The 1919 World Series: Did the White Sox Lose…or Did the Reds Win?

This year’s World Series will mark the 100th anniversary of the famed Black Sox scandal, in which eight (really six) members of the Chicago White Sox conspired with gamblers to throw the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds. The ’19 Sox were considered by some to be one of the best teams of all time, at least of the deadball era, and heavy favorites to win the nine-game series over the Reds.

The rest is history.

Exceedingly gray history, that is.

The eight accused members of the Sox were officially banned from baseball in 1921, and ever since, countless investigations and unending research have been conducted to try and determine what really happened that fateful October a century ago. Eight Men Out, the famous 1963 book by Eliot Asinof (and the resulting 1988 film by John Sayles), once considered gospel, has been largely discredited as more thorough facts have been uncovered over the years. The book and film, while both entertaining and well done, paint a broad, and often unsubstantiated, stroke of the story. By comparison, and grandly accepted by historians and researchers, Gene Carney’s 2006 book, Burying the Black Sox, is a far more authoritative and factual piece than Asinof’s effort could ever claim to be.

Some believe that the entire series was fixed from the start. Others ascertain that after the players did not receive their promised money somewhere around the third or fourth game, they began to try to win. Yet others still would say that one of the chief tragedies (among many) in that series, is that proper credit has never been given to the Reds for being a great team – or for simply beating the White Sox.

The truth, as is often the case, is probably somewhere in the middle. In any event, there is much evidence to show that the Cincinnati Reds were no fluke, and very well could have been better than the mighty White Sox.

Cincinnati took the National League pennant with a sterling record of 96-44. They were a balanced team with an excellent infield and consistent, if not spectacular, starting pitching. The odds were highly in Chicago’s favor prior to the start of the series, before evening out before Game 1 due to rumors of the fix. It’s important to remember that in that era, fixing games and betting on baseball were nothing new, with rumors of such foul play surrounding virtually every big game. Several players had already been banned by 1919 for such acts as well, so some precedent was there.

While statistics don’t always tell the full story, especially in baseball, the Reds and White Sox draw some very interesting comparisons in several categories.

As a team, the Sox were better hitters than the Reds and their star power gave them the edge in terms of prestige. Despite the fact that very star power contributed to the team being divided and despising one another, they carried three Hall of Fame players on the roster in catcher Ray Schalk, second baseman Eddie Collins and pitcher Red Faber. That number could’ve been as high as eight, however, if the ban didn’t happen. Shoeless Joe Jackson was a lock, an argument could’ve been made for Eddie Cicotte, and if career trajectories stayed course, Buck Weaver, Happy Felsch and Lefty Williams may have entered the discussion too. The Reds meanwhile had just one future Hall of Famer on their club, outfielder Edd Rousch, but even without the vanity and splendor, they were a hungry, well-rounded club.

American League teams had won eight of the previous nine World Series’, including the White Sox in 1917, so that likely added to their reputation of superiority which gave folks the impression that they may have been better than they really were.

One of the biggest keys heading into the series of course was the starting pitching – advantage to the Reds here. They were able to attack the Sox with a strong five-man barrage of Dutch Ruether, Slim Sallee, Ray Fisher, Jimmy Ring and Hod Eller. Having a healthy and consistent five-man rotation is pretty crucial in a best-of-nine in any era. On the season, the Reds staff cached a team ERA of 2.23, compared to the Sox’ 3.04. Furthermore, while the Reds had a full rotation, the Sox had to rely on Cicotte and Williams to carry the burden, with each man making three starts in the series. Faber was injured and unavailable, which had a significant impact on this series and isn’t often mentioned. Had he been able to go, the complexion of the whole rotation changes instantly. Instead, young Dickie Kerr, theretofore a bit unproven in big games, despite having a strong regular season, had to step up big time. He did just that, winning two games and keeping the Sox in it, but it wasn’t enough. The fact that Cicotte and Williams were in on the fix notwithstanding, Cincinnati had more, better, and rested arms.

Defensively, the Reds were better than the White Sox. On the season, Cincinnati had fewer errors and a higher fielding percentage than their Chi-town counterparts. Additionally, the Reds compiled 23 shutouts to the White Sox’ 14. This easily can be attributed to a combination of both great pitching and defense. While the Sox certainly had both, they often relied on their ‘big inning’ offense to bail them out of many games. The Reds on the other hand made evident the time-honored belief that good pitching beats good hitting…most of the time. Advantage Reds here, too.

Heading down the pennant stretch into the series, the Reds were also the hotter and hungrier team. They went 47-16 in the second half compared to the Sox’ 40-26 mark, and only lost twice in September vs. the other pennant chasers (Giants, Cubs, Pirates). The Sox meanwhile, were just .500 in that same month vs. the Yankees, Indians and Tigers, who were competing for the American League flag. Season-long against the top contending teams in their league, Cincinnati wound up 38-22, whereas the White Sox went 35-25 in their version. The Reds took the National League pennant by 9 full games over the New York Giants, while the White Sox won the American League by 3 1/2 games over the Detroit Tigers.

