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Tuesday, October 09, 2012

October 9, 1919

This week’s Tuesday Timeline feature deals with a subject that I have to admit is one that I haven’t brought up a lot in this blog.  I’ll explain what the subject of the blog is, and why I rarely bring it up here a little bit later in this blog.

Before we do that though, why don’t we do what we do every Tuesday, and take a look at some of the other events that have occurred on this date in history.

So, let us have a look back through history to see what has happened on October 9.

1514 – Louis XII of France marries Mary Tudor

1558 – Merida is founded in Venezuela

1582 – Nothing happened on this day in Italy, Poland, Portugal, and Spain because this date didn’t exist...the reason being the switch to the Gregorian calendar

1604 – The occurrence of Supernova 1604, the most recent supernova observed in the Milky Way

1701 – Yale University is chartered in Old Saybrooke, Connecticut (under its original name of The Collegiate School of Connecticut)

1760 – Russia occupies Berlin during the Seven Years War

1771 – Dutch merchant ship “Vrouw Maria” sinks near Finland coast

1799 – HMS Lutine sinks, killing 240 men

1804 – Hobart, Tasmania is founded

1812 – American forces capture British ships HMS Caledonia and HMS Detroit during the War of 1812

1824 – Slavery is abolished in Costa Rica

1834 – Ireland’s first public railway, “Dublin and Kingstown Railway” opens

1873 – Establishment of the U.S. Naval Institute

1874 – The Treaty of Berne results in the creation of the General Postal Union

1888 – The Washington Monument is opened to the public

1907 – Las Cruces, New Mexico is incorporated

1940 – John Lennon, of the Beatles, is born in Liverpool, England

1944 – John Entwistle of the Who, is born in Chiswick, London, England

1962 – Uganda becomes an independent Commonwealth realm

1963 – A major landslide in Italy kills 2,000 people when the Vajont Dam overflows as a direct result of it

1966 – The Binh Tai and Dien Nien-Phuoc Binh massacres both occur on the same day during the Vietnam War

1967 – Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara is executed after his attempts to incite a revolution in Bolivia

1981 – Capital punishment is abolished in France

1986 – The musical “The Phantom of the Opera” has its first performance at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London

1992 – A 13kg fragment of the Peekskill meteorite lands in Peekskill, New York, destroying a family’s car in the driveway

1995 – An Amtrak Sunset Limited train is derailed by saboteurs in Arizona

2001 – Second mailing of anthrax laced letters from Trenton, New Jersey following 9/11 attacks

2006 – North Korea allegedly tests its first nuclear device

There are also quite a few celebrity birthdays today as well.  You know about the late John Lennon and the late John Entwistle, but other celebrities who were born on October 9 include Fyvush Finkel, Donald Sinden, Daniele Delorme, Tony Booth, Peter Mansfield, Joe Pepitone, Jackson Browne, Sharon Osbourne, Tony Shalhoub, Scott Bakula, James Fearnley (The Pogues), John O’Hurley, Linwood Boomer, Don Garber, Ini Kamoze, Michael Pare, Kenny Garrett, Julian Bailey, John Ralston, Guillermo del Toro, Jimbo Fisher, British Prime Minister David Cameron, P.J. Harvey, Christine Hough, Giles Martin, Kenny Anderson, Annika Sorenstam, Steven Burns, Erin Daniels, Sean Lennon, Sam Riegel, Nicky Byrne (Westlife), Brandon Routh, Zachery Ty Bryan, Spencer Grammer, and Scotty McCreery.

Today in this blog, we’re going to be going back in time almost one hundred years!  It’s actually the second oldest date that we have ever gone back in time with this Tuesday Timeline feature.

Today, we are travelling back in time ninety-three years to October 9, 1919.

And here lies the challenge for me.  This date has to do with the subject of sports.  And sports are probably the one subject that I don’t really have much knowledge in.  I cringe every single time I try to answer a Sports question in Trivial Pursuit.  So for me to take on the challenge of doing a sports themed blog entry, I’ll either do really well, or really terrible.  I’ll leave it up to you.

So, as I type this, the World Series is set to happen within the next couple of weeks.  Don’t ask me what teams are playing this year, as I don’t know.  I don’t really follow baseball or many other sports these days.  But, the World Series has been known to have some interesting events linked to it.  The 1989 World Series was postponed because of the Lorna Prieta earthquake, and the 1994 World Series was cancelled outright following a strike.

