(Review) The Betrayal: The 1919 World Series and the Birth of Modern Baseball

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(Review) The Betrayal: The 1919 World Series and the Birth of Modern Baseball

[cap­tion id=“attachment_87837” align=“alignright” width=“203”]Ruberry Black Sox Ruberry in June with man in 1919 White Sox uniform[/caption]

By John Ruberry

As this decade winds down you can look for many 100th anniver­sary arti­cles. They’ll be a huge uptick of them next year to mark the cen­ten­nial of America’s entry into World War I, fol­lowed by more on the armistice that con­cluded “the war to end all wars” in 1918. The exe­cu­tion of the czar and his fam­ily, as well as the fall of the Houses of Hohen­zollern and Hab­s­burg also occurred that year, events all directly related to World War I.

In 2019 base­ball fans will mark 100 years since the Black Sox Scan­dal, when eight Chicago White Sox play­ers con­spired with gam­blers to throw, that is, pur­posely lose the 1919 World Series.

It never occurred to me that one man could start to play with the faith of fifty mil­lion peo­ple — with the single-​mindedness of a bur­glar blow­ing a safe,” F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Nick Car­raway remarked about the scan­dal in The Great Gatsby.

That one man, although given a fic­tion­al­ized name in Gatbsy, was Arnold Roth­stein, the mas­ter­mind of the scan­dal, although one of the few things that his­to­ri­ans agree upon is that its gen­e­sis came from Charles “Chick” Gandil, the first base­man for the 1919 South Siders.

What does the First World War have to do with Major League Baseball’s most noto­ri­ous scan­dal. Plenty. In his book The Betrayal: The 1919 World Series and the Birth of Mod­ern Base­ball, Charles Foun­tain looks back at “the war to end all wars” and goes back much further.

[cap­tion id=“attachment_87839” align=“alignleft” width=“175”]Comiskey statue, US Cellular Field Comiskey statue, US
Cel­lu­lar Field[/caption]

The most famous mem­ber of the Black Sox of course was the illit­er­ate – but, as Foun­tain explains, in no way dumb, left fielder Shoe­less Joe Jack­son. Dur­ing the Great War Jack­son was one of the base­ball play­ers who avoided mil­i­tary ser­vice by join­ing a defense indus­try fac­tory base­ball team where he made per­haps the same, if not more money than he did play­ing for owner Charles Comiskey’s White Sox. In recre­at­ing the set­ting of early 20th-​century base­ball, Foun­tain, a North­east­ern Uni­ver­sity jour­nal­ism pro­fes­sor, shows that there was plenty of money “out there” for play­ers, as a third cir­cuit, the Fed­eral League, proved in 1914 and 1915 by lur­ing play­ers from the estab­lished National and Amer­i­can leagues with more lucra­tive contracts.

Another way to col­lect extra cash was to throw games, and Foun­tain spends an entire chap­ter on the now largely for­got­ten Hal Chase, a tal­ented first base­man who was the first home­grown star of the New York Yan­kees, whom he dubs “the Prince of Fixers.”

There was more gam­bling cash involved in base­ball than ever dur­ing World War I, as Pres­i­dent Woodrow Wilson’s “work or fight” labor pol­icy inad­ver­tently led to the clos­ing of most horse rac­ing tracks for the dura­tion of the con­flict. Money for wager­ing wasn’t just going to idly sit in gam­blers’ wal­lets until the war ended. While some minor base­ball leagues sus­pended play dur­ing the war, the big leagues, despite short­ened sea­sons in 1918 and 1919, were still in busi­ness. And so were the gam­blers. The war, and Wil­son, upset the eco­nomic bal­ance of the underworld.

After the Cincin­nati Reds won the World Series, or after the South Siders lost it, and despite an inves­ti­ga­tion by Comiskey that seemed to sug­gest some White Sox play­ers weren’t play­ing, as how it was said back then, on-​the-​square, it would take an unre­lated gam­bling inci­dent for the scan­dal to break wide open in the final week of the 1920 sea­son, as the White Sox were in a heated pen­nant race that they would lose to the Cleve­land Indi­ans. The fix­ers almost got away with it. As the eight Black Sox play­ers were exposed, Foun­tain details the play­ing out of a long­stand­ing feud between Comiskey and Amer­i­can League pres­i­dent Ban John­son, one that nearly put the junior cir­cuit out of busi­ness with the cre­ation of a new 12-​team National League. Of course the two-​league majors sur­vived, ruled by a man seem­ingly removed from the Old Tes­ta­ment, fed­eral Judge Ken­ne­saw Moun­tain Landis.

[cap­tion id=“attachment_54680” align=“alignright” width=“197”]John "Lee" Ruberry of the Magnificent Seven John “Lee” Ruberry of the Mag­nif­i­cent Seven[/caption]

As White Sox left the ranks of baseball’s elite in 1920, mod­ern base­ball, the post-​dead ball era, began. No one knew it at the time, but the Golden Age of Sports, led by the New York Yan­kees’ Babe Ruth, had also arrived. Comiskey, who died in 1931, never put another con­tend­ing team on the field, and the White Sox wouldn’t return to the Fall Clas­sic until 1959 – and the South Siders wouldn’t win it all until 2005. But the owner nick­named “the Old Roman” was still able to cash in on the rol­lick­ing Roar­ing Twen­ties party; Comiskey Park was expanded in 1927, largely because of Ruth’s trans­for­ma­tion of baseball.

