1919: 100 Years On

Judge Landis’ plaque at Cooperstown

It’s now 2019. That makes it 100 years from the nadir of Major League Baseball. It’s not something to celebrate, but it is something to note.

In 1919, the Black Sox Scandal occurred. A number of gamblers bribed members of the American League champion Chicago White Sox to throw the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds. The players were promised $10,000 each and most of them never got that much, but they did manage to lose the Series. In 1920 it came out into public view and the sport was rocked to its core.

As far as I know, MLB isn’t going to even acknowledge the event, let alone commemorate it. That’s a shame. They say we learn from our mistakes, and some of us do, at least occasionally. This is a time to look back at the event and let MLB talk about what it learned from the Black Sox.

It learned quite a lot, actually. It learned that there needed to be someone in charge who could make decisions without the consent of the owners (or the players either). That got MLB the Commissioner system and Kenesaw Mountain Landis. It’s difficult to like Landis, but he did move immediately to clean up the gambling aspects of the sport. Those measures still hold today, as Pete Rose finally discovered. Baseball learned that innovation wasn’t necessarily bad and allowed the explosion of home runs as epitomized by Babe Ruth to continue, changing the nature of how the game was played. Those are both valuable lessons.

But MLB didn’t learn to deal with one of the more significant issues that led to the Scandal, the pay of players. It would take into the 1970s, a union, and an arbitrator to begin addressing the problem. If you can double your salary by losing five games (the 1919 World Series was a best of nine), why wouldn’t you at least consider it? With million dollar salaries today, that’s virtually impossible.

In all this I make no comment on the guilt or innocence of any particular player. That’s not my point. I don’t want to see baseball take an inordinate amount of time detailing the guilt or innocence of Joe Jackson. Rather, I want it to look at the Scandal in an open manner and address it as an historical event that changed the game.

And by the way, I’m not holding my breath waiting for anything to happen. I’ve also commented on this recently, but I wanted to insure that it remained fresh in the new year.


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4 Responses to “1919: 100 Years On”

  1. wkkortas Says:

    Agree completely–the Black Sox scandal was the logical result of the game burying its head in the sand when faced with the problem of gambling in the game, and baseball (like all professional sports) still doesn’t want to address its problems until something reaches crisis level.

  2. Miller Says:

    There was a time in this country when folks who leaned left might be able to vote for a Republican and folks who leaned right might be able to vote for a Democrat, not because they disliked “their” candidate, but because they so respected another. While that doesn’t exist much today, it should.

    I write this because of the wonderfulness of the post. Regardless of politics, I could find the space in my brain/heart to vote for the person who wrote it. To be smart and caring and thoughtful won’t ever fail in my mind. Well done, v!

    In my tiny corner of the internet, I select Jackson and Rose to my Hall, but I reject Cicotte because he worked to make his team lose. If some fools in upstate NY ever decided it wise to give me a vote, I’d still be pro-Joe and anti-Eddie. But I’d change my vote on Rose. Like the Black Sox who luckily didn’t, Rose could have had a hand in destroying the game with his gambling. MY Hall is about on-field play. THE Hall should be about more (or different?).

    In years gone by, Baseball Prospectus used to talk about baseball analysis as a meritocracy. And plenty of folks from BP – those who were amazing – got jobs in the industry. Why is that? It’s because teams compete with each other and want the best talent. MLB isn’t the same as its teams. They are an entire industry, and they don’t work to improve in the same way teams do. Someone at MLB should read this and contact v. They won’t, of course, but they should

    It’s so clear to me that you could help in a small but meaningful way. For this simple enough idea, you could help the industry – the game we love – if you were given a seat at the table.

    Well done!

    • glenrussellslater Says:

      Miller, excellent comments. It’s true about political parties today as opposed to years gone by. As much as I disliked Ronald Reagan (and still do, particularly because of how he started the snowball rolling downhill for unions), I respect Reagan for being able to reach across the aisle to Democratic politicians in Congress. It’s sickening how little that’s done today. This was back when politics was much more pragmatic.

      Miller, you wrote a great comment in reaction to a great post.

      Going back to pragmatism, that’s the path that baseball should take, as well. Pragmatism. There is no such such thing as black and white; everything is really in shades of gray. But baseball just throws the baby out with the bathwater time and time again.


    • verdun2 Says:

      Thank you for the kind words.

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