Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A Busy Time of Year for the Gamblers

There is an assumption that Commissioner Keneshaw Mountain Landis banished Joe Jackson and the other 'Black Sox' from baseball after the 1919 World Series because what they did was so extraordinary. The truth is that they were banned because what they did, namely conspiring to throw the Series, had become all too ordinary. Gamblers commonly roamed baseball's grandstands taking bets in those days and they regularly hung out in the lobbies of hotels where ball players stayed. They frequented the same pool halls and the same bars.

There had been a multitude of allegations, including by Eddie Cicotte at the Black Sox trial two years later, that members of the Chicago Cubs had been offered $10,000 to lie down in the '18 Series. They would certainly have been susceptible, players' salaries had been cut in half and the 1919 season was in doubt due to World War I. Most players figured they would soon be fighting in Europe. After Game Three of the Series the Cubs and the Red Sox got together during their train ride together and calculated that the winners would likely get $1,100 and the losers $600, both numbers roughly half of what they had originally anticipated.

Record holder Max Flack
The first three games had been tightly played. Game Four would not be. In the very first inning Max Flack, the Cubs' leadoff hitter, lined a single off Boston starter Babe Ruth but then wandered off first base and was picked off. In the third inning Flack was picked off again, this time off second. He is the only player to have been picked off twice in a World Series game. 

When Ruth came to the plate in the bottom of the inning Flack played very shallow in right field. This was rather strange, since Ruth was already known as a powerful batsman. Flack was told to move back but did not. Ruth hit one over his head for a triple and two runs scored.

The Cubs tied things up in the top of the eighth but when Harry Hooper laid down a sacrifice bunt in the bottom of the inning and Cub reliever Phil Douglas threw the ball into right field the eventual winning run scored.

After the game player reps tried to talk the owners into paying them more money. Anyone who knows anything about baseball's early days will be able to predict how that meeting went. In Game Five Charlie Pick got the first hit for Chicago but before a pitch was thrown to the next batter ... ya, you guessed it, he got picked off. Two innings later Flack was back at it, dripping an easy fly to right that allowed two runs to score. The game ended 2-1. The Red Sox celebration was subdued at best.

You could afford to go to a game in '03.
Cy Younger & Lou Criger
In 1903 the Red Sox and the 'Royal Rooters' wanted to bet big money that the Americans (no they were not called the Pilgrims) would win the first ever World Series. The problem was that no one was betting on Pittsburgh  because Honus Wagner and some other Pirates were all banged up. The solution: change the odds. Denton True Young, who had been nicknamed Cy as a teenager because he threw like a cyclone, would pitch the opener. Though old Cy had not had one of his best seasons (he'd won only 28 games) he could be counted on to shut down the depleted Pirates. 

Except that in the first inning he hit the first batter (a normal sign the fix is on) and then served up a series of pitches your grandma could have hit. Catcher Lou Criger and second baseman Hobe Ferris each dropped a ball they could have caught in their sleep and each threw a ball into the outfield. The result, four runs in, Pittsburgh wins, the odds change, and the Americans can go back to trying to win the Series.

Joe Wood threw smoke and burned out fast.
George M. Cohan was a close friend of New York Giant skipper John McGraw. It must have seemed very strange when he bet the modern equivalent of two million dollars on the Boston Red Sox, their rivals in the 1912 Series. Joe Wood, who had a fabulous but brief career, had won a record 16 straight games that year and ended up 34-5. He was set to pitch Game One for the Sox. Upon arrival in New York, Wood received no less than six death threats. One of them was written in blood red ink and said, "You will never pitch against the Giants." Wood was not intimidated. After the game, which the Sox won 4-3, he said I threw so hard I thought my arm would fly right off my body." (Unfortunately he did that too often, which was why his career was so short.)

The second game was tied after eleven hard fought and exciting innings and was called due to darkness. The owners huddled and decided the players would not get paid for it. (Where was Marvin Miller?) Both teams were in a foul mood.

John McGraw & Jake Stahl
With the Sox in the lead (3 games to 1) and Joe Wood rested the Boston management, in collusion with AL Commissioner Ban Johnson, decided to save Wood and start Bucky O'Brien, who was fifth of five on the staff in winning percentage,  in Game Six at the Polo Grounds. Jake Stahl, the Boston manager, begged the owners to reconsider. They said no. Should O'Brien happen to lose, Boston would get another home game and the owners would pocket a lot of money. No one told O'Brien he would pitch the next day and he went out and got rip-roaring drunk.


Thanks to a walk, a double steal, and back-to-back doubles, the Giants scored five runs in the first inning. Ownership got their Game Seven. Sport Sullivan (see 1919 World Series) had a talk with the Red Sox, who were in a really foul mood now. 

By 1912 you couldn't afford a ticket.
Joe Wood started Game Seven with Boston now up 3-2. Things should have looked good. They had 1912's best pitcher on the mound and perhaps the best defensive outfield ever behind him. Wood was not smoking this day, however, he lobbed pitch after pitch right over the plate. Josh Devore dribbled one up the middle and Heinie Wagner booted it. Larry Doyle hit a ball just a few feet from Harry Hooper, who could catch anything hit within a country mile. He couldn't reach it. Two runners on. Wood chose to pitch from the windup, meaning that he could not throw to any base. Both runners jogged to the next base. Fred Snodgrass hit a lazy fly to Duffy Lewis. He dropped it and then, with no chance to get the lead runner, threw wildly and to the wrong base. 

The Boston manager had seen enough, he replaced Wood with Sea Lion Hall, who hit the first batter he faced, walked the next, and then tried to pick off the runner at second. Surprise surprise ... Heinie Wagner missed the throw and the ball rolled into centerfield. No problem. Tris Speaker played so shallow in centerfield that he routinely made double plays at second. Somehow, he failed to come up with the ball. The Giants mauled Sea Lion for nine more hits. The final score was 11-4 New York. The give away was so obvious (and odious) that the 'Royal Rooters' staged a demonstration outside brand new Fenway Park after the game.

There was also talk that the 1914 and 1917 series had not been on the up-and-up. As for 1914, yes it was amazing that the 'Miracle Braves' were able to sweep Connie Mack's mighty A's with their terrific pitching staff and $100,000 infield, but the Braves had gone 70-19 to finish the season and they won three of the four games by just a run. There were no obviously dropped balls or oddly errant throws in the games.

The 1917 Series featured the White Sox against the Giants. New York's roster included Heine Zimmerman and Hal Chase, both of whom would later be kicked out of baseball for taking and offering bets. Joe Wood once said that Chase could deal himself or anyone else at the table four of a kind whenever he wanted. to.

Sell out artist Heinie Zimerman
Things seemed fine, with the home teams winning each game, until the fourth inning of Game Six. Eddie Collins led off and grounded to third.  Zimmerman threw wide of first base. Joe Jackson hit a routine fly to right. Dave Robertson dropped it. White Sox at first and third. Happy Felsh grounded to the mound and Eddie Collins was trapped off third between Zimmerman (the third baseman) and the pitcher. 

But the catcher left home uncovered for some reason. The speedy Collins got around the pitcher and Zimmerman chased him across the plate. Chick Gandil singled. Jackson scored, the Sox (still white at that point) won the series.


So it may take a while for the playoffs to be over with but at least when two teams square off in the 2013 Series, unlike a hundred years ago, there will be a pretty good chance that all of the players will actually be trying to win.


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