Wednesday, January 4, 2012

1919 World Series: Stained Black

The Teams
National League: Cincinnati Reds (96-44); first World Series
American League: Chicago White Sox (88-52); third World Series (won in 1906, 1917)

What happened
The story is well-known by now. Frustrated by the penny-pinching ways of owner Charles Comiskey, eight members of the White Sox accepted money from gamblers to throw the series. Among those involved in the conspiracy were the great Shoeless Joe Jackson, ace pitcher Eddie Cicotte, and six others. When Cicotte hit Cincinnati's Morrie Rath with the first pitch of the bottom of the first, that was the sign to gamblers that the fix was on.

It didn't go smoothly, of course. Nothing did. Many people around the Series sensed something fishy was up, so much so that the betting line swung heavily in favor of the Reds in the days leading up to the series. With their paydays smaller than anticipated, the gamblers were late in some of their payments to the White Sox players, leading the players to reconsider the deal. A well-timed threat or two turned that around and the White Sox finished the job, losing 5 games to 3 (it was one of four series to be a best-of-nine)

Since the White Sox threw the series, the details of the games are mainly irrelevant. It's hard to know exactly when one of the eight players were trying or not, hard to say when they were grounding out on purpose or were genuinely beaten by the pitcher. Even the stats don't paint the full picture. Jackson apologists point out how he hit .375 in the series with the only home run; how many times did he go all-out in less important at bats, only to give less than his best in key situations? How many balls just barely fell in front of him in left that weren't marked an error?

Looking at the stats, it's easy to see many of the other conspirators. Shortstop Swede Risberg batted .080; pitcher Lefty Williams went 0-3 with a 6.61 ERA in the height of the dead ball era, while Cicotte lost his first two starts (he won his third, when the team was apparently trying). Center fielder Happy Felsch was the worst - he batted .192 for the series, and key Cincinnati rallies in Games 1, 2, and 5 all revolved around Cincinnati hits to center field.

Now it's believed that many individual World Series games had been fixed up until that time, including a few involving the Red Sox. But it's believed this is the only time an entire series was lost on purpose. It almost destroyed the game; the eight players were banned for life, and it took the power of Babe Ruth to restore faith in the game. For that reason, for the fact that this was the only truly non-competitive World Series, this one gets the vote for the worst World Series of all time.

There were no official MVPs of the Series back then. Due to what happened in this one, you could say the gamblers of the time could be named MVP. It's hard to pick out a Reds player as MVP, as it's easy to think that they succeeded because the White Sox let them. But I should pick somebody, so I'll pick Reds pitcher Dutch Reuther; he had a 2.57 era in two starts and went 4-for-6 at the plate with two triples.

The Scores
(Home team in Bold)

Chicago 1 2 3 0 0 5 4 5
Cincinnati9 4 0 2 5 4 (10) 1 10

The List
I'm ranking all the World Series, from worst to best. Here's the ones I've done so far:

107. 1919 - Cincinnati (N) def. Chicago (A) 5-3

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