May 21, 2011

1918 World Series - Questions Of A Fix

There have been several stories in the last few months about whether the 1918 World Series was crooked. The text of a affidavit sworn by Chicago White Sox pitcher Ed Cicotte was released in April 2008, in which he states that various Cubs players were offered money to lose to the Red Sox in 1918:

"The ball players were talking about somebody trying to fix the National League ball players or something like that in the World's Series of 1918. Well anyway there was some talk about them offering $10,000 or something to throw the Cubs in the Boston Series. ... Somebody made a crack about getting money, if we got into the [1919] series, to throw the series. ... [W]e all agreed that for a piece of money we would throw the World Series."

However, Cicotte does not say if the money was accepted or if the Cubs did, in fact, lose on purpose.

I was the first writer to address the possibility that the Red Sox/Cubs World Series was crooked in my book, Babe Ruth and the 1918 Red Sox, which was published in 2001. Nine years later, Sean Deveney's The Original Curse covered much of the same ground and came to a similar conclusion: While there is no concrete evidence, when considering the context of the deadball era and how badly the Cubs played in the series, you have to consider the strong possibility of wrongdoing.

What follows is a condensed version of the fix chapter of my book:
The legal pad found in 1963 contained approximately two dozen pages of handwritten notes by Harry Grabiner, Charles Comiskey's secretary and right-hand man during the 1910s and 1920s. ...

Grabiner's notes almost exclusively concern the activities of the White Sox front office in the months following the 1919 World Series. But they also mention several apparently fixed games played late in the 1920 season (Cleveland–St. Louis and Cleveland–Detroit) that helped the Indians win the pennant. ... In the notes was a list of more than two dozen players suspected of wrongdoing that Grabiner gave to Commissioner Landis. Beside the name of National League pitcher Gene Packard, who had played for the Cubs in 1916 and 1917, Grabiner wrote: "1918 Series fixer."

Grabiner wasn't the only person who believed the Series was corrupt. According to a biography of Ban Johnson, the American League president "had information that a professional gambler planned to fix the 1918 World Series between the Cubs and Red Sox but dropped the idea of an investigation when he was unable to raise sufficient funds to carry it out."

Much of the other information in Grabiner's diary was verified decades later. But his assertion that the 1918 World Series was fixed — and who fixed it — has never been examined. ...

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, gambling and baseball were as inseparable as peanuts and Cracker Jacks. The National League was plagued by a game-throwing scandal in its second year of existence, when four Louisville players conspired to lose the 1877 pennant. An umpire was banished in 1882 for advising gamblers how to bet in games he worked. During the deadball era, suspicions about the integrity of the pennant races and the World Series were practically an annual occurrence.

In 1918, when the government closed the nation's racetracks, gamblers swarmed to the ballparks to set up shop. Many of them were intimate with both players and club owners; some gamblers even kept a few players on weekly salaries.

That year, there were ample motives for a fix. The World Series shares would be the smallest ever. No one knew if or when baseball would be played again. Both leagues had agreed to suspend operations until the on-going World War was over, and players were worried about money and their families' security. On top of that, the Red Sox and Cubs felt cheated by the National Commission, which had unilaterally decided to share their World Series revenue with six other teams. Combined with the players’ well-justified antagonism towards their employers and the legions of gamblers working in nearly every ballpark, the situation was ripe for exploitation and dishonesty. All of this was happening at the end of a decade soaked with greed, betrayal and anger, one of the most wretchedly disorganized eras in baseball history. Given the circumstances, it is easy to understand how some players could have been willing to entertain the idea of a fix.

Before the 1919 World Series, pitcher Christy Mathewson told writer Hugh Fullerton that the difference between an effective pitch and a disastrous one, or a fielding gem and a near-miss, was almost undetectable, even to the other players on the field. And how could one tell if a hitter wasn't trying his hardest? Fullerton and Mathewson agreed to independently circle on their scorecards any plays they found suspicious, then compare notes after the game.

What if we could have sat in that same Comiskey Park press box in early September 1918 — what would our scorecards look like? What plays would we have circled?

The best, and perhaps the only available, way to analyze the 1918 World Series is to look closely at each game through the accounts of the men who were there. The sportswriters watched the games, talked with the players, and wrote their impressions and opinions for publication either later that evening or the following morning. Their collective day-by-day reports are as close as one can get to a running narrative of the Series.

