Posts Tagged ‘Happy Felsch’

Before the Sox Turned Black: Return to New York

June 30, 2017

There are very few plays from a World Series of the Deadball Era that are still famous. The Merkle Game of 1908 was a regular season affair and no one can tell you what Mathewson did in each of his three consecutive shutouts in the 1905 World Series other than no Philadelphia player scored. Cy Young pitched game one of the first Series, but almost no one knows he lost the game.

There are exceptions. There’s the Snodgrass Muff in 1912 that helped lead the Red Sox to the title. Most people don’t know that Frank Baker became “Home Run” Baker by hitting key homers in the 1911 World Series, but in the era fans did. The 1917 World Series produced one play that became instantly famous and is still known to die-hard baseball freaks. It occurred in game six.

Game 6, 15 October 1917

Eddie Collins

With the White Sox up three games to two, the Giants sent game three winner Rube Benton back to the mound. He’d thrown a shutout in game three and hopes were that he could do it again. Chicago countered with Red Faber who’d already won two games.

For three innings the game was an even match. Both pitchers gave up two hits, but no one scored. In the top of the fourth Eddie Collins led off with a ball hit to third baseman Heinie Zimmerman. An error made Collins safe and a second error put him on third and Joe Jackson on first. Then came the play that fans talked about for years.

Heinie Zimmerman

The next batter was Happy Felsch. He hit a tapper back to Benton who whirled and flipped to Zimmerman at third, catching Collins off the bag. But things went wrong immediately. Collins was in no man’s land and Zimmerman had the ball at third. Catcher Bill Rariden was down the line close to Collins. Zimmerman threw to Rariden, Collins turned back toward third, Rariden moved up the line and tossed the ball back to Zimmerman. Rariden was, by this point too close to both Collins and third.  Collins took off for home passing Rariden immediately. First baseman Walter Holke was still at first in case Benton had thrown to first to nail Felsch. Benton stood on the mound observing everything. All that, Rariden way up the third base line, Holke at first, Benton still on the mound, meant that no one was covering home except the umpire. Off Collins raced with Zimmerman, having no one to throw to chasing after him. For his career Zimmerman stole 175 bases, Collins stole 741. Collins was an acknowledged speedster in the era, Zimmerman on the other hand, wasn’t exactly slow but no one was going to confuse him with Man O’ War. Collins dashed home, slid into the plate, Zimmerman still behind had to leap over him to keep from falling down and Eddie Collins scored the first run of the game. Below is a picture of the play at home. Collins is on the ground with Zimmerman in the air (the other player is Rariden).

Collins is safe

While this was happening, Jackson moved on to third and Felsch to second. Now with both runners in scoring position Chick Gandil singled to score both runners and make the score 3-0. It was to be the decisive inning.

The Giants would manage two runs in the fifth and the Sox would get another in the ninth to show a final score of 4-2, but the fourth inning and Collins’ dash were the difference. Chicago claimed its first World’s Championship since 1906, Red Faber had won three games, and John McGraw had lost another Series. Zimmerman was the goat in most people’s eyes (and there is speculation that his treatment by fans led him to the gambling woes that ended up with his banishment in the 1920s–although there is no proof of that). McGraw never blamed Zimmerman. “Who was he supposed to throw the ball to, the ump?” McGraw is alleged to have said. He may have said it but it was probably in more “colorful” language. It is McGraw we’re talking about.

There was no MVP in the Series that far back but both Faber, with three wins, and Collins who hit .409, scored four runs, and drove in two might have been the favorites. Felsch had the only White Sox homer, Gandil led the team with five RBIs, and Jackson tied Collins with four runs scored. For the Giants Dave Robertson hit .500 (11 for 22) and scored three runs (as did George Burns). Benny Kauff led with five RBIs and led both teams with two home runs.

It is perhaps a more important World Series than it is a good Series. There were a lot of errors and both the hitting and pitching were spotty. But it did show what the White Sox were capable of doing when they tried. Two years later essentially the same team, minus Faber, would be accused of not trying.

 

 

 

Before the Sox Turned Black: back in Chicago

June 28, 2017

With the World Series tied two games each, the Series returned to Chicago for game five. If the two games in New York were shutouts and pitching dominated, game five was a shootout.

