The 1919 Cincinnati Reds: Forgotten World Champions

A too ignored team
CHICAGO - October 3, 1919. The Cincinnati Reds starting outfielders pose in Comiskey Park in Chicago before the start of game three of the 1919 World Series. They are Sherry Magee, Edd Rousch, and Greasey Neale. (Photo by Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images)

There are many assumptions of baseball history that are almost accepted wisdom. For example, it’s treated as a near-given that Ted Williams, had he not lost so many years in the military, would have finished his career as statistically the greatest hitter who ever lived. It’s assumed by many that the Montreal Expos, if not for the 1994 strike, would have won the World Series that year. It’s also taken for granted that because a drunken writer named Al Stump wrote it, that Ty Cobb was a racist who was hated by damn near everybody. None of these assumptions are facts and in the case of Ty Cobb, the assumptions have been proven to be dead wrong.

And this brings me to the belief that the 1919 Chicago White Sox would have run over the Cincinnati Reds in the 1919 World Series if not for the conspiracy to throw the series. Heck, in the Eight Men Out movie, a Reds player compares his team to Custer about to make a final and suicidal last stand. But as we have discovered, there were a lot of historical inaccuracies in that movie and I am betting that quote from a Reds player was totally made up for the movie.

In the end, my question is was the triumph of the 1919 Reds really that big of an upset?

1) The White Sox had injury problems

The White Sox had three eventual Hall of Famers on their roster not counting of course “Shoeless” Joe Jackson who would have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer without the gambling accusations, only two of the three (Ray Schalk and Eddie Collins) played in the World Series.  Young Spitballer Red Faber did not play in the Series because of a problem with the flu that lingered and would eventually end his season-long before that World Series. It’s not hard to say that missing a future Hall of Famer hurt the White Sox chances against an excellent Cincinnati Reds team. This, of course, is left out of the movie and is never mentioned by anybody while discussing this World Series.

2) The 1919 Reds were 96-44

The 1919 Reds had a record that was absolutely amazing. Their .686 winning percentage was the highest for a Cincinnati team in the 20th century and only .002 behind the 1882 American Association title-winning Cincinnati Red Stockings. That means that, yes, in winning percentage, the 1919 Reds were better than even the 1975 Big Red Machine that went 108-54 (.667 winning percentage). It was the second-best winning percentage of the 1910s (behind only the 1912 Red Sox, who went 105-47 for a .691 winning percentage) and no team would have a winning percentage higher than it again until the 1927 Yankees, which many historians consider the greatest team of all-time.

The 1919 Reds had one of the top 25 winning percentages in Baseball history since 1900. By comparison, the 1919 White Sox were just 88-52 for a .629 winning percentage. The White Sox record was inferior to the Reds by a fair amount. I know the National League was looked down upon by a lot of the country and the American League was considered the far superior league, but the Reds record should have been very hard to ignore by the so-called experts.

In the second half of the 1919 season, the Reds were an outstanding 47-19, a .712 winning percentage. By comparison, in the White Sox second half of games, their record was 41-27, a .612 winning percentage, once again well below the Reds. Plus the Reds ran away with the National League and they were destroying the competition when most teams would have just been preparing for the upcoming World Series.

3) Pitching wins championships 

Defense, it is said, wins championships and especially when it comes to pitching in baseball. The Cincinnati Reds had a better pitching staff than the Chicago White Sox and that fact to me at least in undisputed. The Reds staff topped the Sox in ERA, hits allowed/9, walks allowed/9, (WHIP)–and had a better FIP (Fielding-Independent Pitching). While the White Sox were superior in some traditional statistics like strikeouts, when you look at deeper statistics, the Reds clearly had a stronger staff.

Maybe, more importantly, they also had a deeper pitching staff. In an era where most pitchers went the entire game or close to it (thus giving the stat more meaning than it does now), the White Sox got 52.09% of their wins from the two pitchers who pitched the most innings for them: Eddie Cicotte and Lefty Williams. By comparison, the top two pitchers in Innings pitched for the Reds (Hod Eller and Dutch Reuther) accounted for only 39.58% of the Reds’ wins. The White Sox, without a healthy Faber, were for the most part essentially two aces carrying a staff, but the Reds were strong from top to bottom. Six pitchers on the Reds had at least 10 wins, and all but one of those six had lower ERAs than every single White Sox pitcher save for Cicotte.

So it is hard to believe that the Reds should have been a big underdog and even harder to believe that people thought they had basically no chance to win the series.

4) The Reds had home-field advantage

People debate to this day the value of home-field advantage, but back in 1919, it may have been an even bigger deal than it is today.

The 1919 Cincinnati Reds deserved better than this

Sadly, all of the accomplishments of the 1919 Cincinnati Reds have been effectively wiped out of the history of Baseball. The really unfortunate part was because of nothing they did, but in the end, they have been punished almost as badly as the Eight White Sox that were supposedly in on the fix. It’s just as bad to be forgotten as it is to be reviled.

The Reds star center fielder Edd Roush won his second batting crown by hitting .321 to go along with 20 steals, 20 sacrifices, and a team-high 71 RBI’s. Roush is hardly remembered outside of the best Baseball historians, maybe if he would have gotten credit for being the leader of the 1919 World Series Champion Cincinnati Reds his fate would have been different?

I will never say that the series wasn’t fixed by the White Sox because it’s obvious that a few players were on the “take” but the 1919 Cincinnati Reds were the true World Champions of Baseball and should be recognized that way. Statistically, they were the better team and what a few White Sox players did should not tarnish the legacy of a great team that played the series on the level.

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