In the first four innings of Game One, Fullerton wrote that shortstop Charlie Hollocher "was in the wrong position for almost every batter. ... He was out of position on Whiteman in the second inning. ... The kid was also in the wrong position for Hooper in the third ... and in the fourth, when the lone run of the game was registered, he was sadly misplaced on Whiteman again."

Hollocher and Pick also drew criticism for not holding Dave Shean closer to second base in the fourth; Shean's long lead allowed him to score the only run of the game on Stuffy McInnis's single. "Shean and Whiteman started for third and second respectively as Vaughn wound up," wrote Paul Shannon in the Boston Post. "As McInnis' bat met the ball, Shean was well-nigh two-thirds of the way to third. ... Mann made a nice throw home and Shean was just able to beat the ball to the rubber."

Cleveland writers Henry Edwards and James Lanyon thought left fielder Les Mann was also out of position, standing "fully fifty feet from the spot to which McInnis generally hits," where Stuffy promptly deposited "one of his famous left field hits." Nine of the Cubs had played in the American League and McInnis had starred on World Series teams in 1913 and 1914 — shouldn't at least one of them have known McInnis was strictly a pull hitter?

Fullerton noted that the Cubs battled the Red Sox throughout the second game and won 3-1.

With two outs in the bottom of the ninth of Game Three, the Cubs trailed 2-1 when Charlie Pick raced to third on a passed ball. Boston catcher Wally Schang threw to third, but the ball got away from third baseman Fred Thomas. Pick got up from his slide and tried to score, but Thomas threw him out to end the game.

Cubs manager Fred Mitchell insisted that sending Pick home had been a necessary gamble. Though the Chicago Daily Tribune claimed "there is not a dissenting voice" against that decision, it was actually just the opposite. Nearly every writer in the press box thought the decision was desperate and foolish, "a frantic effort" and "reckless base-running." Pick had still been on the ground when Mitchell (who was coaching third base) yelled at him to run; the manager's failure to consider how long it would take Pick to scramble to his feet before racing home turned the play into "baseball suicide."

Paul Shannon wrote that the ball rolled "toward the Chicago dugout. Pick started home, stopped for a fraction of an instant till he saw that Thomas had lost track of the situation and then resumed his hurried journey to the plate. ... Like Lot's wife, he looked around at a critical moment only to invite disaster."

One possible explanation for Pick's hesitation was that he couldn't hear Mitchell's shouts over the crowd, which was cheering loudly after Schang's passed ball and errant throw to third. But Shannon claimed Pick had already started toward the plate when he momentarily stopped running and "the instant lost was fatal."

The Cubs had a reputation as a smart club, but so far, Henry Edwards of the Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote, "they have not used their heads." Earlier in the third game, Les Mann might have cost his team a run by not tagging up on Dode Paskert's deep fly to left. If the ball had fallen safely, Mann could have walked home. But he had taken a twenty- or thirty-foot lead while watching the play and was forced to retreat to the bag. There were also several times when first baseman Merkle and the Chicago pitcher were confused about who would field bunts.

Keeping in mind Hugh Fullerton's comments about Charlie Hollocher playing out of position in Game One, we should note that the Cubs shortstop committed a two-out error on Everett Scott's grounder in the second inning of Game Three. The error allowed George Whiteman to advance to third base, but Fred Thomas made the third out and Boston didn't score.

In the three games at Fenway Park, nothing changed between the foul lines. Boston took advantage of Chicago's mistakes and the Cubs sabotaged themselves several times with base-running gaffes.

Max Flack began Game Four with a single and was picked off first by Sam Agnew. In the third inning, Flack was on second when pitcher Babe Ruth and shortstop Everett Scott worked "a very pretty play" and picked him off again. Several minutes later, Flack misplayed Ruth's line drive into a triple.

In Game Four, Chicago nearly doubled Boston's hit total (seven to four); Ruth walked six Cubs in eight innings and had just one 1-2-3 inning. But the Red Sox won because of their "quick thinking," the "analytical eye" of their infielders, and a late-inning throwing error by Cubs reliever Phil Douglas. In addition to Flack's mental lapses on the bases, Agnew almost picked Charlie Deal off first in the second inning and Fred Merkle was nearly nabbed in the seventh. The Cubs hit into three inning-ending double plays.

When Tyler faced Ruth with men on first and second, "the last thing which anybody expected was that Tyler would make the mistake of putting the next one over the plate, waist high, but that is exactly what he did." Ruth smacked the ball over Flack's head for a two-run triple.

