It will be 93 years ago this fall that the game of baseball suffered through the worst scandal and one of the most significant events in the history of all sports, let alone the game of baseball. Currently we are in the middle of the only scandal that has come close in comparison to what happened nearly a century ago but it still pales in comparison to the bomb that exploded in 1920.
Some wonder today if there is any way to get rid of steroids from the game forever and if we will be able to accurately compare the accomplishments of Barry Bonds to those of Babe Ruth or Hank Aaron. How do we know when the steroids era started and who was using before there was testing? All of these questions were quietly and nervously asked 93 Years Ago (obviously not comparing Ruth, Aaron and Bonds but comparing Honus Wagner and Johnny Evers to Joe Jackson and Buck Weaver) and the answers were never quite found. Yet somehow the sport has continued to thrive and will continue to thrive.
The fear today over the steroid issue is the same as the fear that was pervasive back then: this scandal strikes at the very integrity of the game and brings into question the validity of every win, every record and every championship in the record books.
If you haven't guessed yet the moment we are exploring this week is the 1919 World Series. There have been legends and misconceptions that have grown out of the event and as time goes on these become more and more accepted as the truth. Just like every scandal and historical event there are two sides to every story and every rule breaker has their supporters. For those of you interested in the history of the sport, or for those of you just interested in a good scandal, here are 15 myths that are generally accepted about the Black Sox scandal of the 1919 World Series:
I sort of take it for granted that everyone reading this knows exactly what I'm talking about but for those non-baseball fans who just want to read about a good scandal I will give you a bit of the back story. The 1919 Chicago White Sox are generally considered one of the greatest collections of talent in the history of the game. The team finished with a record of 88-52 and had a team that looked like it would become what the Yankees became just a few years later. The team included future Hall of Fame members Eddie Collins (quite likely the greatest second basemen of all time) and Ray Schalk and several players who were considered to be on their way to becoming Hall of Fame members. Eight members of the team conspired with gamblers to throw the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds. They did such a poor job of throwing the games and covering their tracks that rumors swirled before a pitch was thrown in the series and Ray Schalk along with Kid Gleason, their manager, made it clear to the players that they knew what was going on. Gleason attacked Chick Gandil in the locker room and Schalk attacked Lefty Williams in a separate incident. As a result of the fixed series eight players (1B Chick Gandil, SS Swede Risberg, 3B Buck Weaver, CF Happy Felsch, LF Shoeless Joe Jackson, P Eddie Cicotte, P Lefty Williams and IF Fred McMullin) were banned for life from the game. As with every historical event there are varying opinions, varying interpretations, misunderstandings and myths. Following are the 15 most common myths of the greatest scandal the game of baseball has ever experienced:
1. The 1919 White Sox were the first players banned for throwing games:
We hear about the Black Sox scandal because it was the most widely publicised betting scandal in history and because it involved some of the games most recognizable names at a time that the sport was starting to establish itself as the national pastime. This was not the first gambling scandal but it was definitely the biggest. Way back in 1865, literally at the dawn of organized baseball, the New York Mutuals had three players (William Wansley, Thomas Devyr and Edward Duffy) who were caught throwing a game to the Brooklyn Eckfords. The three were "banned for life" but just like today, if a player was talented and could help a team win, managers were willing to take a chance. Although banned for life, the Mutuals allowed Devyr to play with them (there were no contracts at this point because it was before the professional days) and teams that lost games to the Mutuals protested. A hearing took place at the 1867 National Baseball Convention in Philadelphia and Devyr begged to be reinstated stating he had been only 18 at the time and was in needy circumstances (a very similar argument to A-Rod's "young and dumb" argument to explain his use of steroids). Whatever Devyr said it must have been a good story because the commission reinstated himself and Duffy. Wansley was not reinstated though it is unclear based on the information available to me if he ever applied for reinstatement.
