Players 1919 World Series

1919 World Series Examination

I believe that a good majority of fans know about the 1919 World Series in which eight Chicago White Sox players conspired to throw the World Series. All eight of those players were suspended for life and that includes the banning of Shoeless Joe Jackson and Eddie Cicotte from never making the Hall of Fame despite having careers that normally would have warranted that. My question is, should they have been banned?

Players 1919 World Series
Credit: Wikipedia

I guess first and foremost one should ask if conspiring to lose on purpose warrants a lifetime ban but also, even if the players took the money…what if they didn’t lose on purpose? I’m going to examine both questions but I really want to dive into the second one as I have examined the 1919 World Series game by game. I have looked to see if the players’ names are more tarnished than they should be and honestly, to see if the Reds championship should be tarnished as well.

The first question though is important. Even if every player intentionally lost and screwed up games should they have received such a harsh penalty for doing so? It is likely harmful to the product if the competitive integrity of the game is impacted by players losing on purpose for their own reasons. I say likely because scripted sports like professional wrestling have had a level of popularity, but in general, I feel most sports fans find the drama in who the winner and loser is and they want such an outcome to be determined fairly.

1919 World Series Chicago Black Sox
Credit: Chicago Tribune

I agree with this. I don’t want players cheating to win and I don’t want players losing on purpose. But with that said, front offices will intentionally lose games in order to gain better draft picks. They’ll avoid calling up a major league-ready player to avoid paying them more for another season. There have been players who have definitely not given it their best to force a trade or just because they don’t want to put forth the effort and while I realize the circumstances are different here these are still examples of players not trying to win (or organizations) and effecting the competitive integrity.

There is also the aspect that for a long time baseball has enforced no gambling in a direct attempt to prevent the fixing of games; to help clean up the sport in the 1800s (along with no Sunday baseball and no booze in the stadiums) and to help create a certain perception of a sport that had gotten the reputation of being a hooligan-esque sport. Because the precedence and rules had already been set it would be hypocritical for the game to not enforce the rule in such a strict way. This does get messy though in modern times when MLB now endorses gambling in the sport, however.

The second part of this though is even if the players took the money if they still tried (or even partially tried, maybe) is the suspension warranted? So now I present my short breakdown of all eight players’ performance of those suspended for their part in the throwing of the 1919 World Series.

Eddie Cicotte

Eddie Cicotte, 1919 World Series
Credit: Library of Congress

If there is anyone that is “most guilty” of throwing the series it would be Eddie Cicotte. I think it makes the most sense to look at pitchers as the ones most culpable as they have the most control over the game. Theoretically, a position player could easily play well while down a lot of runs and they could avoid blame. I think the biggest indictment on him is the fact that he was told to hit the first batter of the game to send a message that the fix was in and catcher Ray Schalk talked about signs getting crossed up.

In the fourth inning of game one, he got walloped as he allowed hits to six out of the seven hitters he faced. In Game 4, his next game pitched, he actually didn’t allow any earned runs but both runs scored due to errors on Cicotte. He threw a ball into the stands on one put out and the following play dropped a relay throw that allowed a run. He did pitch well and got the win in Game 7 but in a series where the team had a big deficit to overcome one could make the case that he tried hard to keep things from looking too suspicious.

Overall, I do think Cicotte threw games. I think he’s the most concrete offender and if you think a player should be banned for such a thing….he definitely is the poster boy for that. With that all being said….he did have a 2.91 ERA for the series. I think what he did has a similar vibe that point-shaving in basketball or football would have. Definitely dirty.

Buck Weaver

Buck Weaver, 1919 World Series
Credit: Library of Congress

I think Buck Weaver played the best and cleanest game of the series. From what I’ve seen he claimed he played his best and the stats support him. He was a third baseman that committed no errors in 27 chances and he had an .OPS of .824. I do believe it’s possible that a player could blow a single at-bat on purpose while playing straight the rest of the time but this wasn’t a series with a lot of close games.

I don’t think it was necessary for him to do so. I don’t believe Buck Weaver threw anything (and I believe he never took money to do so.) Weaver shouldn’t have been banned in my eyes.

Shoeless Joe Jackson

Shoeless Joe Jackson
Credit: Library of Congress

The most famous of the Black Sox. For this series, he hit .375. He slugged .563. He led the series in hits. He had the series’ only home run. He led the team in RBI and on defense he didn’t commit a single error. He did have a couple of base running mistakes but those are tough ones to judge because a baseball player can just make those errors to begin with.

I know he took the money and my personal belief is that shouldn’t be enough. He’s a professional player and if he took the money but still played ball in my eyes he isn’t guilty. If there were series MVPs given at the time he may have been deserving of it. Is it possible that he tried 98% of the series and had moments where he threw it in? Yes it is.

But in my eyes, his overall performance overcomes that. I don’t think it’s enough to suspend him for life from baseball and I certainly don’t think that’d be enough to keep him out of the Hall of Fame.