The snapshot of what this means is that the Reds played better against the best teams in the NL than the White Sox did against the best in the AL. They showcased better pitching and defense throughout the year, and had a full staff of capable arms at their disposal in October.

As mentioned earlier however, the stats don’t always tell the full story. This is where intangibles come in, and the White Sox clearly had much worse to deal with than the Reds. In fact, the Sox had long been destroying themselves, well before the gamblers’ influence in fixing the series became the gas thrown on the proverbial fire.

What makes deciphering the scandal such a mess (100 years later or not), was that it was a mess in itself at the time. Nobody will ever know the real truth because, as has been reported, even the players themselves didn’t fully know what was going on. It was always unclear who was really trying and who wasn’t, and who was double-crossing who. That level of uncertainty alone would presumably cast major mental anguish on a ballplayer. Not to mention the constant barrage of questions from teammates, manager Kid Gleason, owner Charles Comiskey, reporters and fans, which must have added to the clubhouse distractions.

Individually, the clean Sox players, plus guys like Jackson and Weaver, who were grouped in on the fix but their excellent play indicates they were trying to win, must have gone through hell trying to play while not knowing their teammates’ intentions. This gives rise to the belief in a case of the Sox beating themselves, though that does not discredit Cincinnati’s efforts.

The Reds had to deal with none of this internal strife, by comparison. They just had to go and play their own game, and, as heavy underdogs, really had nothing to lose. These things alone could conceivably lighten the challenge.

Questions of course will always remain. Did the Reds catch the Sox at the worst possible time as they were tearing themselves apart from within? Or were they simply the better team?

The truth, again, is probably somewhere in the middle.

No matter what, the Reds of 1919 were no slouch, and that should not be forgotten.

 

 

Photo credit: Original photographer: Unknown Jam22smith [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Sources: https://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/CIN/1919.shtml

https://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/CHW/1919.shtml

The 1919 Reds: Requiem for the Robbed by Jeff Kallman in SABR’s Black Sox Scandal Research Committee Newsletter vol 10 No. 2, December 2018

 

 

 

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The Curious Case of Gentleman George

George Sisler is a name seldom brought up when discussing the greatest ballplayers of all time. Given his career accolades and Hall of Fame status, that’s an injustice.

“Gentleman George”, also nicknamed “Gorgeous George”, was unquestionably the greatest player in St. Louis Browns history, and one of the games first truly elite first basemen. A quantifiable five-tool player, Sisler would play 12 of his 15 MLB seasons with the Browns, ending with a brief cup of coffee in Washington before finishing his career playing for three seasons with the Boston Braves. In that time, Sisler amassed a lifetime batting average of .340, good for 17th all time. Within that span, he would enjoy a mammoth 1920 campaign in which he hit .407 with 257 hits, a record that would last for 84 years.

As if that wasn’t enough, in 1922, Gentleman George would hit a whopping .420, while leading the league in hits, triples, stolen bases and runs scored. For his career, Sisler hit over .300 in 13 of his 15 seasons, over .350 five times, and over .400 twice. His offensive prowess, along with his base stealing ability and defensive wizardry that garnered him much comparison to the great Hal Chase, earned Sisler a rightful place on the stage at the inaugural induction ceremony in Cooperstown in 1939.

But like some other stars that rose through the deadball era, Gentleman George began his big league life as a pitcher. Albeit a short lived stint on the bump, Sisler did enjoy one or two grand accomplishments.

After graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan in 1915 (an extremely rare occurrence for ballplayers in that era), Sisler joined Branch Rickey’s Browns staff and posted a 4-4 mark with a 2.85 ERA in 15 games, a very strong body of work for a rookie on a second tier team. The highlight of those, and one that Sisler himself referred to as his greatest thrill in baseball (1), was a 2-1 complete game victory in which he out-dueled the great Walter Johnson. The game, in which George limited the Senators to six hits while striking out three, effectively was saved in the eighth inning by perfect execution of the infamous hidden ball trick. Ray Morgan opened the Senators’ eighth reaching on an error by shortstop Doc Lavin. Skipper Clark Griffith inserted Horace Milan as a pinch runner, who was then sacrificed over to second. On the bunt, Browns second baseman Del Pratt covered first, and after securing the putout, quickly tucked the ball under his right arm, unseen by everyone except Sisler. Moving about the hill in faux-preparedness to pitch to the next batter, Milan began his leadoff from second, when Pratt dove toward him with the ball. Umpire Billy Evans ruled the out and the Washington rally was stopped. Sisler would then finish them off in the ninth for the win.