In 1877, in just their second season in the league, the Louisville Grays had a comfortable lead in first place, well ahead of the Boston Red Stockings (not today's Red Sox) when the team suddenly lost seven straight and tied in an 8th game. The play of several players was suspicious. Odd errors. Pitches that would have made batting practice look difficult. Sloppy plays. The Grays' collapse left them in second place, a distant seven games behind the Red Stockings. The owner felt something was wrong and ordered that every player authorize him to view any telegram they had received through Western Union during the season. Obviously this is long before Human Resources, workers rights or labor unions and the players had no choice. One player refused but all other players agreed. Most players had nothing spectacular (that we know of) in their telegrams, however three players continuously sent telegrams to the same individuals all of which contained the word SASH. As the investigation continued it was found that SASH was code for "Sure as Shit". Meaning the players would "sure as shit" throw the next game. As a result Pitcher Jim Devlin, LF George Hall and utility IF Al Nichols were banned. The one player who refused to allow his telegrams to be read may have had a great reason but the owners didn't care. Shortstop Bill Craver (who was also the captain of the team) was banned along with the other three. The Louisville Grays ended their existence after only two years. Unlike Devyr and Duffy, no hard luck stories would gain them reinstatement. This lifetime ban would stick.
2. The fix was an isolated incident:
By 1919 gambling was relatively common in the baseball world. The owners were in a bad position: how could they stop this from happening without revealing how prevalent it had become and without impacting the business? There were rumors on a fairly regular basis and even John McGrawwas known to associate with notorious gamblers, including Arnold Rothstein, historically considered the mastermind of the fix.
In the early days of the World Series the players were only given a share of the first 4 games' profits. Germany Scahefer of the Tigers asked what would happen if one of those games ended in a tie. The answer from the owners was that the players would add the profits of the tie game to their share of the first four games. Amazingly in the first game, the Tigers led 2-1 in the 9th, gave up 2 runs to tie the game at three. The inning went this way: single, hit by pitch, a sacrifice bunt, an error to load the bases, a ground ball to score a run and a passed ball on strike three that would have ended the game but allowed the tying run to score. The game was called due to darkness still tied at 3-3 after the bottom of the 12th.
The amazingly heavily favored Philadelphia Athletics were upset by the "Miracle Braves" of 1914. There have long been rumors that the A's players, many of whom jumped to the Federal League shortly after the series threw the series. Many of those who did not jump were traded away leading many more to speculate that the team was crooked.
Just the year before the White Sox lot to the Reds, the Cubs lost to the Red Sox. There were several questionable plays and when someone asked Eddie Cicotte why he felt the 1919 White Sox could get away with it he reportedly said "Why not? The Cubs did it last year."
Gambling and speculation of thrown games were not suspected only in World Series games. Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson were known to bet on themselves to win. Hal Chase's crooked ways were legendary. Later there was speculation that the Reds being in the 1919 World Series was not necessarily because of their winning but more because of the Giants' poor play. (See #9 below). There are not the only suspicions that arose. There were other rumors associated with the 1903, 1905, 1921 and 1922 among others.
3. The players were taken advantage of by the gamblers:
Chick Gandil was the instigator of the entire fix. He approached a gambling contact in Boston named Sport Sullivan and asked how much Sullivan thought he could get if Gandil convinced some of his teammates to throw the series with him. Sullivan knew he didn't have the money available so he went to Arnold Rothstein for the cash. As Gandil was pitching the idea to Sullivan, Cicotte was also pitching the idea to Sleepy Bill Burns, who also went to Rothstein for money to pay off the players.
Although not all the players got all the money they expected it would be hard to say that the players were taken advantage of. Cicotte got his money up front. Gandil, Risberg and McMullin received several payments throughout the series, including the one that went to Lefty Williams and Joe Jackson. When it became clear that the money source had dried up the players decided not to continue on with the plan and go for the winners share instead. This can be clearly seen in the strong performance of games 5, 6 and 7. Lefty Williams prepared for Game 8 with the intentions of winning but when one of Rothstein's men threatened his wife, he knew he had to throw the final game.
The White Sox of this era were an amazingly divided team. Considering they won a World Series in 1917 and dominated the league in 1919, it is almost unbelievable how strained some of the relationships were on this team. Some have claimed the division was northerners vs. southerners. Others have said young vs. old. Still others claimed college bred vs uneducated. Regardless of what the dividing line was, there were two factions on this team. One faction consisted of Eddie Collins (2B), Ray Schalk (C), Red Faber (P) and rookie Dickie Kerr (P). The other faction was the group of eight involved in the fix. The feuds were so bad that Gandil and Risberg excluded Eddie Collins from the between inning warm ups. Once when Collins complimented one of the others on a good play he got the response "shut up college boy." The players throwing games would have known better than to let the other players know what was going on and they certainly would not have wanted to cut them in on the money they hoped to make. There were only eight players involved. No one else involved with the team knew about the fix but some other players certainly figured it out quickly.