Game 5, 13 October 1917

Eddie Collins

Game five saw Reb Russell take the mound for Chicago. George Burns led off the game with a walk then went to third on a Buck Herzog single. Then Benny Kauff doubled to score Burns. And that was all for Russell. He’d pitched to three men and all had reached base, two by hits and a walk. The ChiSox brought in Eddie Cicotte to replace him. A fielder’s choice cut down Herzog at the plate for the first out of the inning. Another fielder’s choice cut down Kauff at home, but a Dave Robertson hit brought in a second run before Cicotte ended the inning.

Now ahead 2-0 the Giants sent Slim Sallee to the mound to hold the lead. He gave up a run in the third on an Eddie Collins walk and a Happy Felsch double, but the Giants got that run back, plus another in the fourth. Catcher Bill Rariden singled and went to second on a bunt. Burns singled and an error by right fielder Shano Collins let Rariden score. Two more errors brought Burns home to make the score 4-1.

Chicago got a second run in the sixth on three consecutive singles to make it 4-2, but New York responded in the top of the seventh with a run on an Art Fletcher double and a Rariden single. Going into the bottom of the seventh, the score stood 5-2 with Sallee cruising. With one out, Joe Jackson singled and Happy Felsch followed with another single. Chick Gandil then doubled to bring home both men.  An out moved him to third and a walk put Ray Schalk on first. Schalk took off for second and Herzog dropped the throw making Schalk safe and allowing Gandil to score to tie the game 5-5. A strikeout ended the inning.

Red Faber took over on the mound for Chicago in the eighth and sat down the Giants in order. In the bottom of the eighth Shano Collins singled and moved up on a bunt and scored on an Eddie Collins single. A Jackson single sent Eddie Collins to third. A Kauff throw failed to nip Eddie Collins, but New York third baseman Heinie Zimmerman thought he could catch Jackson going to second. His throw was wild and Eddie Collins scored while Jackson went on to third. A Felsch single scored Jackson but that ended the scoring.

With the score now 8-5, Faber went back to the mound. Two ground outs and a fly to left later, Chicago led the Series three games to two. So far all the games had been won by the home team. With game six back in the Polo Grounds there would be a game seven if that held.

 

Before the Sox Turned Black: Games 1 and 2

June 22, 2017

The first two games of the 1917 World Series were played in Comiskey Park. The local White Sox had broken through to win their first pennant since 1906. They faced the New York Giants who were back in the Series for the first time since 1912.

Game 1, 6 October 1917

Eddie Cicotte

For the opening game, the Chisox sent ace Eddie Cicotte to the mound to face John McGraw’s Giants. New York countered with Slim Sallee. The game turned into a great pitchers duel.

Although a few men reached base, no one scored for the first two and a half inning. The White Sox broke through in the bottom of the frame that began with an out. Pitcher Cicotte singled, then was erased trying to go to third on a Shano Collins single. A great throw by Giants right fielder Dave Robertson nailed him, but it allowed Collins to move up to second. A Fred McMullin double plated Collins with the first run of the Series. In the bottom of the fourth Chicago tacked on another run on a Happy Felsch home run.

Down 2-0 New York struck in the top of the fifth. Lew McCarthy led off the inning with a triple. Pitcher Sallee then singled to bring him home with the Giants initial run of the Series. A double play and strikeout got Cicotte out of the inning without further damage.

And that ended the scoring. Both pitchers continued to record out after out through the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings. There were a couple of hits but no one motored beyond second. In the ninth the Giants went down in order and Chicago went up one game in the Series by a 2-1 score.

Both pitchers were stellar. For the win Cicotte gave up seven hits, a walk, and the single run. Sallee was almost as good. He gave up seven hits also, but didn’t walk anyone. The difference was the Felsch homer.

 

Game 2, 7 October 1917

Red Faber

If game one was a well pitched duel, game 2 wasn’t. The Sox sent future Hall of Famer Red Faber to the mound. The Giants countered with Ferdie Schupp.

Both pitchers had trouble initially. In the top of the second consecutive singles by Dave Robertson and Walter Holke put men on first and second with one out. A Lew McCarthy single to left scored both runs.

Chicago replied in the bottom of the second with four singles in a row.  Joe Jackson led off the inning with a single, Happy Felsch moved him to second, and Chick Gandil brought him home with the third single. Another single by Buck Weaver scored Felsch and evened the score at 2-2. A Ray Schalk bunt was unsuccessful with Gandil being out at third, but Schupp then walked Faber to reload the bases. That brought out McGraw for a pitching change. Fred Anderson, the new pitcher, picked up a strikeout, then saw a grounder to short get New York out of the jam.

