Everybody knows about the 1919 World Series and how eight men from the Chicago White Sox became known as the Black Sox. Scandals are not a new thing in baseball, just look at Pete Rose, the Houston Astros, and that’s just to name a few. When you do a little digging through you find a lot more possible dirt, even during the World War 1 era of Baseball.
World War I’s terrible effect on baseball’s economy had cut the players’ pay in half and these players were not paid at the exorbitant rate of today’s guys. Actually, the 1919 season had been unofficially canceled and most players expected to be drafted when the World Series ended.
So in 1918, if you are playing in the World Series, you might go for the payoff if you think you are headed off to war and need to make one big splash to help your family survive. The 1918 World Series had also been a source of pride to Red Sox fans. That Babe Ruth-led team was the franchise’s last championship until 2004. Of course, you also had Cubs fans whose team last won in 1908. You know that White Sox fans who have taken crap for years from Cubs fans would love to put the 1918 Cubs on the same ship they had been on for all those years.
Back at this time in baseball’s history, gamblers often wandered around the stands taking bets. Gamblers and players mingled freely throughout baseball’s early years, staying in the same hotels and frequenting the same bars, restaurants and pool halls. The players were middle-class wage earners in those days and had much in common with the gambling set. It’s hard to fathom a world where an easy buck would not have tempted the players.
Not often told is baseball’s first gambling scandal occurred all the way back in 1865. A player in the first World Series in 1903 was offered a $10,000 bribe but did not accept. There was also talk that the 1914 and 1917 World Series had been fixed. Remember during World War 1 racetracks were closed because of war-time restrictions and that caused a huge spike in gambling on baseball.
Baseball was so sure that the 1919 season would be halted that the Brooklyn Dodgers agreed to lease Ebbets Field in 1919 to the government as a storage facility. The war and a struggling world economy had devastated a business like baseball that relied on fans spending their disposable income at the ballpark. Attendance was down because so many top players had been drafted into the war. The 1918 regular season ended early, Sept. 1, and most thought it would be at least a few years before it would return.
The first three games of the 1918 Series were played at the Red Sox home, Comiskey Park, because it had more seats than what the Cubs’ home field had. The extra seats were not needed; the first three games, of which Boston won two, averaged about 22,000 fans.
On the train to Boston for the final games, yes the train, no planes to fly then — the two teams rode together — the players added the gate receipts and calculated their shares, which figured to be about $1,100 for the winners and about $600 for the losers. That was roughly half the money they expected. Before World War 1 the players in the World Series got a set share, but starting in 1918 the owners decided just to give them a percentage of the revenue. Back then the players had to accept what the owners would give them, there was no player union back then.
The first three games were tight, well-played games, but back in Boston that all changed as strange and poor played started to rear its ugly head.
A lot of the controversy seemed to center around the Cubs Max Flack. Flack, the Cubs’ leadoff hitter, made his presence known in the first at-bat of Game 4 when he lined a single off Red Sox pitcher Babe Ruth. But with one out, Flack wandered off first base and was picked off by the Red Sox catcher. In the third inning, Flack reached first on a force and moved over to second base on a fielder’s choice. Ruth, seeing Flack far from the base, wheeled and threw from the mound and Flack was picked off again. Flack is the only player in the history of the World Series to be picked off twice in one game. That’s in more than 100 World Series! Maybe it was a coincidence, but it would be a big one.
In the fourth inning, with two Red Sox on-base, Cubs pitcher Lefty Tyler had a 3-2 count on Ruth, who had emerged as a dominant hitter. Tyler noticed that Flack was playing shallow in right field. The Chicago Herald-American wrote of what came next: “Tyler waved him back, Flack did not pay attention to the command. Once again, Tyler motioned him, but Max was obstinate.” Ruth smacked a triple over Flack’s head and both runners scored.
The Cubs tied the score in the top of the eighth, but in the bottom of the inning Cubs reliever, Phil Douglas fielded a sacrifice bunt and threw it wildly into right field, allowing a runner to score the eventual winning run from second base.
To add intrigue, a few years later Douglas was a star pitcher for the New York Giants and was barred from baseball for life after he wrote a letter to a St. Louis Cardinals player suggesting he would retire and leave the team if paid to do so. The Cardinals and the Giants were then in a tight August pennant race.
Before 1918’s game 5, the players refused to leave their Fenway Park locker rooms in a protest over their diminished World Series. It seems the attendance was even worse in Boston than it had been in Chicago and the players’ cut was going to be even less than they figured after the game 3 ride on the train to Beantown. The teams were promised a meeting with the team owners after the game if they played, so the players agreed to play and the Cubs forced a 6th game with a 3-0 win.
The players got their meeting with ownership and got almost nothing but lip service. Once again game 6 was played amazingly, even though Max Flack was once more the goat of the game. Flack, who had five hits and four walks in the six games, dropped a routine two-out drive to right field in the fourth inning. His error allowed both Boston runs to score in the clinching 2-1 victory.
It’s hard to say. Maybe Max Flack just had a bad series, but maybe he was trying to get a quick score before leaving his family to go off to war. If that was the case it would make sense and would even be understandable. The thing that makes it hard to believe is that if you were going to fix a World Series, wouldn’t you want a pitcher or a catcher involved? Now in 1920 Black Sox pitch Ed Cicotte eluded to the 1918 World Series and how the Cubs had players paid $10,000 to throw the series. In the end, it was probably Cicotte trying to get the pressure off his own team. If you weigh the evidence it would have to come out that the 1918 Cubs were not guilty. But, with the times what they were in back then, could you have blamed them?
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