And then there’s the 1919 World Series.  On October 9, 1919, the Cincinnati Reds ended up winning the series that year, which clearly delighted their fans and supporters.  However, their win was sort of clouded in controversy, and the scandal made their celebrated win seem more like a farce.

But in this case, it wasn’t because of any actions by the players and coaches of the Cincinnati Reds.  The team that they were playing against...well, they couldn’t say the same.  In fact, part of the reason why the Cincinnati Reds ended up winning was due to a scandal so serious that several players were handed serious punishments as a result of it.

Yes, today we’re going to look back at the “Black Sox Scandal of 1919”, as well as the team that was linked to the scandal, the Chicago White Sox.

The 1919 World Series was set to begin on October 2, 1919.  The two teams playing were the White Sox and the Reds.  Right off the bat the Chicago White Sox were the obvious favourites to win.  They had beaten the New York Giants (now based in San Francisco) in the 1917 World Series, and still managed to place sixth in the 1918 World Series despite losing their star player, “Shoeless Joe Jackson” temporarily when he went to serve in World War I.  By the time the 1919 World Series arrived, the team had a win-loss record of 88-52, and Jackson was set to have another stellar run.  1919 was the year that there were some changes in management, as team owner Charlie Comiskey fired manager Pants Rowley and replaced him with Kid Gleason.  It was also the year that a lot of tension between Comiskey and the players were evident, largely due to his cheapskate ways.  In fact, one urban legend stated that 1919 was the year that fans began referring to the team as the “Black Sox”, due to the fact that their uniforms were always dirty due to Comiskey refusing to wash them on a regular basis.

(Can I just say that if that urban legend were true...yuck?  At any rate, remember this point for later...)

Now, you compare the White Sox to the Cincinnati Reds.  Comparing the two teams, the Reds were considered to be sort of an underdog team.  The team only managed to place in the Top 3 teams only twice since the turn of the 20th century, but had one of their best years ever with the 1919 season.  Under the leadership of new manager Pat Moran, the team ended up with a record of 96-44, which left every other team in the league at least twenty games behind.  Their star player was center fielder Edd Roush, and the trio of pitchers (Hod Eller, Dutch Ruether, and Slim Sallee) helped steer the team to the World Series finals.

However, there was talk about the games being fixed as early as the first game of the World Series, on October 2.  Gamblers and bookies were betting large sums of money against the White Sox, claiming that the Reds would win the World Series.  Of course, most fans seemed completely oblivious to the rumours despite the constant betting.  Therefore, it seemed rather ironic that in the October 2, 1919 edition of the Philadelphia Bulletin, this poem appeared.

Still, it doesn’t really matter, after all, who wins the flag
Good clean sport is what we’re after, and we aim to make our brag
To each near or distant nation, whereon shines the sporting sun
That of all our games gymnastic, base ball is the cleanest one!

Oh, sweet, sweet you mock this scandal so.

And with the second pitch of the World Series, when White Sox pitcher Eddie Cicotte struck Cincinnati leadoff hitter Morrie Rath in the back...that was the signal that set forth one of the biggest scandals in the history of baseball.

Have you figured it out yet?  The clues involve a team favoured to win going against an underdog team, gamblers putting unusually large sums of money on Cincinnati to win the series, and several players on the White Sox beginning to feud with the team owner over charges of being stingy with money.

If you guessed that the White Sox purposely lost games in order to stick it to the highly-disliked Comiskey, you’re absolutely right on the money!

But why would the team go to such drastic lengths to throw the World Series?  And, who came up with the idea in the first place?

Well, you can thank White Sox first baseman Arnold “Chick” Gandil for the “brilliant” idea.  It was bad enough that he had been linked to petty underworld figures while he was a player on the team (which could explain the surge in bets against the White Sox as the 1919 World Series began).  He enlisted the help of his friend, professional gambler Joseph “Sport” Sullivan to pull off the fix.

He then went to work getting other players to go along with the plan to throw the World Series, and managed to convince a few to join him in the plan right away.  These included starting pitchers Eddie Cicotte and Claude “Lefty” Williams, as well as outfielder Oscar “Happy” Felsch and infielder Charles “Swede” Risberg.  All four men also wanted to see Comiskey go down as well, while getting rich in the process.  Shortstop Buck Weaver was also asked to participate in the fix, but he decided that he wanted no part of it.  Although Weaver never blew the whistle, which caused a lot of problems for him down the line.  Eventually, utility infielder Fred McMullin was brought into the fix after he threated to blow the story out of the water unless he was in on the payoff.  There still remains a bit of a question about the involvement of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson in the fix.  Although the players denied his involvement years after the scandal broke, others remain unconvinced of his innocence.

