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What I Never Understood About The Chicago Black Sox Scandal
As long as I've followed baseball, I can remember hearing about the "Chicago Black Sox" scandal involving eight players of the 1919 Chicago White Sox. And into my forties, what I believed, or thought I believed, was that the case was tried and justice meted out almost before the 1919 Series was in the record books. As Paul Harvey would say, "Now for the rest of the story".
Chicago, heavily favored in the 1919 World Series against Cincinnati, lost the series 5 games to 3. Knowledgeable sportsmen were shocked by this outcome. Very quickly rumors started to spread revolving around accusations that the series had been fixed by members of the Sox in league with several gamblers. At this point nothing had been proven, but the stories gained momentum and credence as they continued through the winter. By the time the season started in 1920, the rumors included the names of eight conspirators on the Chicago team. These players included; pitchers Eddie Cicotte and Lefty Williams, first baseman Chick Gandil, shortstop Swede Risberg, third baseman Buck Weaver, outfielders Joe Jackson and Happy Felsch, and finally a reserve player, Fred McMullin. They all reported to spring training with the club at the start of the 1920 season, except for Gandil who announced his retirement after an unresolved salary dispute.
As the 1920 season progressed and the pennant races heated up, the previous year's World Series and the possible "fix" were yesterday's news. It certainly hadn't seemed to affect the players named in the scandal. Weaver, Felsch and Jackson were all hitting to their potential and both Cicotte and Williams were on a pace to win 20+ games a piece. Looks can be deceiving because reports from people close to the team indicated that there was real animosity between the "Black Sox" and the "Clean Sox" who included; pitchers Dickie Kerr and Red Faber, catcher Ray Schalk and second baseman Eddie Collins. Somehow, these two factions were able to keep their problems outside the baselines because by mid-September they were able to distance themselves from the Yankees by beating them three straight games. This put them 1 ˝ games out of first place behind the League leading Cleveland Indians.
The Indians were on top, but not without their own more tragic problems. They had started off the 1920 season like a team possessed. Cleveland had taken first place by April and for the exception of a couple drops into second, held on to it during most of the season. And for good reason. The pitching duo of Bagby and Coveleski won 31 and 24 games respectively, player-manager Tris Speaker thrilled the Cleveland fans both in defense in the outfield and with offense that reached a .407 average in August. They had another powerful hitter in Elmer Smith, catcher Steve O'Neill called a superb game, third base was covered by a veteran Larry Gardner, who like Speaker had experience playing on championship seasons with Boston and a gifted second baseman in Bill "Wamby" Wambsganss. On the Cleveland team, shortstop Ray Chapman was the player that the team seemed to turn around. Chapman's batting average climbed to .300 early in the season and stayed there. He was a fearless infielder with quick feet and fast hands from whom other players would watch and learn.
Chapman was the favorite of the Cleveland faithful. He came to the team in 1912 when he was 21 years old so by the 1920 season he was one of the "gray beards" on the team. He had further endeared himself to the city by marrying Katherine Daly, the daughter of one of the city's most prominent businessmen, in 1919. Because of the considerable connections, rumor had it that Ray was going to retire and enter business or even politics. When asked, Ray didn't deny those possibilities but added that his intention was to play through the 1920 season and …"bring home a pennant for the fans of this city."
On August 16th, in a game against the New York Yankees, Chapman stepped to the plate to face Carl Mays. Chapman was a notorious "plate crowder" and Mays was just as well known for forcing batters off the plate. Chapman took his place in the batter's box, characteristically crowding the plate. Mays first pitch was high and inside, sent expressly to move Chapman back. Chapman stepped into the pitch, realized it was headed straight for his head and tried to duck. The ball struck him in the side of the head and knocked him unconscious. When he came around, he was helped into the clubhouse and then taken to the hospital. Chapman died early the next morning hemorrhaging resulting from a skull fracture. This day, Ray Chapman is the only major league baseball player to die as a result of an injury on the field.
By September, a grand jury had been convened in Chicago to investigate the influence of gambling in professional baseball. What's interesting here is, originally this investigation was begun not because of the Sox scandal during the World Series, but to look at the Chicago Cubs and suspicions raised from a game they played in late August of the 1919 season. Once this probe was started, all the suspicions revolving around the 1919 World Series resurfaced with a vengeance.
Remarkably, after Champion's death, Cleveland stayed in contention but during the two weeks following Champion's death they were just going through the motions. By the end of August the Indians had fallen into third place. They obviously needed help and it came in the acquisition of two players. Cleveland purchased the contract of a 21 year old shortstop named Joe Sewed from New Orleans in the Southern League and acquired pitcher, Walter "Duster" Mails from Sacramento of the Pacific Coast League. Sewell was brought in to take the gapping hole left by Chapman's death and ended up batting .329 over the last 22 games of the season. Mails' debut was nothing to write home about, but he came right back to win his next 5 starts. These two players provided the anchor Cleveland needed. When Cleveland and Chicago squared off for a three game series in Cleveland on September 23 - 25, the Indians held a one and a half game lead over the second place Sox with only ten days left in the season.