It was the highpoint for Anderson. In the fourth the White Sox took his measure and put up four runs. Two singles, an out, and two more singles brought in two more runs and ran Anderson. McGraw brought in Pol Perritt to pitch. He was met by singles by Eddie Collins and Jackson that sent three more runners across home plate to make the score 7-2.

Meanwhile, Faber had settled down after the second inning and was setting down the Giants. For the game he gave up eight hits and walked one (the walk came in the eighth). After the second inning, no Giant got beyond second. By the end, Faber had his complete game victory and the White Sox were up two games to none in the Series.

 

 

Before the Sox Turned Black: the Chisox

June 20, 2017

“Pants” Rowland

A lot of people who know about the 1919 Black Sox and throwing the World Series don’t know that it wasn’t the first Chisox pennant winner. They’d won the very first American League pennant in 1901 and followed that up with a World Series victory in 1906. More to the point of the Black Sox, they’d also won a pennant in 1917, two years before infamy, and 100 seasons ago this year.

Manager Clarence “Pants” Rowland was a former minor league catcher who’d managed long enough to get the attention of the White Sox. For those curious, the nickname came from his childhood when he wore his father’s trousers while playing ball. He took the reins of the Chicago American League team in 1915 and stayed through 1918 (he was fired in a disagreement with ownership). He led his team to 100 wins. They led the AL in runs scored, triples, stolen bases, OBP; were second in both walks and slugging; and third in batting average, home runs, and hits. The staff was first in ERA, shutouts, and allowed the fewest walks; second in runs allowed; and third in strikeouts.

The infield consisted of Chick Gandil at first, Hall of Famer Eddie Collins at second, Buck Weaver at third, and Swede Risberg at short. If they sound familiar, they’re the same four that were the primary infield in 1919. Collins led the group with a .289 average, one of only a handful of times he hit under .300. He also led the infield in most other offensive categories (doubles, triples, runs, even RBIs). His 128 OPS+ was third among all starters and his 5.0 WAR was second among non-pitchers. And of course, being Collins, he led the team in stolen bases. Gandil and Weaver both hit above .270 and Weaver’s OPS+ was 110. His WAR was 2.9, while Gandil checked in at 1.2. Risberg was only 22 and new to the big leagues. He wasn’t a particularly great shortstop, even with the lower fielding numbers of the era, and managed to hit all of .203 with only a 76 OPS+ and -0.3 WAR. Fred McMullin was the only backup infielder to play more than 20 games. He primarily substituted for Weaver at third and for Risberg at short. He hit .237 with 14 RBIs.

The primary outfield consisted of four men playing three position. Right field was a platoon situation between right-handed hitting Shano Collins (no relation to Eddie) and lefty Nemo Lebold. Leobold hit .236 while Collins hit .234 and had the only home run. Between them they had 41 RBIs, 25 doubles, 160 hits, and 206 total bases. Leobold’s WAR was 1.2 and Collins was absolutely average with 0.0. Center fielder Happy Felsch led the team in hitting at .308 with an OPS of .755 (OPS+ of 128), had 4.7 WAR, and was considered a superior outfielder. So was left fielder Joe Jackson (“Shoeless Joe”). He hit .301, had five home runs (Felsch had six) and 82 RBIs (to Felsch’s 99) had an .805 OPS, an OPS+ of 143, and led the hitters with 5.8 WAR. Backup outfielder Eddie Murphy (obviously not the modern comedian) got into 53 games, hit .314, had a 135 OPS+, and produced 0.3 WAR.

Ray Schalk and Bird Lynn did almost all the catching. Hall of Famer Schalk hit .226, had both home runs, all five triples, and 12 of the 14 doubles. Lynn hit .222. Schalk produced 3.0 WAR but only had an OPS+ of 89. Schalk was a fine backstop. In a league where the caught stealing rate was 45%, he was at 54%, having caught 101 of 186 base stealers.

