the time, and it's not like they were pit bosses, either. The two would show up to greet casino patrons, sign autographs, play in golf tournaments, and do other little appearances to raise their casinos' profiles. In Mays' case, his services contract with the casino actually forbid him from doing any gambling himself, so the whole thing seemed harmless enough.

Commissioner Bowie Kuhn wasn't having any of it, though. He felt that baseball legends shouldn't be hanging around casinos, so he banned both men from working for baseball teams in any capacity. Cooler heads eventually prevailed, and Kuhn's successor, Peter Uberroth, overturned the bans.

8. George Steinbrenner: Stalking Dave Winfield

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It was easy to criticize George Steinbrenner for his rampant spending on free agents, but really, wouldn't every fan love for their team's owner to open his wallet so freely? It's much easier and more sensible to deride Steinbrenner for what he did to Dave Winfield. After signing Winfield to a massive free-agent deal in 1980, Steinbrenner quit getting along with the future Hall of Fame outfielder. When Steinbrenner refused to make a contractually guaranteed $300,000 donation to Winfield's charitable foundation, Winfield sued the owner. Instead of simply making the donation, Steinbrenner paid Howard Spira, a self-described gambler, $40,000 to "dig up dirt" on Winfield.

Since consorting with gamblers is MLB's one unforgivable sin, and since running a smear campaign against a player isn't exactly classy, Commissioner Fay Vincent slapped Steinbrenner with a ban in 1990. Vincent gradually lightened his stance, though, and in the summer of 1992 he agreed to let Steinbrenner have a full reinstatement at the beginning of the 1993 season.

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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