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Say It Ain’t So, Joe!
Foul was fair, and fair foul, when eight players of the championship White Sox conspired with gamblers to throw the 1919 World Series
June 1960 | Volume 11, Issue 4
The result of the first game amazed everyone—except, as it later developed, eight of the Sox and certain other shadowy figures. As The New York Times said in its page one story: “Never before in the history of America’s biggest baseball spectacle has a pennantwinning club received such a disastrous drubbing in an opening game as the farfamed AVhite Sox got this afternoon. … The heralded White Sox looked like bush leaguers.”
These were not irresponsible words. In the bottom of the first inning, Eddie Cicotte took the mound to pitch against the Reds. He hit the first batter, lobbed up an easy single to the second, and twice sent Heinic Groh, the third Cincinnati hitter, into the dirt with beanballs. Cicotte’s control seemed to have deserted him, and when the inning was over, the Reds were ahead, one to nothing.
In the bottom of the fourth, Cicotte blew up completely. The first batter flied out. The second singled, but then was thrown out on a fielder’s choice. There were two out and one on. Two singles followed, which brought in ;i run and put men on second and third. Up to the plate stepped Dutch Ructher, the Reds’ pitcher and one of the weakest hitters of a traditionally weak-hitting position. But Ruether leaned into a slow, easy pitch and whacked it for a triple. A double and a single followed, and when the third man was finally out, the Reds had enjoyed a five-run inning. The final score was nine to one.
As soon as the game was over, talk of a fix grew louder. Much of it was bruited about the lobby of the Hotel Simon, quarters for the visiting Sox and hence a natural gathering place for Series-minded sportsmen and gamblers. Presently, the gist of the rumor reached Kid Gleason; he in turn told Comiskcy what he had heard—namely, that gamblers had bribed some members of the team.
Gleason was of two minds about the truth of the rumor. On the one hand, he knew that it would take a large number ol players to throw a game, a possibility which seemed as unlikely as it was painful. On the other, Gleason was impressed by the peculiar gyrations of the betting odds, and he had heard that well-known gamblers had made a killing on the opening game. Then, Cicotte had pitched an extraordinarily bad game, and many of the Sox big bats had been remarkably inellectual.
Comiskey was not so vacillating. Having seen his players’ performance on the field, he felt there was something wrong.
Yet, what could he and Gleason do? The Series had to go on. They had no actual proof of wrongdoing, and without it, they could not very well suspend any of the players. Comiskey worried through the night, and the next morning approached an old friend, John A. Hcydler, president of the rival National League. The natural person for Comiskey to have consulted was Byron Bancroft “Ban” Johnson, the president of Comiskey’s own league; but the two were not on speaking terms.
In Heydler’s view, Comiskey’s concern was unwarranted. He believed that the White Sox had simply been taken “unawares” in the first game, and that they would quickly revert to form. Sometime during that day, however, Heydler sought out Ban Johnson and repeated what he had heard. Heydler later quoted Johnson as saying that the bribery explanation for the loss of the first game was like the “crying of a whipped cur.” There Heydler let the matter rest.
The course of the second game, played on October 2, did nothing to reassure Gleason and Gomiskey. Lefty Williams pitched for the Sox and performed well for three innings. But in the fourth, he walked three men and allowed two hits, for a total of three runs. The final score was four to two. Even the Sox’s two runs were tainted, for they had scored on a wild pitch.
The teams moved to Chicago for the third, fourth, and filth games at the home stadium of the Sox, Comiskey Park. For Gleason and Comiskey, it was a gloomy trip. By now, the manager was certain that some of his men were throwing the Series, but like Comiskey he realized there was no practical move he could make at the moment.
Then, on October 3, “Wee Dickie” Kerr shut out the Reds, three to nothing. Glcason and Comiskey felt better. Perhaps the bribery talk was so much nonsense, and the Sox were at last finding themselves. Yet, in Chicago hotel lobbies there was talk of a double cross between the gamblers and the players involved, of a double-double cross; and talk that all was well between the conspiring parties, that the third game had been won in order to bring the betting odds into a more reasonable alignment.
It was Cicotte’s turn to pitch the fourth game, and if Gleason hesitated to start him, the manager’s doubts were allayed when Shineball made an earnest appeal for the starting assignment. Perhaps this reflected a change of heart—if indeed there had been dirty work. Perhaps the men involved were now determined to play to win.