They caught a small, but competent staff. Dave Danforth was one of the first pitchers designated for use as a reliever. He’d played some before, but by 1917 was a main cog in Chicago’s pitching. He had a 2.65 ERA over 50 games (nine starts) and 173 innings (obviously not a modern closer). He struck out 79 (but walked 74), gave up 155 hits, 51 earned runs (one homer), and had nine saves (retroactively figured). It was one of the first big relief seasons. Four men started 20 or more games. The ace was Eddie Cicotte (of 1919 infamy). He was 28-12 with an ERA of 1.53 (ERA+ of 174) with seven shutouts, 150 strikeouts, and a team leading 11.5 WAR. Hall of Fame pitcher Red Faber was 16-13 with 84 strikeouts and 85 walks over 248 innings. His ERA was 1.92 with an ERA+ of 139 and 2.6 WAR. Reb Russell was also under 2.00 in ERA (1.95) with 54 strikeouts in 185 innings and 4.2 WAR to go with a 15-5 record. Twenty-four year old Claude “Lefty” Williams (also of 1919 infamy) was the youngest hurler. He was 17-8 with an ERA of 2.97 and 1.5 WAR over 230 innings.

The Chisox managed, in 1917, to break the Boston stranglehold on the AL pennant. They would face the New York Giants in the World Series (I did something on the Giants a week or so ago, so look down the page for them.). Because of American League domination in the recent Series’ Chicago was favored to win.

 

 

Bedford Bill

September 12, 2016
Bill Rariden, with Cincinnati

Bill Rariden, with Cincinnati

I’ve spent a little time telling you about the players on my fantasy team. First I give you a short introduction to Vin Campbell. Then I did a little piece on Johnny Lush. I don’t intend to do every player, but I did find a few more that I consider interesting so I plan on passing along some information on a handful more. This time it’s my backup catcher.

William Rariden came out of Bedford, Indiana (hence the “Bedford Bill” nickname) to the Major Leagues. He was born there in February 1888. His father, like Campbell’s, was a doctor and Bill Rariden grew up in a middle class environment. He was good at baseball and in 1907 made the Class B minor league team in Canton, Ohio. He remained there through 1908, although the team changed leagues, and found himself was purchased by the Boston National League team, the Doves (now the Atlanta Braves) in August of 1909. He remained in Boston through 1913.

He wasn’t much of a hitter (his highest batting average while in Boston was .236 in 1913) but he was an excellent defensive catcher for the era. In 1914 he jumped to the newly formed Federal League joining Benny Kauff as a mainstay of the pennant winning Indianapolis team. He remained with the Feds until the league folded after the 1915 season. While there he established himself as the finest defensive catcher in the new league.

With the folding of the Feds, Rariden was picked up by the New York Giants and settled in as their primary catcher. His career year (other than the Federal League years) was 1917 when he hit .271 and helped the Giants to their first pennant since 1913 and a World Series date with the Chicago White Sox.  Rariden was superb in the World Series, hitting .385 with two runs scored on five hits (all singles), but became primarily known for a fielding gaffe that turned into a key play in the Series. In game six with Eddie Collins (who happens to also be on my fantasy team) on third, Happy Felsch hit a come backer to Giants pitcher Rube Benton. With Collins down the line, Benton threw to Giants third baseman Heinie Zimmerman. Collins dashed home, Zimmerman tossed to Rariden, Collins stopped and ran back toward third. Rariden pursued him close to third then flipped the ball to Zimmerman. Collins, seeing the ball go back to third and noting Rariden was away from home and the pitcher was standing on the mound instead of at home, dashed back toward home, raced passed Rariden and came home with Zimmerman chasing him to no avail. It was the first run in the critical game and the play became the most talked about play of the Series.

Rariden played one more year, 1918, at New York, didn’t have much of a year, and was traded in February 1919 to the Cincinnati Reds. As the primary backup catcher, he got into another World Series, again against the White Sox. He got into five games, picking up four hits and two RBIs as the Reds won the Series in eight games against the infamous Black Sox.

He played one more season, 1920, hitting .248, and participating in the last triple header in Major League history. The games occurred at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh on 2 October. Rariden played in game three. After the season the Reds let him go. He played a couple of years in the minors, one as a player-manager, and retired. He lived on a farm in Bedford, then opened a service station in town. He died in August 1942.

For his career, Bill Rariden had a triple slash line of .237/.320/.298/.618 with 682 hits in 982 games (including the Federal League years). He scored 272 runs, had 105 doubles, seven home runs, and 274 RBIs (not a lot of players get that runs to RBI ratio). He had an OPS+ of 81 and 8.7 WAR. During his Federal League years he led the league in several catching categories including both caught stealing and stolen bases allowed (you don’t see that very often).