Anyway, long story short, the White Sox lost the World Series, and Cincinnati won.  But the rumours of a possible fix in the 1919 World Series continued to haunt the team well into the play-offs for the 1920 World Series as the team battled the Cleveland Indians for the American League pennant that year.  By September 1920, a grand jury was called in to investigate the claims after hearing stories that other teams were linked to the corruption as well.

It didn’t take long after the grand jury was issued for the players involved in the scandal to start singing like canaries.  Cicotte and Jackson confessed their involvement in the scheme on September 28, 1920, which lead team owner Charles Comiskey to suspend seven players from the team still in the majors (excluding “Chick” Gandil, who left the team to play pro-ball earlier that year), which caused the team to lose the necessary games needed to earn a spot in the 1920 World Series.

Not only did the Chicago White Sox lose their chance at winning a legitimate “World Series”, but the scandal caused serious damage to the team’s reputation.  As a result of the 1919 World Series fix, federal judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis made the ruling that all eight baseball players who were connected to the scandal would be banned from playing the sport of championship baseball for the rest of their lives.

Of the eight players named, seven were still under contract with the Chicago White Sox, and Comiskey let them go as a result of Landis’ ruling.  With seven of the team’s best players no longer eligible to play baseball, the team ended up sinking to seventh place.

The eight men that found themselves without a team to play on included Cicotte, Felsch, Gandil, Jackson, McMullin, Risberg, Weaver, and Williams.  That’s right...Buck Weaver was also banned from playing the game.  Even though he didn’t take part in the scandal, he knew all about it and didn’t do anything to stop it, making him an accomplice.

As far as the Chicago White Sox goes, their name was dragged through the mud, and their reputation remained sullied as a result of the scandal.  The team ended up not winning an American League championship until 40 years after the scandal took place, and wouldn’t end up seeing a World Series win until the year 2005!  That’s an eighty-eight year drought, folks!  No wonder people still believe that the team was cursed since the scandal broke.  Though, I will say that I certainly don’t believe in any such curse.  Chicago still has some decent players, and any fans of the White Sox that I have spoken to seem like fantastic folks.  Clearly, the events of 1919 are nothing more than an unfortunate memory in Chi-Town.

The ones that I feel really bad for are the players on the 1919 Chicago White Sox team who had no knowledge of the fix.  I can only imagine them trying their hardest to win the title not even aware of the fact that their own teammates were betraying them.  But at least after the scandal broke and the players involved were banned, they ended up getting a bonus check for $1,500 (huge money in 1919) from Charles Comiskey.  Talk about a reward for being honest!

And then there’s the Cincinnati Reds.  Their win forever marred by the scandal.  I think they were the ones who really ended up cheated.  They may have won the game, but it was a cheap victory given that they only won because their opponents threw the World Series.  They never got to know whether they could have legitimately beaten the White Sox because they were never given the chance to play a fair game.  Maybe the outcome would have stayed the same, and maybe it wouldn’t have...but the bottom line is, they should have had the chance to play a clean game, and that opportunity was denied.  That is the real tragedy of it all.

None of the key figures of the 1919 World Series scandal are still alive.  The last surviving player, Charles “Swede” Risberg passed away in 1975.  I often wonder how they would have reacted to some of the other baseball scandals that have taken place since the 1919 World Series.  What their opinions would have been on players who have fallen from grace such as Pete Rose, Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds, and Mark McGuire.  Would they sympathize with them?  Look at them in disgust?  Feel the same desperation they had felt?  It’s hard to say, really.

I always saw baseball as being an all-American game where you sat in a huge stadium chomping down on hot dogs in the hopes of catching a ball in the stands, and hoping to get it autographed by your favourite players.  And for a lot of people, baseball is still that innocent pastime that millions absolutely love, and for every Gandil, Cicotte, and Felsch, there are a Gehrig, Ryan, and Ripken who know and love the game regardless.

And that is our look back on October 9, 1919.

For more information and a more detailed look at this scandal, read Eliot Asinof's book "Eight Men Out".

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