Comiskey is treated some­what sym­pa­thet­i­cally here, as some­one who is more fru­gal than stingy.

Fountain’s effort suc­ceeds not only as a base­ball book but as an his­tor­i­cal work. Which means you don’t have to be a fan of the national pas­time to enjoy it.

John Ruberry, a life­long White Sox fan, reg­u­larly blogs at Marathon Pun­dit.

Ruberry Black Sox
Ruberry in June with man in 1919 White Sox uniform

By John Ruberry

As this decade winds down you can look for many 100th anniversary articles. They’ll be a huge uptick of them next year to mark the centennial of America’s entry into World War I, followed by more on the armistice that concluded “the war to end all wars” in 1918. The execution of the czar and his family, as well as the fall of the Houses of Hohenzollern and Habsburg also occurred that year, events all directly related to World War I.

In 2019 baseball fans will mark 100 years since the Black Sox Scandal, when eight Chicago White Sox players conspired with gamblers to throw, that is, purposely lose the 1919 World Series.

“It never occurred to me that one man could start to play with the faith of fifty million people — with the single-mindedness of a burglar blowing a safe,” F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Nick Carraway remarked about the scandal in The Great Gatsby.

That one man, although given a fictionalized name in Gatbsy, was Arnold Rothstein, the mastermind of the scandal, although one of the few things that historians agree upon is that its genesis came from Charles “Chick” Gandil, the first baseman for the 1919 South Siders.

What does the First World War have to do with Major League Baseball’s most notorious scandal. Plenty. In his book The Betrayal: The 1919 World Series and the Birth of Modern Baseball, Charles Fountain looks back at “the war to end all wars” and goes back much further.

Comiskey statue, US Cellular Field
Comiskey statue, US
Cellular Field

The most famous member of the Black Sox of course was the illiterate–but, as Fountain explains, in no way dumb, left fielder Shoeless Joe Jackson. During the Great War Jackson was one of the baseball players who avoided military service by joining a defense industry factory baseball team where he made perhaps the same, if not more money than he did playing for owner Charles Comiskey’s White Sox. In recreating the setting of early 20th-century baseball, Fountain, a Northeastern University journalism professor, shows that there was plenty of money “out there” for players, as a third circuit, the Federal League, proved in 1914 and 1915 by luring players from the established National and American leagues with more lucrative contracts.

Another way to collect extra cash was to throw games, and Fountain spends an entire chapter on the now largely forgotten Hal Chase, a talented first baseman who was the first homegrown star of the New York Yankees, whom he dubs “the Prince of Fixers.”

There was more gambling cash involved in baseball than ever during World War I, as President Woodrow Wilson’s “work or fight” labor policy inadvertently led to the closing of most horse racing tracks for the duration of the conflict. Money for wagering wasn’t just going to idly sit in gamblers’ wallets until the war ended. While some minor baseball leagues suspended play during the war, the big leagues, despite shortened seasons in 1918 and 1919, were still in business. And so were the gamblers. The war, and Wilson, upset the economic balance of the underworld.

After the Cincinnati Reds won the World Series, or after the South Siders lost it, and despite an investigation by Comiskey that seemed to suggest some White Sox players weren’t playing, as how it was said back then, on-the-square, it would take an unrelated gambling incident for the scandal to break wide open in the final week of the 1920 season, as the White Sox were in a heated pennant race that they would lose to the Cleveland Indians. The fixers almost got away with it. As the eight Black Sox players were exposed, Fountain details the playing out of a longstanding feud between Comiskey and American League president Ban Johnson, one that nearly put the junior circuit out of business with the creation of a new 12-team National League. Of course the two-league majors survived, ruled by a man seemingly removed from the Old Testament, federal Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis.

John "Lee" Ruberry of the Magnificent Seven
John “Lee” Ruberry of the Magnificent Seven

As White Sox left the ranks of baseball’s elite in 1920, modern baseball, the post-dead ball era, began. No one knew it at the time, but the Golden Age of Sports, led by the New York Yankees’ Babe Ruth, had also arrived. Comiskey, who died in 1931, never put another contending team on the field, and the White Sox wouldn’t return to the Fall Classic until 1959–and the South Siders wouldn’t win it all until 2005. But the owner nicknamed “the Old Roman” was still able to cash in on the rollicking Roaring Twenties party; Comiskey Park was expanded in 1927, largely because of Ruth’s transformation of baseball.

Comiskey is treated somewhat sympathetically here, as someone who is more frugal than stingy.

Fountain’s effort succeeds not only as a baseball book but as an historical work. Which means you don’t have to be a fan of the national pastime to enjoy it.

John Ruberry, a lifelong White Sox fan, regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.