As September wore on, the grand jury in Chicago was leaning more and more toward shifting their focus from the Cubs indiscretions to the cross-town Sox World Series play. On September 22nd, the Illinois Assistant States Attorney told the Chicago Herald and Examiner that, "…the last World Series…was not on the square. From 5 - 7 players of the Chicago White Sox are involved." It was clear that if players were indicted, immediate suspension was demanded by the public and the baseball fraternity as well. But a decision coming in the midst of a tightly contested pennant race could easily decide the outcome.
On September 23rd, the first game of this three game series pitted Cleveland's 29-game winner Jim Bagby against Chicago's 19 and 9 Dickie Kerr. The game had been sold out for days and those who couldn't get seats were herded onto the playing field in left and centerfield behind roped off areas. Cleveland scored in the first inning on a fielding error by Chicago's shortstop. Chicago tied it up in the top of the fourth Risberg redeemed himself by scoring on a two-out double steal.
In the Indian's half of the fourth, Doc Johnson drove a ball right back up the middle. Dickie Kerr reached out with his bare hand to knock the ball down. Reports of the day say that one of Kerr's fingers was dislocated, but he was still able to pick up the ball and through it to first for the out. Kerr trotted over to the Chicago bench for repairs and then returned to the mound to finish the inning.
Prior to the game, the umpires settled on a ground rule stipulating that any ball hit into the fans on the field would be scored as a double. This ground rule came into play in the sixth when "Shoeless" Joe Jackson started the inning off with a normally playable pop fly that fell into the crowd in left field. Bagby through wildly to first after fielding a bunt by Felsch allowing Jackson to score to take the lead 2 - 1. Chicago plated two more and finished the inning 4 -1. Although Cleveland scored two more runs, Chicago won the first game 10 - 3 and found themselves a half game out of first place.
Chicago's starting pitcher for game 2 was 21-game winner, Red Faber. Cleveland's aces all needed a rest so Speaker was forced to give the ball to his new rookie phenom, "Duster" Mails. Mails didn't disappoint. After the Indians scored a run in each of the first two innings, Mails held the Sox to just three hits and no runs.
The third day of the mini-series dawned with Eddie Cicotte receiving the news that the names of eight players under investigation by the grand jury in conjunction with the 1919 World Series allegations had been published and Cicotte's name headed the list. Cicotte vehemently denied any involvement or ever even having bet on a game and therefore, the grand jury couldn't possibly have any evidence of his having thrown a game. The crowd of 30,000 filing into the park for the third game was full of talk about the coming indictments and began hurling abuses on the Chicago team before the game started and well into it. Chicago's Lefty Williams was the winner over Cleveland's 23-game winner Stanley Coveleski, with a five-hitter, 5 - 1 victory. After all was said and done, Chicago was only a half game out of first place. To add to the suspense, the Sox would wind up the season with two games against seventh-place Detroit and three against the fourth-place St. Louis Browns, the Sox would finish the season against the same two teams playing four with both the Tigers and the Browns.
From this point things moved quickly. On Sunday, September 26, Cicotte beat the Tigers in Chicago for his 21st win of the season and the last of his 219 career wins. The next day as Mails won his seventh in a row for Cleveland against the Browns, Cicotte and the seven named teammates denied any involvement in a conspiracy to throw the 1919 Series. The next morning, Cicotte stood before the grand jury and confessed. He was indicted within hours. That afternoon Jackson implicated himself with Felsch and Williams doing the same the next day. Chicago owner Charles Comiskey suspended all eight players as soon as he heard of Cicotte's confession and indictment.
This left Chicago's team decimated with only a game between them and first place Cleveland. The Sox went to St. Louis to play their final three games of the regular season. They filed out the lineup with reserve players and minor leaguers but could only take one of the three game series. Meanwhile Cleveland clinched the title on the second to last day of the season with a win over Detroit. By this time, Jackson and Felsch had disavowed their confessions and Weaver, McMullin, Riseberg and Gandil all denied their guilt. It took a full year for the case to go to trial and when it was all over, all eight were acquitted of all charges.
One of the results of the whole scandal was the appointment of Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis as the first Baseball Commissioner. And even though they were found innocent by the courts, one of Judge Landis' first acts in office was to permanently suspend all eight Black Sox from baseball. Not one of the eight ever played another game in the major leagues.
Cleveland went on to face the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1920 World Series. It proved to be quite a series with the Indians winning the Series five games to two. Stanley Coveleski won three games, Elmer Smith hit a grand slam and "Wamby" Wambsganss completed the only unassisted triple play in World Series history. Cleveland dedicated the Series to the memory of Ray Chapman, wore black armbands throughout the Series and voted his widow a full share of the winnings.
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