April 11, 2005

The 1918 Red Sox Never Got Their Rings

On this glorious day, here's a look back at why the 1918 Red Sox are the only team to have never received World Series emblems (or rings) from major league baseball. From my book on the 1918 team:
For much of the [1910s], each member of the World Series champion team had received between $3,000 and $4,000, often as much or more than his annual salary. The National Commission [a three-man body consisting of the two league presidents and Reds owner August Herrmann] decided this was too much money, and during the winter of 1917–18, they sought ways to reduce the players' profits. ... The Commission ended up adopting [AL president] Ban Johnson's suggestion of awarding a share to each of the top four teams in both leagues. ... The Sporting News reported that the players didn't need to be involved in the decision, because they "always have been hungry for money." ...

[Based on previous years] the 1918 winning and losing shares would be $1,835 and $1,215, respectively. In January, the Commission had announced a per-player cap of $2,000 and $1,400 for the World Series participants, anticipating 1918 revenues would be higher than the previous year's. But they had changed the distribution plan without considering either the war's effect on game attendance or the reduced ticket prices.
Most players, writers and fans believed the $2,000–$1,400 figures were guaranteed. How and when the truth about the revenue plan emerged is unclear, but on the train from Chicago to Boston after Game 3, the players figured a best-case scenario would be $1,200 for the winners and $800 for the losers, but the final numbers might fall as low as $900 and $600.

Representatives from both the Red Sox and Cubs tried meeting with the Commission, but nothing was arranged until the morning of Game 5. At that meeting, the player reps, led by Boston captain and right fielder Harry Hooper proposed a compromise of $1,500 and $1,000.
Herrmann said he would review the matter and make his final decision before that afternoon's game. Then, after a quick word with Commission secretary John Bruce, Herrmann corrected himself: his decision would come after the game, around 5:30 p.m. He told the players not to worry and promised them the right thing would be done.

"Well then," Hooper cracked, "I suppose we shall have to throw ourselves upon your tender mercies." With that, the players left. Hooper's sarcasm went right over the Commission's collective head. As one reporter noted, speaking of Herrmann and Johnson, "the thick-headed Czar of the triumvirate and his man Friday interpreted the speech as a backdown" and spread the news that the players had surrendered.
The Commission members went off to a celebratory lunch. At Fenway, however, the players decided they would not wait until 5:30 pm. They wanted an answer now -- and they would simply stay in their locker rooms and wait until the Commission showed up and rendered a final decision.
Johnson and Garry Herrmann didn't arrive at Fenway until five minutes before the game was scheduled to start (they had also almost missed the start of Game Four). ... At first, Johnson and Herrmann refused to meet with the players at all, and as much as 30 minutes passed before the two Commission members made their way to the umpires' dressing room, off the Red Sox's locker room. Hooper, Mann, a few other players, some reporters and "not a few fans" were packed inside the "tiny, little, super-heated coop." ...

Hooper took one look at Johnson and instantly knew that the meeting would not go smoothly. The American League president was holding on tightly to Herrmann's and Heydler's shoulders, undoubtedly to keep from falling over. Johnson was "pretty well oiled" and Herrmann appeared more than a little tipsy as well.

The American League president's penchant for getting intoxicated at the World Series was no secret. Sportswriter Fred Lieb had been covering baseball since 1911 and he couldn't recall a single game at which Johnson was sober. Stories of Johnson's tippling were legion. He once urinated in an elevator after a league banquet, much to the dismay of the lift's operator. On another night, Johnson staggered back to the hotel and up to his room. When he turned on the light, he found a man sleeping in his bed. Johnson had the right room number — but the wrong hotel.
Johnson babbled to the players before breaking down into tears, begging them to play (that evening, one of Boston's smaller papers printed what amounted to a near transcription of Johnson's hilarious ramblings). Discussions with Johnson were useless and the players could hear the anxious crowd outside. A majority of players wanted to call off the Series, but it was eventually decided they would play. Johnson told Hooper that no action would be taken against the players for the delay. ... By October, however, the AL president had sobered up.
[He] announced that as punishment for the players' one-hour delay before Game Five, the Commission was withholding the traditional championship emblems, which were similar to lapel pins and the equivalent of modern-day World Series rings. In 1916, the Commission had also tried to withhold the Red Sox's emblems because of a barnstorming tour. After intense criticism, they reversed the decision, but fined each player $100, the approximate value of the emblems. This time, however, the Commission wasn't backing down. ...

Shortly before Christmas, each Red Sox player received a letter from John Heydler informing him that he would not receive an emblem "owing to the disgraceful conduct of the players in the strike during the Series."

At the American League meeting in December, Ban Johnson was asked about his promise to Harry Hooper that the Red Sox players would not be punished for their Game Five delay. Johnson denied having said it. As a show of thanks that winter, Harry Frazee presented several of his players with pocket watches engraved with their names and the words "RED SOX 1918 CHAMPIONS."
Several Red Sox players petitioned the Commission -- outfielder George Whiteman wrote many letters over the next few years -- for the emblems. There were rumors that they were hidden away in a safe in the AL president's office. Harry Hooper met with every Commissioner from Kenesaw Mountain Landis to Bowie Kuhn in an attempt to get the Red Sox players (or their families) their rightful emblems. Every Commissioner told Hooper there was nothing he could do.

On the 75th anniversary of that infamous season, the Red Sox held a ceremony at Fenway Park, at which they handed out emblems to the descendants of more than a dozen of the 1918 players. Unfortunately, no member of the 1918 team was still alive -- the last player, third baseman Fred Thomas, had died in 1986.

1 comment:

laura k said...

Now will all you JoS readers go out and buy the book already??