For obvious reasons information on the 1919 World Series tends to concentrate on the White Sox. But there is, of course, another team in the Series: The Cincinnati Reds. Almost nothing is written about them. They are generally viewed as simple foils for the overpowering Sox who would have made hash of them had the Sox been playing on the up and up. In the movie “Eight Men Out”, which is probably the best flick on the event, they get all of two lines. But the Reds were a real team and they really did play in the 1919 World Series and in their opinion would have won anyway.
If you look at the Reds hitters you find a group not much different from the White Sox. There are a handful of really first-rate players, a bunch of middle-of-the-road types, and a few guys who you wonder why the team couldn’t find someone better. In Edd Roush, the center fielder, the Reds have a Hall of Fame quality player. Roush won two batting titles, including the one in 1919, had an OPS of 811 and an OPS+ of 146 for the season. Only Joe Jackson of the Sox is better. Third baseman Heinie Groh (who today is known only for his “bottle bat”, which is a great shame) had an even better OPS and OPS+ than Roush. Both, in other words, were good players having good years. At 35, first baseman Jake Daubert was beyond his prime, but was still a solid player, as was 32-year-old Morrie Rath, the second baseman. They were also the only two starters over 30. Outfielder Sherry Magee was also over 30 and well beyond the prime he showed with Philadelphia a decade earlier. But Magee was used in a platoon-type system with Rube Bressler, so saw limited action during the season and only had two plate appearances in the Series. As both Magee and Bressler hit right-handed, I’m not sure how the platoon worked exactly. As a team, the Reds led the National League in both triples and walks, were second in both average and slugging as well as RBIs and runs. They were third in hits.
In fielding the Reds were actually slightly better than the Sox. they showed superior numbers in both fielding percentage and range factor as well as in assists. They also made fewer errors. This is not to say that there are a lot of truly great fielders on either team, but in the context of the era, the Reds aren’t just awful or anything.
In pitching the Sox were definitely better, especially with a healthy Red Faber. Having said that, the Reds still show up first in shutouts in the National League and second in ERA. They led the league with the least hits allowed and were second in the least walks given up. So again, it’s not a bad staff, but most people are going to credit the Sox with a better mound crew.
And as a final comparison, I see no evidence that contemporary opinion was convinced that Kid Gleason was a particularly better manager than Pat Moran. Maybe he was, but I can’t find a consensus that confirms that.
So why exactly were the Sox, with a weaker overall record (88-52) considered so utterly superior to the Reds (with a 96-44 record)? I think it’s a perception issue. In 1909 the National League’s Pittsburgh Pirates won the World Series. In the 10 years since the Cubs, Giants, Braves, Phillies, and Robins (now the Dodgers) had all crossed swords with the American League champion (including the White Sox in 1917) and only the Braves in 1914 had been successful (and they were, and still are, considered one of the great flukes of all time). So the American League was perceived as the stronger league. The American League champion, regardless of record, had to be seen as the stronger team.
Were they in 1919? Frankly, we’re never going to know. From a look at the stats and the players I’m convinced the Reds would have proved a formidable opponent for the Sox playing on the up and up.