5. Joe Jackson was playing on the level:
Joe Jackson testified before the Chicago Grand Jury investigating the rumors of gambling. Jackson was the third member of the "Black Sox" to confess. (Actually Jackson had tried to confess to Comiskey before he left for the winter but Comiskey refused to see him. Many Jackson supporters point to this as a way to prove his innocence but his testimony will show why he did it. He also attempted to confess after the World Series had been thrown which is a bit like closing the barn door after the horse has gotten out.) Ciccotte was the first to confess to the Grand Jury and he was followed by Lefty Williams and Jackson. Jackson, in his confession, said "I told them once 'I am not going to be in it.' I will just get out of it altogether...He said I was into it already and I might as well stay in it. I said "I can go to the boss and have every damn one of you pulled out of the limelight." He said it wouldn't be well for me if I did that."
In his testimony he also says that he was promised $20,000 but only given $5000. This was brought to him at his apartment before the team left for the fifth game of the series (before his above quoted conversation with Gandil). His bitterness towards Gandil shows through clearly in his testimony. He tells the Grand Jury "I don't think Gandil was crossed as much as he crossed us."
Another point Jackson supporters point to are Jackson's numbers in the series and it would be idiotic to say the numbers he had were not impressive. We sometimes get too bogged down in the impressiveness of the statistics and fail to look at the situational hitting or failure in situations. Stats are great to compare players or to mark milestones or just to find the odd anomalies in the game but we have to be a bit careful in how we use them. Sure we can figure out what someone hits with runners on base, with a 3-2 count at home against a right handed pitcher (and I personally love these kinds of stats) but the bottom line is: did the hitter help the team score a run by advancing the runners or starting a rally or taking a few pitches to get the pitcher out of a rhythm. If we look at the situational hitting for Jackson we can see he did not.
The only Chicago batter with a higher average was Fred McMullin (he was 1-2). Jackson led Chicago's batters in hits (12), doubles (4), RBI (6, only Cincinnati's Pat Duncan's 8 RBI was higher in the series) and he hit the only Home Run in the series. Statistics are great but you can't take statistics just at face value and it is important to look deeper into the situations surrounding the hits. For example, Jackson was 0-4 in the game one loss, definitely one of the games that was thrown. In game 2, another game that was definitely thrown, he was 3-4. Sounds great until you look at the situations. The first hit was a double to center with no one on base. The second was a single with a slow runner on first. The final was an infield ground ball that the first baseman threw away allowing Jackson a single and extra base on an error. The one time he did not get a hit he struck out looking at strike three with a runner in scoring position. Game 3 was a game the team won, Jackson was 2-3, with 2 singles. (This was the game where the players turned around on the gamblers, ruining their plans because they had not received the payments after games 1 and 2.). After game 4 most of the players were convinced they wouldn't be paid and decided to play for real. Jackson was 1-4 with a single, two ground balls, a K and reaching on an error. In game 5, after Jackson got his $5000, he popped out to third base with two men on in the first. He grounded out in the 4th and again in the 7th, both with the bases empty. In the 9th, with a runner on third, with 2 out, he grounded out again. By that time it didn't matter. They lost 5-0. Game 6 was one they were trying to win. Jackson went 2-4, walked once and had 1 RBI. The Sox won in 10 innings with Gandil driving in the winning run. Game 7 was the last one they were all legitimately trying to win. Jackson went 2-4 with 2 RBI. Finally in Game 8, the game was over before the White Sox had a chance to bat. The Reds scored 4 in the first and 1 in the second. By the time Jackson hit a solo home run in the third inning it didn't make a difference. He went 2 for 3 with 2 runs and three RBI, a double and a Home Run.
So what does all this mean? It may be a lot of gibberish to a lot of readers so here is a more telling break down. In 516 regular season at bats Jackson struck out a total of 10 times (roughly once every 52 at bats). In only 32 at bats in the World Series he struck out twice. Both in games the White Sox were told to lose and one of those with the runners in scoring position and the bat sitting on his shoulder. Of his 12 hits 7 came as a lead off hit or with no one on base. Knowing that the three batters hitting behind him were also in on the fix would certainly make it easier to hit freely. Especially when two of the batters were Risberg and Gandil, the two ringleaders of the fix. Further, in games one through five Jackson was 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position. In games six through eight (they played to win in games six and seven) he was 4-7 and reached on an error with runners in scoring position. The hit with runners in scoring position in game 8 came, as his Home Run did, well after the game was out of reach.