Fred McMullin

Fred McMullin, 1919 World Series
Credit: Library of Congress

He barely played but did have two pinch hits appearances. He had one hit in those appearances so he hit .500 for the series. It’s inconclusive I guess that he’d throw games if he got more burn but the fact is in the two appearances he had a hit. Other players who threw nothing….had no hits. Again, even with taking money from gamblers there just isn’t enough in my eyes to justify suspending him for life.

Claude “Lefty” Williams

Claude Williams

He was bad. He had a 6.61 ERA and lost all three starts. He didn’t pitch well at all and when you add in the fact that he was known as a control pitcher who walked eight hitters in an era where walks weren’t that common there’s definitely some suspicion there.

He didn’t commit errors in the field and wasn’t great at the plate though he was a pitcher…without some of the anecdotes I saw about Cicotte it’s hard to say 100% he wasn’t trying but considering he was tied to the gamblers, he did do this for money and the high amount of walks he had….I do think he was doggin’ it to help throw the series.

Chick Gandil

Chick Gandil
Credit: Library of Congress

 

This is a tough one for me to determine whereas a first baseman would have had a lot of opportunities to make errors and mess with his team. He didn’t hit well at all in the series though he wasn’t a great hitter (from 1916 to 1919 he never had an OPS + of over 100) Also he did have five RBI, second-most on the team and third most for the series and he only committed an error (the non-suspended first baseman for the Reds had two errors) I think it’s inconclusive that he actively tried to sabotage his team but I lean towards he didn’t. I think he mostly played clean.

Swede Risberg

Swede Risberg
Credit: Library of Congress

I think Risberg is the most suspicious position player. He committed four errors (though at an admittedly tough shortstop position.) Having said this though, three of his four errors led to nothing on the scoreboard. His one error that did lead to a run turned a 3-0 game into a 4-0 game so I’m not sure if that’s suspicious or not as it turned a game they were likely to lose into a game where they were still likely to lose.

He did have a solid play on defense and had a game in this series where I considered making him my Josh Player of the Game. At the plate, he was atrocious hitting .080 for the series but again, he wasn’t a good hitter, to begin with. He also walked five times in the series so you could make a case that he did try….he just wasn’t that good in the first place.

Happy Felsch

Happy Felsch

Happy Felsch was the center fielder for the team and overall in his short career, he was a solid hitter. He had a .774 OPS in the dead-ball era and had a career OPS+ of 143. He compiled a 19.4 WAR through six years and in 1920, his last year before the suspension, he had his best season slashing .338/.384/.540. He had an OPS of .923 and an OPS+ of 143. He hit 14 home runs and knocked in 115 while getting 188 hits for the year.

It’d be interesting to see how he’d be remembered if it weren’t for the scandal as he looked to be trending upward when his career ended. With that said, in this series, he didn’t hit well at all and he did have two errors in the outfield which, while not damning, isn’t a great look either.

It’s also hard to say just from the hitting stats though if he indeed did lessen his trying because sometimes guys just slump. The great Eddie Collins had a poor series as well, only slightly better at the plate than Felsch yet he didn’t get accused of throwing the series.

***

I think only Cicotte and Lefty Williams very clearly didn’t try in this series. I’m not sure on guys like Felsch or Risberg or Chick Gardil just because hitting is hard and if in the field they were making errors I don’t know if they were enough to lead to a substantial amount of runs. I think as a hitter the only way to know for sure you weren’t going to get hits or get on base would be through strikeout and Gardil, Risberg and Felsch did get enough to where you can question things (though in Risberg’s case maybe it was better he didn’t swing. He walked 5 times and wasn’t good at hitting anyways.)

I understand why Kennesaw Mountain Landis wanted to put down a massive hammer on the players because it definitely was important to keep gamblers from affecting games in this manner. As fans, when we watch competition we need to know that what we are watching is legit in order to sustain the drama and entertainment, and legitimacy of the sport and I even see where the decision to do something with players who were even in discussions with known gamblers even if they didn’t take the money or if they took the money but still tried, but in my eyes, I think the lifetime ban is too harsh for everyone really. I would rather have seen punishments that were more nuanced.

I believe Shoeless Joe should be in the Hall of Fame and I even think Eddie Cicotte should be considered due to what he did on the field. I think Buck Weaver and Fred McMullin should have been able to continue their career (well, if McMullin ended up being good enough to stick around) and I think even Felsch, Gandil, and Risberg could have continued their career after a suspension of some kind.

It’s also fun to analyze this series because there aren’t live broadcasts of the series. It’s up to us to read the box scores, read the play by play, and obviously read the history and documents surrounding the scandal to really paint the picture of what was going on.

This, also, was the most famous of the World Series to be fixed but there are rumblings that other series from the 1910s were also fixed. There’s the likelihood that hall of famers Tris Speaker and Ty Cobb were involved in game-fixing as well and in some ways, it doesn’t seem like gambling in this era of baseball was like the steroid era.

Some got away with it and some didn’t. I’d like to examine that more and maybe after more research into other series that were potentially fixed I’ll have a better answer for what the truth is here. I do have a hunch there’s more baseball hypocrisy around.

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