Tyler was pulled in the eighth for pinch-hitter Claude Hendrix, who would then stay in the game and pitch. But after Hendrix strangely wandered off second base, Mitchell replaced him with Bill McCabe, thereby making him send a different pitcher, Phil Douglas, to the mound in the 2-2 game. Douglas gave up a single and threw a wild pitch before his error on Harry Hooper's bunt — a play on which Douglas had "plenty of time" — allowed the go-ahead (and game-winning) run to score.

Hugh Fullerton's recaps sounded eerily similar: "[F]or the third time [Chicago] threw away a game which seemed to be won. ... It looks as if the Cubs are whipped, and whipped not by superior play, but by their own shortcomings."

(Douglas was banned from baseball in 1922 for offering to tank in games he was pitching for the Giants. And on August 31, 1920, Hendrix was scratched from a scheduled start against Philadelphia because Cubs president Bill Veeck had received two anonymous phone calls that morning claiming the game had been fixed for the Cubs to lose. There were allegations that Hal Chase and Fred Merkle were involved. When Chicago released Hendrix after the season, no other team signed him and his career was over.)

Fred Van Ness of the New York Herald thought the Red Sox "were crowned with horseshoes" in the fourth game, but other writers were more blunt: "Chicago presented the fourth game to Boston." The Cubs "made costly misplays at critical stages and displayed minor league judgment in teamwork. ... They had chances galore to win and tossed them away."

In Game Five, Jim Vaughn returned and threw a five-hitter — his third complete game in six days. "For the first time in the series, [the Cubs] made absolutely no blunders, mentally or physically" and Chicago won 3-0.

Before Max Flack's third-inning error in Game Six, bases on balls again caused trouble for the Cubs. Lefty Tyler "suffered the fate of the pitcher sent too often to the well. ... [He] paid the penalty for his brief lack of control ... [and] shattered the hopes" of the Cubs.

"Flack's muff was just one of the many evidences of Boston luck," J.V. Fitz Gerald of the Washington Post wrote. "The Cubs could not rise to an emergency in the fashion of their rivals. When they did get on base they didn't seem to know what to do."

Flack was known as one of the better right fielders in the National League. Should he have been playing as deep as he was? Whiteman didn't possess Ruthian power, but he had belted a triple to right-center off Tyler in Game Two and flown out to Flack three times in the Series. It wasn't uncommon for Whiteman to hit to the opposite field, so perhaps Flack's outfield position was justified. It's impossible to know if Flack intentionally dropped Whiteman's line drive as he ran in towards the ball, but when this error is considered alongside his misjudgment of Ruth's triple and the three times he was picked off base, Flack's play becomes a little more suspicious.

But Flack wasn't the only friend the Red Sox had in Game Six. Carl Mays picked off Charlie Pick to end the second inning, then caught Les Mann in the fourth. A total of five Cubs were nabbed: four on the bases and one for oversliding the bag. Another oversliding gaffe had given Pick a slow start home in Game Three.

When compiling The Reach Official American League Guide for 1919 (a collection of recaps and statistics from the previous year), the editors thought it was peculiar "that in all of the defeats suffered by the [Cubs] southpaws, they started their own downfall either with a base on balls or hit-by-pitcher, and in no case was the winning rally started with a [Boston] hit."

In the coming years, three members of the 1918 Red Sox would be suspected of involvement with gambling and game-fixing. Pitcher Jean Dubuc admitted before a grand jury that he had been in the Ansonia Hotel room in New York when the details of the 1919 fix were finalized. In addition, Giants manager John McGraw believed Dubuc, Hal Chase and several other Giants helped throw the 1919 pennant race to Cincinnati.

Both Carl Mays and Joe Bush were traded to the New York Yankees, Mays in July 1919 and Bush during the winter of 1921. New York sportswriter Fred Lieb claimed that Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert and manager Miller Huggins were convinced that both pitchers intentionally lost World Series games in 1921 and 1922.

While it cannot be determined whether or not the 1918 World Series between the Red Sox and Cubs was fixed, there exists enough information from contemporary newspaper accounts to place question marks beside much of the Cubs' on-field performance.


Zenslinger said...

This was a really interesting part of the book. The evidence is pretty compelling.

A lot has happened since I looked at the blog a couple days ago. Thanks for bloggin' it out so well.

allan said...

Thanks. I'm not sure it rises to the level of "compelling", though.