SocraticGadfly: Black Sox at 100, part 2 — were they the first to throw a World Series?

October 14, 2019

Black Sox at 100, part 2 — were they the first to throw a World Series?

In part 1 of my series (part 3 is coming) about the centennial of the 1919 Chicago Black Sox, I focus on the guilt, or not, of Shoeless Joe Jackson.

That said, I noted that there's allegations of Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker conspiring to fix games.

And they're not alone. Not by any means. But how un-alone are they?

On PBS, Jacob Pomrenke, in addition to refuting myths about Shoeless Joe in particular and the Black Sox' Eight Men Out in general, wonders if other World Series before 1919 were rigged. Pomremke, a member of SABR, chairs a committee it has just over the Black Sox. Here's a list of all his research.

Among other alleged fixers, he mentions Hal Chase. His career, per an old ESPN piece, unofficially was ended in ... wait for it, wait for it ...

1919! He also was booted later from the Pacific Coast League for trying to bribe an ump.

That said, Chase did not play on either of the two pre-1919 World Series that first stick out to me as possibly being thrown. (Note: I've changed my mind on the second, and looked at two more.)

The first? 1906, when the Chicago Cubs won a record 116 games with an unheard of 116-36 mark. The team of the famed, and overrated, double-play turning infield trio of Tinker to Evers to Chance — shortstop Joe Tinker, second baseman Johnny Evers and first baseman Frank Chance — lost in six games to ...

Crosstown rival Chicago White Sox! The Sox were known as the "Hitless Wonders" and deemed to have no chance in advance.

That said, that was arguably less a shock than the 1914 World Series, where first-time entrant Boston Braves not only beat, but swept, the heavily favored Philadelphia A's.

Here, unlike one of the myths about the Black Sox and Charles Comiskey that Pomrenke refutes, A's owner-manager Connie Mack, despite his team having the so-called "$100,000 infield," was known as being tight on salaries.

There's no smoking gun, but Mack himself allegedly "wondered." However, per great discussion at this baseball forum, there's plenty of myth the other way there. Mack only traded one top-level player after 1914. A couple of others jumped to the Federal League and that was that. As far as Mack being tight with money? Shibe Park was an undersized bandbox. Philly baseball would have been served by the Phillies turning over the Baker Bowl to the NFL Iggles only, and both Philly baseball teams sharing a new baseball stadium.

Further interesting? One of the Braves players was ... Johnny Evers!

That said, Wiki notes in an article on MLB scandals that some suspicions attached to the 1917 and 1918 affairs.

1918, which saw the Cubs lose to the Red Sox, has long drawn suspicions of a fix. This piece by BoSox blogger and book author Allan Wood has a lot of the details, including fingering Cubs pitcher Gene Packard. It notes that players faced tiny shared revenue from a condensed-season, attendance-shrunken World War I year, as far as temptation. It wasn't just overall numbers down with a shortened season. 1918 had the lowest per-game attendance in the 20th century. And they were being forced to share their shares with the other six teams of the two leagues' "upper divisions." (This later became the norm.) This piece also has 1919 games-throwing expert Eddie Cicotte claiming the Cubs had been paid to lose in 1918.

I don't know if he was given a formal ban at some point, but Packard also last pitched in ... 1919!

Shortstop Charlie Hollocher also drew suspicion from Hugh Fullerton, the first major sportswriter to smell a rat in 1919 as well. I'm less inclined to believe this one, though. Hollocher was a rookie in 1918, which would be another way of explaining his fielding mistakes. He knew nothing about AL players. That said, the fact that he was under suspicion shows where the game was at by this time. Also, even though the Cubbies had a better team WAR, the BoSox had won it all in 1915 and 1916. The fact that 1918 was believed to have been thrown by many sportswriters? Once again, shows you where baseball was at by this time.

The New York Times has more.

The year before? 1917? It's drawn somewhat less ink, but it is under a cloud of one player, at least. Heinie Zimmerman was eventually banned from MLB, at the same time as Chase, on general suspicion from the 1917 Series. Wiki notes he chased Eddie Collins across home plate in a botched rundown in the final game of the 1917 tilt. Per Wiki's piece on that Series, catcher Bill Rariden expected either pitcher Rube Benton or first baseman Walter Hoike to be backing him up in the rundown and neither did.

John McGraw tried to absolve Zimmerman, but reportedly, Zim probably could have caught Collins himself before he got to home.

That said, THIS plot comes full circle, too. McGraw reportedly believed that various members of his 1919 team conspired to throw the 1919 NL title to the Reds. He mentioned Chase by name. He also mentions pitcher Jean Dubuc, who was on the 1918 BoSox, and who reportedly heard details about the 1919 Black Sox fix. I find this one also hard to believe. The Giants ended nine games behind the Reds, who, per the 1919 NL season, simply appear to be the better team. Plus, throwing an entire season would be a big deal.

I had somewhat known some of this before. I hadn't really read about 1918 before, but I did know about 1914 vague suspicions, and more on 1917. But, I never thought to draw one connection.

And that's that the losing 1919 Black Sox had learned tips on how to throw games, and who to talk to to get paid for that, from the team they beat two years earlier, the Giants. Makes you wonder, doesn't it?

And, there's the sidebar of for three straight years, one of the other of the two Chicago teams was being claimed to either be in on the fix, in 1918 and 1919, or benefiting from it, in 1917.

In addition, even though the 1918 Red Sox won, two of their pitchers, Bullet Joe Bush and Carl Mays, remained under suspicion, or came under suspicion in later years. Both made their next stop with the Bronx Bombers. Again according to Wood, Jake Ruppert allegedly told Fred Lieb that he thought both of them had thrown World Series games. Maybe. Or maybe the Colonel was a butt-hurt owner just like John McGraw was a butt-hurt manager. Or maybe a sportswriter was spinning a yarn. Both Bush and Mays stuck around until the late 1920s, something unlikely in the Landis era if they had any actual taint.

And, one other loop back around. Bullet Joe was on Mack's 1914 A's. But, he wasn't traded until after the 1917 season, though Mack did get money as well as players back in the multiplayer trade.

So, there you have it. Certainly in the 1910s, even if the Hitless Wonders of 1906 weren't gifted with a title, suspicions abounded and for good reason. By 1920, the Black Sox of 1919 looked to be a trend, and with America cleaning up under Prohibition, baseball needed to clean up, for PR.

My final take?
1919: Obviously thrown
1918: Possibly thrown
1917: Possibly thrown
1914: Probably not; claims based on overrating the A's and Mack myth
1906: Who knows, but interesting, isn't it?

Part 3 is next, Could it happen today? And not just baseball.

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