6. Joe Jackson was an unintelligent hick who had no idea what he was doing:
Most portrayals of Joe Jackson depict him as a country bumpkin. A dumb, illiterate almost a doofus character. True, he could not read or write and was very self conscious about that fact. He was not able to sign his own name and often had his wife sign it for him. All of this is true, however, being able to read and write does not mean that someone does not know right from wrong or cannot be successful in business. Jackson was a fairly shrewd business man. He toured on vaudeville in the off season and owned the legal rights to the show known as the "baseball girls". He was also owner of a profitable farm, a pool hall and an apartment house. One biographer referred to him as a "mini-conglomerate". Although the White Sox were one of the most underpaid teams in the league, Jackson was doing alright with his other businesses. He may not have been able to read and write but by the age of 32 he had lived and operated in the big city long enough to know a bit about business. Connie Mack felt that Jackson was tricked into going along and the sympathetic perception of "poor Joe" continued to grow. The problem with this perception is that it chooses to ignore the success that Jackson had in the world outside of baseball and reduces him to almost having the intelligence of an infant.
7. Joe Jackson had his whole career ahead of him:
Joe Jackson was originally signed by the Philadelphia Athletics in 1908 and played his first game in the majors at 21 that same year. He had never been away from home, and like a lot of people off on their own for the first time, missed his family and his girlfriend and wanted to go back home. He tried several times to jump trains going back home but each time Connie Mack stopped him before he could get away. Jackson played in only 5 games that season and he was unhappy. Lonely, shy, awkward on a team with established veterans, Jackson was miserable. One day while the team was in Reading, PA, waiting for the next train Jackson turned to Mack and said "I wish you'd send me down south." Jackson was getting little playing time so Mack shipped him back to New Orleans for more experience. In July 1910 the Athletics sent Joe Jackson to the Cleveland Naps (later the Indians) to complete a previous trade. He played for the Indians from 1910 to 1915 and was traded to the White Sox midway through the 1915 season. At the end of the 1920 season, when he was banned from the game, Jackson was 33. Certainly not an old man but he was far from a spring chicken. Jackson's numbers had not slipped, in fact he hit .382 in 1920, but those who suggested that he would have challenged Babe Ruth for power when the lively ball came into play may not take into account the age factor.
8. The players were acquitted in a court of law:
This is a tricky one. The answer to this is a yes and a no. Yes they were acquitted in a court of law on five charges: 1. A conspiracy to defraud the public, 2. A conspiracy to defraud Ray Schalk, 3. A conspiracy to commit a confidence game, 4. A conspiracy to injure the business of the American League and 5. A conspiracy to injure the business of Charles A. Comiskey. No one honestly believed the players intended to defraud the public or that their hatred for Schalk (which was more of a behind the scenes feud) would be enough to intentionally defraud him or to ruin the game itself. They never even took any of those into consideration when they came up with the plan. There was no law at the time making it illegal to bet on baseball. There was no law making it illegal to throw a game. Further, the trial was a circus. The legal fees for the players were paid for by Charles Comiskey, the man who supposedly was trying to have the players kicked out of the league. Three of the players (Cicotte, Williams and Jackson) confessed in front of the Grand Jury and gave specifics of the games and plays that were thrown and the payments that were made. Unfortunately, the three confessions "disappeared" just as they were set to be entered into evidence. So yes, they were acquitted in a court of law but they were never really tried based on whether or not they had thrown games and there were enough anomalies in the trial process to doubt whether the jury made an informed decision.
9. There were only 8 players banned because of the fix:
When the rumors started to circulate and gain more secure footing in reality, Charles Comiskey offered a reward of $20,000 to anyone who came forward with information that led to proof of a thrown World Series. There was one man who wanted that money and he was a good friend of Swede Risberg. Joe Gedeon, second baseman for the St.Louis Browns went to Comiskey and told him all he knew, which implicated himself as having knowledge of the fix. Not only did he not get the $20,000 he got himself banished from the game.
There were other anomalies revealed in the investigations. For example, the Giants of that same year had a significant lead on the Reds. During the collapse that followed there were numerous plays where Heinie Zimmerman played out of position. McGraw and the coaches would give him specific directions on the positioning but when the pitch was delivered he was out of position again. On the other corner of the Giants diamond, Hal Chase made some poor plays that led to opponent runs. The result was a Reds pennant by a 9 game margin. When Commissioner Landis handed out his punishments Gedeon, Zimmerman and Chase were banished as well.