Shortly thereafter, Sisler’s bat and glove were proving more valuable than his pitching arm, and so a few random appearances on the bump notwithstanding, he would be an every day position player instead, a path that would end in the Hall of Fame.

A year later however, in his second-to-last career start, Sisler would ironically again go up against Walter Johnson. On September 17, 1916, the two would square off at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis, and again it would be Gentleman George with the upper hand, shutting out Johnson and the Senators 1-0. Sisler would go the distance, allowing six hits and striking out six for the final victory of his pitching career.

In 111 career innings, Sisler would run up a 5-6 total record, with an ERA of 2.35 and a 1.2 WHIP. While not staggering, and certainly nowhere near the echelons of his offensive numbers, this snapshot proves that he was more than capable of being an effective pitcher.

Due to often being on second division teams and having never played in a World Series, George Sisler is often overlooked and rarely discussed. While his Hall of Fame numbers as a first baseman are forever impressive, he did enjoy a few shining moments as a hurler as well.

Sources:  https://books.google.com/books?id=jlDWBgAAQBAJ&pg=PA70&lpg=PA70&dq=Browns+Senators+Hidden+Ball+Trick+1915&source=bl&ots=dGdDK-vRMi&sig=7uIqRXW5p59q65bUmxwNM5zdCRo&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi1sYOTr6zWAhWL64MKHWQeAwIQ6AEIJjAA#v=onepage&q=Browns%20Senators%20Hidden%20Ball%20Trick%201915&f=false

https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/s/sislege01.shtml

https://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/SLA/SLA191508290.shtml

http://baseballhall.org/hall-of-famers/past-inductions/1936-1939

http://baseballhall.org/hof/sisler-george

(1) https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/f67a9d5c

The Brakeman

One of the overarching and never underestimated compliments of most early deadball-era pitchers (to me anyway), is that they were indestructible. That is, their arms were. A quick glance at the stats of late 19th/early 20th century legends like Cy Young, Pud Galvin, Old Hoss Radbourn and Cannonball Crane among others reveal some hysterical numbers in terms of innings pitched, games started, and complete games.

One of these dapper gents however, achieved a completely asinine feat that the rest did not: He threw 185 consecutive complete games.

Jack Taylor began his pro career in 1897 with the Milwaukee Brewers of the old Western League, a team managed by the great future Hall of Famer, Connie Mack. He broke into the bigs in 1898 after the Chicago Orphans (Cubs) purchased his contract later in the ’98 season where he remained until 1903. On June 20, 1901, Taylor took the loss in a complete-game performance against the Beaneaters (later the Braves) at the South End Grounds in Boston. This game would be the catalyst for nearly five years’ worth of completing every game he started.

Nicknamed “Brakeman Jack” for his occupation in the offseason, Taylor was a non-flashy, but tough-as-nails righty from Straitsville, Ohio.  His breakout season came in 1902 where he compiled a 23-11 mark with a sizzling 1.29 ERA, along with 34 complete games in 34 starts and was the league leader in ERA, WHIP (0.953) and shutouts (8.) After the regular season ended, the Cubs and crosstown rival White Sox engaged in an exhibition “City Series”, something that would become a Chicago tradition for many years. In this particular series, Taylor was accused of throwing a game to the Sox. Though nothing was ever proven, he was nonetheless traded during the winter of 1903 to the St. Louis Cardinals. The Brakeman was dealt along with Larry McLean for Jack O’Neill and a young, unproven and undervalued pitcher named Mordecai Brown. At the time, it seemed the Cardinals’ got the better half of the deal, but not long afterward that table turned as “Three Finger” Brown would go on to a Hall of Fame career with the Cubs and locked his own valued place in baseball lore.

Image result for Jack Taylor 1902

Meanwhile, Brakeman Jack’s complete game streak continued with the Cardinals, sealing up 39 of them to lead the league, along with 20 victories in 1904. Amid repeated accusations of throwing games, none of which were proven, Taylor became a fairly hot commodity. In 1906 he was traded back to the Cubs, and the timing couldn’t have been better, as there he joined an outstanding, now-famous pitching staff led by Brown, along with Orval Overall, Carl Lundgren, Jack Pfiester, and Ed Reulbach. The Brakeman added in his own 12-3 mark on the season, but ended his complete game streak at 185, after “only” completing 15 of 16 games that year. His ERA was a stellar 1.83 and a factor in the Cubs’ team ERA, which ended with an unheard of mark of 1.76 for the season. The Cubs would reach the World Series, but ironically fall to the crosstown White Sox, where the famed “Hitless Wonders” would do enough damage to the elite Cubs pitching staff to take the title. A year later, Taylor helped the northsiders back to the World Series, this time emerging as world champs after defeating the Detroit Tigers. 1907 would be Taylor’s final big league season, though he would bounce around in the minor leagues for several more years before finally hanging up his cleats in 1913. He returned to Ohio, worked as a miner, and died there in 1938.

