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’19: The Worst World Series In History

October 30, 2019

Game seven of the World Series is today. In an unprecedented fashion, the visiting team has won the first six games of the seven game world series. It’s never happened before in the history of any seven game series in any sport. The Washington Nationals are hoping to make it seven in a row, as they attempt to beat the Houston Astros in Texas and claim their first World Series. The 2019 World Series will certainly go down in history. But, it’s unlikely that anyone except future version of baseball geeks will remember the teams.

Baseball is celebrating 150 years in 2019. While that’s an impressive milestone, MLB is probably hoping that people will forget another milestone this year. In fact, it’s safe to say the ’19 World Series is one of the darkest moments in baseball history.

Not the 2019 Series. The Series that happened 100 years ago. The 1919 World Series was between the Cincinnati Reds and the Chicago White Sox. However, the Chicago team was better known as the Black Sox. Eight men on the 1919 team were accused of intentionally losing World Series games. And they almost killed the sport of baseball a century ago.

The eight men who are forever banned from the sport, even though they are long dead are:

  • 1B Arnold “Chick” Gandil
  • 3B Buck Weaver
  • IF Fred McMullin
  • SS Charles “Swede” Risberg
  • RHP Eddie Cicotte
  • ¬†LPH Claude “Lefty” Williams
  • CF Oscar “Happy” Felsch
  • OF “Shoeless” Joe Jackson

Joe Gedeon of the St Louis ballclub was also banned because he learned of the fix and placed bets.

The story of the Black Sox has been told many times in books and movies. The story is that the owner of the White Sox, Charles Comiskey (Yeah, the guy they named the stadium after) wasn’t paying his players enough and was a pretty rotten owner. The players, let by Chick Gandil met up with some Chicago gamblers and arranged to throw the World Series, a series they were favoried to win. But, even if a team isn’t favored, if you know one team is going to lose, it doesn’t matter what the odds are. It’s a sure thing.

Like any conspiracy, there were crosses and doublecrosses. Ultimately the players each got $5000 except for Chick who pocketed $35,000 and Buck Weaver who took none of it. Oh, and they lost in eight games. (The Series was a best of 9 back in 1919.)

Everyone knew of the fix and since losing games on purpose was illegal then, as now, the players were arrested in 1921. Many of them, including Joe Jackson (more on him later) pled guilty. But, in classic Chicago politics style, the confessions were lost. In the trial, the players were aquitted. Comiskey was one of the biggest defenders of his players. Oh, he knew they were guilty as sin, but they were also great players and with this kind of leverage, Comiskey could cut their pay even further.

Baseball owners had a real problem on their hands at the start of the 1920s. They relied on fans to fund their sport and fans weren’t interested in paying good money (a World Series ticket in 1920 was $5.50) to watch a dishonest game.

The owners pursued a radical solution for a severe problem. They created the office of Baseball Commissioner. And for their first commissioner they hired Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Commissioner Landis wasted no time in banning the eight players from baseball. Even after they were aquitted, Landis refused to allow them back into baseball.

Regardless of the verdict of juries, no player who throws a ball game, no player who undertakes or promises to throw a ball game, no player who sits in confidenc with a bunch of crooked ballplayers and gamblers, where the ways and means of throwing a game are discussed and does not promptly tell his club about it, will ever play baseball again.
– Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis
Commissioner of Baseball

The eight, were never allowed in organized play again. They tried to set up exhibition games. Landis threatened to ban any player who played with them. They tried to hold an exhibtion game every week in Chicago. The city threatened to cancel the lease of any ballpark that hosted them. They were out.

Joe Jackson has become a cult figure over the years. He was the hero in the movie Field of Dreams. It’s been suggested that since he never attended any meetings with gamblers, he wasn’t really guilty. It’s been suggested that being illiterate, perhaps he didn’t really know what was going on. He claimed he played as hard as he could in the Series.

The man accepted $5,000 at a time when the best player in the league (Ty Cobb) was paid $20,000 for the entire year. That would be like one of today’s players accepting $10,000,000, (25% of Mike Trout’s $39,000,000.) You don’t take that kind of money without understanding what it was for.

Everyone agrees that Buck Weaver never took any money and never attempted to lose a game. But, he knew about it.

Pete Rose, who played in the 1970s has more hits than anyone else in Major League Baseball history, 4,256. (Interestingly, second place is the aformentioned Ty Cobb who had 4,189.) Rose, in 1989 was accused of betting on baseball. Using the precedent set by Landis 70 years earlier, Rose was permanently banned from baseball, including being ineligable for the Hall of Fame.

To this day, none of the Black Sox has ever been reinstated and all remain ineligable for the Hall of Fame.

So, while 2019 World Series will set new records, it’s likely that in 2119, baseball will celebrate 250 years of baseball, but will still not have lived down the disgrace of the 1919 Black Sox, the worst World Series in baseball history.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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