10. None of the players were actually paid:
The exact total amount of money the players got from the fix is hard to calculate. With the players getting a promise of $100,000 from one set of gamblers and $100,000 from another group of gamblers then questions of whether or not the players were placing their own bets on the games, the confusion of where money was coming and going made it hard for the players to nail down their amounts. Cicotte insisted on getting $10,000 in advance, before a pitch was ever thrown. Had he not gotten it the fix would never have gone down. Buck Weaver did not take any cash and although he was aware of the fix, attended at least one meeting of the group and kept his mouth shut about it, few have ever claimed that Weaver played anything other than his best in the series. Joe Jackson and Happy Felsch received $5,000. Lefty Williams told Jackson he only received $5000 but Jackson always doubted he told the truth. Gandil, Risberg and McMullin were the three who controlled the intake of money. It was mostly Gandil's show but Risberg and McMullin were never far from his side. No one ever found out how much the three of them got but Gandil was able to walk away from the game and made a few purchases larger than would have been possible on his baseball salary.
11. The players only threw a few games in the World Series:
The general understanding of the banned players is that they threw the World Series and that was the end of that. The truth is the gamblers knew how to work the players. The players honestly believed they were done once the series was over but the gamblers knew that they could keep the cash flow coming. Using the fact that none of the players wanted the scandal to come out, they continued to pressure the eight players to continue throwing the games. The 1920 American League pennant race was one of the closest ever. With the Yankees riding the success of their first season with Babe Ruth and the Indians keeping pace even after the tragedy of Ray Chapman, no one can know how close the race would have actually been if the White Sox weren't constantly keeping the race artificially close with thrown games to appease the gamblers. We also will never know what the outcome would have been had the league not suspended the eight players with less than a week before the end of the playoff race.
12. The players are erased from baseball history:
Some people believe that being banned from the game from life means the statistics are just erased. Almost as though they believe you would open a statistics book and the teams would just have missing places. This is definitely not true. Their numbers still count. Their achievements are still recognized. Joe Jackson still has the 3rd highest average in the history of the game. Eddie Cicotte is still 81st all time with 249 complete games. Chick Gandil still ranks 163rd all time in Sacrifice Hits. What is even more amazing to some is that the Black Sox can be represented in the Hall of Fame. They are frequently mentioned in exhibits and several pieces of Joe Jackson's memorabilia pieces are prominently displayed. The lifetime ban stops them from being inducted as individuals in the members section but not as being in any way mentioned.
13. Fred McMullin was only a utility player who was cut into the deal because he overheard the talk in the locker room:
McMullin was a very close friend of both Gandil and Risberg. He is often portrayed as an unsophisticated rookie who just stumbled into the fix because he was in the right place at the right time (or wrong place depending on your view). Realistically, Gandil and Risberg likely would have cut him in. The other view of McMullin as simply a utility player is off the mark. McMullin was in his fourth full season with the White Sox. When the White Sox won the World Series in 1917 McMullin played Third base in all six of the games. Risberg played in only two games during the 1917 World Series both as a pinch hitter.
14. The term Black Sox was introduced to describe the black mark left on the game by the dirty players:
The White Sox owner Charles Comiskey was notoriously cheap. Considering the tremendous collection of talent the team had the payroll was almost non existent. Not only did he keep salaries low, he would find ways to avoid paying them. For example, he did not dry clean the uniforms like most owners did. He forced the players to do it themselves and pay for it out of their pocket. Some of the players decided to avoid the cost and just not have their uniform cleaned. The filth and grime that accumulated on the white uniforms obviously led to discoloration. The press started nicknaming the players with the dirty uniforms the "Black Sox". Comiskey did not like the image it portrayed and sent the dirty uniforms for cleaning. The cost of dry cleaning their uniforms was taken out of their paychecks.
15. When the public heard of the scandal, a young boy walked up to Joe Jackson and said "Say it ain't so Joe."
"The fellow who wrote that just wanted something to say. When I came out of the courthouse that day, nobody said anything to me." The story is that when Jackson left the courthouse, having given his confession, a young boy walked up to him and said: "It ain't so, is it Joe? Say it ain't so." It's a nice story but it is one of those things that was never said. Like General Sherman saying "War is hell" or Durocher's "nice guy's finish last." This is a myth.
Have any more questions about the Black Sox scandal? Have a differing opinion on the scandal or the impact it had on the game? Email me your comments or add a comment!