June 18, 2017

100 Years Ago: The Gamblers' Riot At Fenway Park

The Sporting News called the riot at Fenway Park on June 16, 1917, "one of the most disgraceful scenes ever witnessed in a major league ball park".

Jacob Pomrenke, baseball historian and SABR's Director of Editorial Content:
The first-place Chicago White Sox were in Boston for a pivotal series with the second-place Red Sox, the defending World Series champions. Despite a rain-soaked field, Lefty Williams' pitching paced Chicago to an 8-0 shutout in the series opener on Friday, June 15 to put the White Sox ahead in the standings by two and a half games. Both teams' aces, Eddie Cicotte for the White Sox and Babe Ruth for the Red Sox, were set to take the mound the following afternoon. ...

A crowd of 9,405 filed into Fenway Park for the 3 o'clock afternoon start. ... [Some] spectators took their spots in the right field bleachers. That was where the usual contingent of "sporting men" gathered daily to place wagers, large and small, on the games. ...

The atmosphere was tense from the start. ... As a steady drizzle came down from the sky, the crowd began to get restless.

More trouble began brewing in the fourth inning ... Heavier rain began to fall, and a few fans from the outfield bleachers ran across the field to the covered pavilion, stopping play for several minutes. Cries of "Call the game!" began to be heard as the White Sox were retired in the top half of the inning. The refrain only increased in volume as Cicotte set down the Boston hitters in order; the Boston Globe reported that "it seemed as if every man in the bleachers was shouting."

In the fifth ... John (Shano) Collins stepped to the plate for the White Sox [with two outs], all hell broke loose. A crowd of about 300 fans from the right field bleachers, led by "some tall man in a long rain coat," suddenly began leaping over the fence and marching onto the playing field. Barry McCormick, a former Chicago Cubs infielder in his first season as a major league umpire, immediately called time and "stood gazing in amazement" to see what the crowd would do. But "they didn't rush at the players or umpires," the Chicago Tribune reported. "Instead of fighting, the mob simply surged out upon the field, clear up into the diamond and stood around." They were obviously stalling for time. If the rain continued, the field would soon be deemed unplayable and the game would have to be called off. ... There was still one out remaining before the game was official.

Umpire Tommy Connolly ... looked around for police officers to help herd the mob off the field. He saw none. Five officers were somewhere in the stands, but they could not be found. ... Connolly and Red Sox manager Jack Barry, taking charge, approached the leaders of the mob and persuaded them to leave the field so the game would not have to be forfeited to Chicago. The fans did not retreat to their old seats in the bleachers, but climbed into the grandstand boxes instead. Just when play was about to resume, "new leaders and recruits came from the gamblers' stand ... then the first crowd piled out of the boxes again. This time, the mob was riotous."

McCormick immediately ordered the Red Sox off the field and both teams attempted to exit under the stands through the Boston dugout. A melee ensued. The mob converged on the players, and the five late-arriving police officers were helpless to assist. ...

The White Sox were forced to fight their way off the field. Buck Weaver, a fiery infielder and former team captain with a perpetual smile no matter how tight a spot he was in, was never one to back down from a brawl. Weaver grabbed a baseball bat and started swinging in all directions. Reserve infielder Fred McMullin used a more traditional weapon — his fists — to get away from the violent scrum. ...

[James] Crusinberry and other writers blamed gamblers for the riot:
The trouble was started by the horde of gamblers that assembles each day in the right field pavilion and carries on operations with as much vigor and vim as one would see in the wheat pit of the Chicago board of trade. … The truth is that during [Boston's losing streak] the last two weeks, the gamblers here have been stung, stung for a greater amount than in years. When they saw they were likely to get another trimming and that it might be averted by breaking up the ball game, they incited the fans to riot.
The teams eventually played nine innings - and the White Sox won 7-2.

Pomrenke posted the only known photo of the Gamblers Riot, from the Boston Post of June 17, 1917:

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