The Wages of Sin

1919 Chicago White Sox team picture with the “Black Sox” circled

Next year is special in Major League Baseball. The powers that be in MLB might not tell you that, but it’s true. Next season marks the 100th season since the Black Sox Scandal almost destroyed the Major Leagues.

It’s not like it’s one of those occasions that MLB wants to celebrate and I know they won’t. But I wonder if they will even acknowledge it or admit to it. It is the darkest stain on the game itself. I would argue that segregation was more, or at least as much, a societal problem as it was a baseball problem. But the Black Sox throwing the World Series is a baseball problem.

I’ve never been quite sure what I think of Judge Landis’ decision to ban all eight of the Black Sox permanently. I understand the reasoning, but I’m not sure what I think of the action itself. “Get rid of the bums. Ride ’em out of town on a rail forever.” It’s a simple answer to a complex question, but it did have the advantage of cleaning up the greatest scandal in the game. By taking it a step further and banning another 15 or so guys (Bill James came up with 23 names) the message went out loud and clear that deliberately tanking a game was anathema and would not be tolerated.

But it didn’t solve two of the fundamental problems that led to the Scandal. First, it didn’t find fault with the owners who’d kept salaries low, treated their players like cattle, and discarded them when they’d used them up. Secondly, it didn’t attack the salary question at all. The winners share in the 1919 World Series was $1102.51 and the loser’s share came in at $671.09. According to BaseballReference.Com Joe Jackson’s salary in 1919 was $6000. So which looks better to you $6000 plus $1102.51 ($7102.51) or his salary ($6000), the loser’s share (671.09), the bribe money (he got $5000 out of a promised $10,000)? My guess is a lot of players, not just the Black Sox, would have seen $11,671.09 as quite a windfall. It would take until the 1970s to even begin to address this problem. Try putting together enough money today to double Mike Trout’s salary as a way of bribing him to throw a World Series. And in none of this am I implying I believe Jackson did or did not participate in the Scandal.

I’m going to be watching closely to see how/if MLB deals with the 1919 Black Sox. My guess is that it will be people like my readers and I who will make sure people know about it. What am I bet?

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4 Responses to “The Wages of Sin”

  1. glenrussellslater Says:

    I think they should acknowledge the 100th anniversary of the Black Sox Scandal by taking Charles Comiskey out of the Baseball Hall of Fame and put Shoeless Joe in. Also, pardon all eight Black Sox players and invite the descendants of the pardoned players to a baseball luncheon.

  2. wkkortas Says:

    While I would agree with Glen that justice would be well served by drumming Commy out of The Hall, I’ve always found the sympathy for Jackson, Cicotte, Risberg et al to be misplaced. Is what they did understandable? I suppose so. Is what they did excusable? Under no circumstances.

  3. 64cardinals Says:

    In 1920, the Internal Revenue Service reports, the average income was $3,269.40 per year.

    Jackson made almost twice the average American. Add in his bonus for winning, and it’s well over twice.

    Add in the fact that no one is required to play baseball, and without it, Jackson would have been working in the mills in South Carolina for less than the average.

    This is no different than a guy offered $25 mil per year saying he isn’t getting any respect because someone else was offered $30.

    Greed is greed. Ball players have always been paid more than the average American, and have lead privileged lives.

    Commiskey is in for a lot of reasons, not just being an owner. And rightly deserves it. If they want to lift the ban on the players and let them in back into baseball or the Hall, I’m okay with that. It’s been a century.

    But they are not victims and shouldn’t be treated as such. Jackson took the money whether or not he played to lose.

    The only one with an actual grievance is Buck Weaver.

    • verdun2 Says:

      As I said, nothing I wrote should imply I think Jackson is either guilty or not guilty of throwing the 1919 World Series.
      On a personal note, however, I think he was a dirty as the others.

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