Bill Rariden spent 12 years in the Major Leagues (including the Feds). During that time he played 982 games, or about 82 a season. That’s not a big number, but not a bad number for a catcher of the era. All in all, he was a fairly typical catcher for the Deadball Era.

“In Conference with a Bunch of Crooked Players”

January 31, 2012

Buck Weaver

It had eventually to come to this post; the one on Buck Weaver. Of all the Black Sox he is the hardest to get a handle on when it comes to the scandal. His guilt is as certain as his innocence. And I know that sentence sounds silly, but if you look at the Black Sox issue, he can come across as either guilty or innocent depending on where you place your emphasis. As a rule, that’s not true of the others.

Born in 1890 in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, Weaver came from a steel town. He was neither a particularly good nor bad student, but he was a good ballplayer. By 1910, after stints in semipro and outlaw ball, he was in the Minor Leagues in Northampton, Massachusetts. He moved between Northampton; York, Pennsylvania; and San Francisco in a Minor League career that lasted two years. He was considered a good hitter and an excellent fielder.

In 1912 he made the Chicago White Sox as the starting shortstop.  He hit all of .224 and led the American League in both outs and errors made, but was considered a work in progress. And he did progress. Between 1913 and 1916 his average slid up and down, peaking at .272 in 1913. His OPS peaked in 1915 at .671. He was, however, becoming a good shortstop. He led the AL in putouts and assists in 1913 (and in errors). With the arrival of Swede Risberg in Weaver began a shift to third base, playing 66 games at short and 85 at third in 1916. By 1917 he was the team’s regular third baseman, a position he would hold for the rest of his career (although he still spent a lot of time at short).

In 1917, the White Sox won the AL pennant. Weaver hit .284, saw his OPS at .694, and had his OPS+ finally go over 100 (110). He also led all AL third basemen in field percentage. In the World Series he hit .333, and an OBP of .333 (obviously no walks), slugged .381, had an OPS of .714, scored three runs and drove in one. The Sox won in six games.

Weaver was one of a group of White Sox who played the entire 1918 season with the team. Despite World War I, he was neither drafted nor went off to do war work. He hit .300 for the first time, but OPS dropped. In 1919, he dropped back under .300 but established career highs in slugging percentage and OPS (although his OPS+ dropped to 99). He ChiSox won the pennant and lost the World Series in eight games. Weaver hit .324, had an OBP of .324 (again, the man simply refused to walk), slugged .500 and had an .824 OPS. He scored four runs, had four doubles, a triple, and no RBIs.

And it’s here we need to step away from the playing field and into a “conference with a bunch of  crooked players” (Judge Landis’ phrase). A group of White Sox decided to throw the World Series to Cincinnati and make a ton of money (by era standards). There were a number of meetings between the eight players (seldom with all eight present). Weaver was asked to join and did so. He seems to have immediately rejected the idea and had no part in the fix. He failed, however, to inform anyone else about what was going on. That would cost him dearly.

The 1920 season was a career year for Weaver. With the new “lively ball” he posted career highs in most categories. He hit .331, had an OPS+ of 107, and for the first time racked up 200 hits. He also continued to play well in the field. With only a few days left in the season, the Black Sox scandal broke. Weaver was implicated and thrown off the team. Tried with the other Black Sox, despite requesting a separate trial, he was acquitted. Then Landis brought down the hammer banning all players who participated in the fix. Then the last sentence included the following, “no player who sits in conference with a bunch of crooked players and gamblers where the ways and means of throwing games are discussed and does not promptly tell his club about it will ever play professional ball.” It was aimed directly at Weaver.

Out of the Majors, Weaver played semipro ball, worked for the city of Chicago as a painter, ran a drug store (he was not the pharmacist), and dropped dead of a  heart attack on the streets of Chicago 31 January 1956, exactly 56 years ago. He was, despite repeated attempts, never reinstated to the Major Leagues.

Before making some general comments about Weaver, this is a good place to note how good the White Sox defense was rated. In contemporary account after contemporary account there is general agreement that the Sox were a superb defensive team. Gandil, Weaver, Jackson, and Felsch were considered in the top-tier of defense players in the American League, as were Clean Sox Eddie Collins and Ray Schalk. A quick look at team stats bears out that the ChiSox were among the elite fielding teams of the era and if you take the individual players and line them up against their opposite numbers, it’s generally true that the Chicago players are well into the upper echelon on defense. Accounts of the Black Sox scandal tend to generally focus on the hitting and pitching but as a team, the White Sox were pretty good defensively too.