For his career, Brakeman Jack Taylor would amass a 152-139 record, to go along with a career ERA of 2.65. Certainly nothing to scoff at there, but when you factor in his 2,626 innings and 20 shutouts, it’s hard not to consider Taylor among the elite, if certainly overlooked hurlers of the early deadball-era. The most impressive mark of course, being his MLB-record 185 consecutive complete games. That is absolutely crazy to conceive, in any era of baseball.

They sure don’t make ’em like that anymore, folks.

 

Sources: http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/t/tayloja02.shtml

http://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Jack_Taylor_(tayloja02)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Taylor_(1900s_pitcher)

http://charlesapril.com/2009/08/closer-look-jack-taylors-complete-game.html

 

Photo Credits: http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/t/tayloja02.shtml

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Taylor_(1900s_pitcher)

Johnson vs. Williams: The Forgotten Clash

On this date in 1918, with World War I the focal point of the globe, baseball continued on with less attention than usual. Somewhat hidden in that season was a game on May 15 where the Washington Senators beat the Chicago White Sox 1-0 in an 18-inning contest at Griffith Stadium. The drawn-out duel took less than three hours to complete.

In this often overlooked contest, young Sox starter Claude “Lefty” Williams (later banned from baseball for his involvement in the infamous Black Sox scandal,) battled Hall of Famer Walter “Big Train” Johnson for the entire game, as both hurlers went the distance. Williams was extremely efficient, scattering just 8 hits through 18 innings. Johnson, conversely, turned in his typical stellar performance, striking out nine of the potent Sox lineup (who were without big sluggers Shoeless Joe Jackson and Happy Felsch due to their wartime duties,) and even added a single in the bottom of the 18th to move the winning run into scoring position. The Senators then grabbed the win, ironically on a wild pitch, by Williams.

18 innings. 18 hits. Two pitchers. One run. 2 hours, 50 minutes. You’ll never see that again.

Sources:

http://www.baseball-reference.org

http://www.retrosheet.org

Player Spotlight: John “Honest Eddie” Murphy

In an era where old fashioned, blue collared, hardnosed ballplayers were virtually everywhere, one gentleman stands in distinction. He is John “Honest Eddie” Murphy (1891-1969), a veteran of 11 Major League seasons with the Philadelphia Athletics, Chicago White Sox, and Pittsburgh Pirates.

Getting his major league start in late 1912, Murphy would be a part of two of the best clubs in the Deadball Era: Connie Mack’s powerhouse Athletics, and the White Sox, where the nickname “Honest Eddie” was crowned him in the aftermath of the infamous Black Sox scandal of 1919.

Murphy made three World Series appearances in his career. In 1913 as the leadoff man on Mack’s A’s, and again in 1914, which would incidentally be his last season as an every day player. During those two years, Murphy would hit solidly (.295 and .274 respectively,) and score over 100 runs each, putting him among the league leaders. Following the disastrous 1914 World Series in which the A’s were swept by the notorious “Miracle Braves” from Boston, Connie Mack, in disgust, dismantled his pennant-winning club, which landed Murphy in Chicago with the White Sox. Although reunited there with his former A’s teammate and future Hall of Famer Eddie Collins, Murphy would see his playing time diminish rapidly over the next several years, as he struggled to see much action behind outfield thumpers Shoeless Joe Jackson, Happy Felsch, and the right field platoon of Nemo Liebold and John “Shano” Collins. During the infamous 1919 season, Murphy only appeared in 30 games, but hit .486 and was recognized and praised thereafter as one of the “Clean Sox.” Many years later, Murphy said of the scandal, “We might have started the dynasty that was the Yankees’ good fortune, but our best players…sold their honour and souls to the gamblers and a pennant purgutory came upon the White Sox.” (Pomrenke, 156.)

To his credit, Murphy embraced his role as a pinch hitter with the Sox from 1915-1921, hitting over .300 in four of those six years despite an inconsistent number of plate appearances and battling a couple injuries. Retiring from pro ball after 1921 before coming back for a handful of appearances with the Pirates in 1926, Murphy would tally up a strong .287 lifetime batting average and an OBP of .374. By all accounts, Murphy was a scrappy, tough ballplayer who never got the playing time he likely deserved. He was a team guy who flourished in the roles he was given throughout his career, although it’s hard not to wonder what could have been for this man if he was given the chance to play every day after 1914…

Farewell Honest Eddie. Baseball hasn’t forgotten you.

Source(s): Scandal On the South Side: The 1919 Chicago White Sox, Jacob Pomrenke (editor) 2015, a SABR publication