The fixing of the 1919 World Series by gamblers and the Chicago White Sox – known as the Black Sox Scandal – has special meaning in South Carolina.
One of the eight members of the White Sox banned for life from baseball for purportedly throwing the Series was Shoeless Joe Jackson, an Upstate native who was among the most talented men to ever play the game.
To this day, Jackson’s role in the scandal continues to be debated, with many arguing he was innocent of helping to throw games.
Recently, there has been new scrutiny of the Series held the year prior to the Black Sox Scandal and questions about whether it too was rigged. That championship matchup involved another Chicago club, the Cubs, and the Boston Red Sox.
No documented proof exists, but there are suspicions, largely because the conditions were ripe for a bribe, according to a recent story by The New York Times.
“It seems more likely that there would have been a fix than there would not have been,” said John Thorn, the official historian for Major League Baseball, of the 1918 Series. “It would be surprising if it didn’t come up. At that time, the connection between baseball players and gamblers was that strong.”
For proof, The Times cites a court deposition displayed in April at the Chicago History Museum from Eddie Cicotte, the first of the Black Sox to confess. In the 1920 deposition, Cicotte said that his 1919 teammates talked about how one or several Cubs were offered $10,000 to fix the 1918 Series.
“Aware of the deposition months before the exhibit, the author Sean Deveney began examining the 1918 Cubs and last year, his book, ‘The Original Curse,’ suggested that several miscues and mental lapses during the World Series pointed to a fix,” according to The Times.
“The book also highlighted the sequence of events that could have induced players to want to make a different kind of score. World War I’s ruinous effect on baseball’s economy had cut the players’ pay in half, the 1919 season had been unofficially canceled, and most players expected to be drafted when the Series ended.”
One last shot a big payday may have been too tempting for some players, the publication alleges.
“Baseball researchers have few verifiable clues to follow when it comes to the 1918 World Series because all the principals are dead and sportswriters of that era rarely wrote about off-the-field matters,” according to The Times.
“In the deposition, Cicotte said the conversation about the Cubs occurred while the White Sox were riding a train east. He concluded his remarks by saying, ‘Somebody made a crack about getting money if we got into the Series.’”
Cicotte didn’t say much else and investigators didn’t follow up, instead being more focused on what transpired during the 1919 World Series.
But the fact was that baseball’s environment was decidedly different a century ago than it is today. Players were generally an uneducated, rough lot whose earnings put them squarely in the middle class, unlike today’s multi-millionaires.
They also found themselves staying in the same hotels and visiting the same restaurants, bars and pool halls as gamblers, writes The Times.
Thorn, the baseball historian, told the publication that a player in the first World Series in 1903 was offered a $10,000 bribe and that there was also talk that the World Series in 1914 and 1917 had been fixed.
“With racetracks closed because of wartime restrictions, gambling in baseball spiked because the dollars had to go somewhere,” he said.
There was also uncertainty about the game of baseball, as well.
Although World War I would end in November of 1918, it wasn’t clear even a month or two before that that the conflict was nearing its conclusion.
Imperial Germany, although finally faltering, continued to occupy France and Belgium, as it had for more than four years.
Attendance was down as fans’ disposable income suffered from the war and the struggling economy. Many players expected that following the 1918 World Series, baseball world be suspended as more and more players would be called up to fight.
While the first three games of the 1918 Series had been well played, beginning with Game 4 things began to take a strange turn. This was after the players became aware that gate receipts were far below what had been expected, meaning their take was going to be substantially less.
“The next three games had all these strange blunders,” Deveney said.
The Times records that the outcome of the Series hinged in some ways on the play of two opposing players, one famous (Babe Ruth) and one not (Max Flack).
Flack, the Cubs’ leadoff hitter, made his presence known in the first at-bat of Game 4 when he lined a single off Ruth, pitching for the Red Sox. But with one out, Flack wandered off first base and was picked off by the Red Sox catcher.
Two innings later, Flack reached first on a force out and moved to second on a fielder’s choice. Ruth, seeing Flack far from the base, wheeled and threw from the mound, and Flack was picked off again.
Flack is the only player in the history of the World Series to be picked off twice in one game, according to The Times.
In the fourth inning with two Red Sox on base, Cubs pitcher Lefty Tyler had a full count on Ruth, who was already known for his hitting prowess. Tyler noticed that Flack was playing shallow in right field.
“Tyler waved him back,” The Chicago Herald-American wrote of the sequence. “Flack did not pay attention to the command. Once again, Tyler motioned him, but Max was obstinate.”
Ruth smacked a triple over Flack’s head, and both runners scored.
The Cubs tied the score in the top of the eighth. But in the bottom of the inning, Cubs reliever Phil Douglas fielded a sacrifice bunt and threw wildly into right field allowing a runner to score the eventual winning run from second base.
Four years later, as a star pitcher for the New York Giants, Douglas was barred from baseball for life after he wrote a letter to a St. Louis Cardinals player suggesting he would retire and leave the team if paid to do so. The Cardinals and the Giants were in a tight August pennant race.
The Cubs won Game 5, but the final game of the 1918 Series featured a Chicago player getting picked off first and Flack dropping a routine two-out drive to right field in the fourth inning, allowing Boston to score twice en route to a 2-1 victory.
However, others are hardly convinced the 1918 Series was fixed, according to The Times.
“There isn’t anything inherently suspicious to me,” said Bill Lamb, an 18-year member of the Society for American Baseball Research, who is on the Black Sox scandal research committee. “You’re telling me the right fielder threw the Series? Seems to me you would want the pitcher or the catcher instead.”
Lamb, who spent 33 years as a prosecutor in New Jersey, added: “I am aware people do bad things, but just because something is conceivable doesn’t make it so. Where’s the proof?”