My grandparents refered to knowing what to do and not doing it as a “sin of omission.” Weaver got caught up in something like that in 1919. In some ways we’re dealing with that right now in American sport. As I understand it, Joe Paterno was essentially accused of not doing enough in the Penn State scandal and that (not doing enough) is what got Weaver into trouble. Now I don’t want to compare the two incidents too closely, the specifics have almost nothing in common and the difference between the victims, a 10-year old in 2002 and a group of loud and sometimes obnoxious fans in 1919, makes the particulars totally unlike. And that leads to the question of how much sympathy to show towards Weaver. On the one hand, you’re taught to be loyal to your friends, but on the other hand there’s the question of knowing something is wrong and simply letting it slide. Ultimately I come down on the anti-Weaver side, but I certainly understand those who do not.

Having said all that, I agree with Judge Landis on banning those who are “in conference with a bunch of crooked players.” Making it a cause for banning was a shot across the bow of the players. Now even knowledge of a fix, not just the fix itself, was a banning offense. I’m not a big fan of Landis, but he got this one right.

“A Hard Guy”

January 25, 2012

The Swede

In some ways the least likeable of the eight Black Sox is Swede Risberg. He seems to be a particularly unloveable person. In Joe Jackson’s words, “a hard guy.”

Born in 1894 San Francisco, Charles Risberg was a third grade drop out (do you notice an educational pattern with a lot of these guys?). He excelled as a pitcher in semipro ball in the Frisco area. Between 1912 and 1916, he played for a series of Minor League teams in the West, doing well and eventually settling in as a shortstop. His last posting was with Vernon of the Pacific Coast League. His manager was 1906 World Series hero Doc White who recommended Risberg to his former boss Charles Comiskey.

Risberg made the big leagues in 1917 as a utility infielder but almost immediately became the every day shortstop. He hit .203 with no power and struck out more than he walked. As a shortstop he was nothing special. He led the American League in errors and finished fourth (of eight regulars) in putouts. Chicago made the World Series. Risberg batted twice, picked up a single and an RBI and helped the White Sox win.

1918 saw World War I intrude into baseball in a major way. Under a “work of fight” order a number of players like Risberg left the team during the season (he played 82 games) to work in Naval shipyards. Risberg went back to the West Coast to work in the Alameda Shipyard. Much of his job was to play ball and the whole idea bothered owner Comiskey. As with Happy Felsch (see earlier post) Comiskey felt Risberg was shirking his duty and held it against him for the rest of his career. Again, it’s difficult to determine how much this contributed to the crisis of 1919. One thing is certain, Risberg hated Chicago and the Midwest. He apparently was desperately homesick and spent as much time as he could back in California. This may also have contributed to what happened in 1919. Not liking the town, the owner, and a significant number of his teammates, Risberg was ripe for recruitment in the Black Sox Scandal.

He had a decent year in 1919, finally having 100 hits, hitting .256, and seeing his OPS rise to .662. I always hate writing something like that, because OPS was unheard of in Risberg’s day, but is so well-known today it needs to be quoted. During the World Series he hit a miserable .083 with one extra base hit (a triple), no RBIs, five strikeouts, and a World Series record eight errors at short. He blamed it on a cold.

Of course we know it was more than a cold. Risberg was one of Chick Gandil’s earliest recruits. A willing participant, he seems to have been the man who recruited both Lefty Williams and Jackson to the cause. He was responsible for getting Jackson’s money to him (via Williams) and is supposed to have threatened Jackson with physical violence when Jackson complained about the amount of money. That was Jackson’s story and Risberg never denied it (at least that I can find).

Risberg was having his best year in 1920 when the scandal broke. Acquitted by a jury, but banned by the Major Leagues, he played outlaw baseball and worked some in the minors, playing as late as the early 1930s. He told others he was making more money in the outlaw and minor leagues than he ever made in the Major Leagues. He ran a dairy farm, was involved in the Ty Cob/Tris Speaker gambling controversy (which came to nothing), lost a leg to osteomyelitis, moved back to California and ran a bar (another common thread among some of the Black Sox). He died in California in 1975, the last of the Black Sox.

I find it very difficult to like Risberg. I think that as a person he’s the one I’d least like to have known (which is different from saying which is most responsible for the fix). But he is intriguing because his career is the shortest. He seems to have been getting better when he was banned (as was Felsch) and I’d like to know how the “lively ball” era might have changed his stats. He was never going to be a big star, but he might have become a quality shortstop given time. That he didn’t give himself enough time lies with him.

“Please Help Me, I’m Falling”

January 22, 2012

Happy Felsch

In doing research for this post about Happy Felsch, I ran across an interview with him done back in the 1950s. In it he says he wanted to get some help from his friends in deciding what to do about fixing the 1919 World Series. I was immediately reminded of an old 1960s (I think) country song that contained the following lines: “Please help me, I’m falling. And that would be sin. Close the door to temptation. Don’t let me walk in.” The ethical blindness in both comment and song are much alike.

Oscar Felsch was born in Milwaukee in 1891, the son of immigrants from Germany. As with a number of the Black Sox, he was a drop out, not advancing beyond the sixth grade. He played sandlot ball, went into semipro ball, and finally made a local minor league team in 1913. He wasn’t very good in 1913, but improved. By 1915 he had been spotted and signed by Chicago. He was one of three Black Sox who spent his entire career with the White Sox (Weaver and Risberg were the others).

His first season wasn’t much, but he improved in 1916 and 1917. He hit .300 both years, had 100 RBIs in 1917, scored 70 runs both years, and had decent power for the era (13 total home runs). His OPS+ was 130 in ’16 and 128 in ’17.  He was also an exception center fielder for the era. He led the American League in both putouts and range factor in 1917 and was second in range factor in 1916. In the 1917 World Series he hit .273 with a home run and an OPS of .759.

After 53 games in 1918, Felsch left Chicago to perform war work at a naval shipyard. World War I was raging and he, along with other Major Leaguers, was faced with either joining the military or performing war-related service. Owner Charles Comiskey was upset at Felsch (and Lefty Williams and Joe Jackson who did the same as Felsch) for “shirking” the military in time of  crisis. The War Department was quite happy to get them, the ships needed to be built and the dockyard workers need entertainment (All three played a lot of ball for the shipyard team.). I’m not sure how much this incident added to the atmosphere that led to the 1919 fix, but it surely didn’t help.

Back fulltime in 1919, Felsch had another good year, hitting .275 with an OPS of .764 and an OPS+ of 113. He also led the AL in outfield assists. In on the World Series fix, he hit .192 with a double and three RBIs. He also had four strikeouts. Early in his career he was strikeout-prone (for the age), but had seen his strikeouts steadily decrease over the seasons.

In 1920 he was having an excellent year when the scandal broke. He took full advantage of the “lively ball” and hit .338 with a .923 OPS. He had 14 home runs, 40 doubles, and 115 RBIs in 142 games. All were career highs. But the breaking scandal cost him the rest of the season and banishment after his trial cost him the remainder of his career.

Back in Milwaukee he played some outlaw ball, sued for reinstatement to the Major Leagues, played in Canada, worked as a grocer, soda store operator, saloon keeper, and crane operator. In other words, he did what he could to make ends meet as his baseball skills diminished and his lack of education kept him in working class jobs. When Eliot Asinof began writing “Eight Men Out”, Felsch was still alive. He agreed to interviews and became one of the book’s leading sources. He died of a coronary blood clot in 1964, apparently no longer a “Happy” man.

When Their Sox were still White

January 31, 2010

The Chicago White Sox team of the last half of the second decade of the 20th Century is known primarily for one thing, the Black Sox scandal. But prior to 1919 they were a pretty good team and when they played well and with a will to win they could be superb. Two years before the 1919 World Series, the Sox kept their hose white.

The 1916 ChiSox had finished two games behind Boston in 1916. Over the off-season they changed first basemen and shortstops but kept the heart of the team intact. In 1917 they overcame the two games and finished first in the American League by 9 games. The starters were the same as the 1919 team with Chick Gandil at first, Hall of Famer Eddie Collins at second, Swede Risberg at short and Buck Weaver completing the infield at third. The outfield had Joe Jackson in left, Happy Felsch in center and the platoon system of Nemo Leibold (the lety) and Shano Collins (the righty) in right. Hall of Fame catcher Ray Schalk completed the position players. Jackson and Felsch hit 300 as did pinch hitter Eddie Murphy. In fact, Felsch had a great Deadball era year. He hit .308, slugged .403, was second in the league with 102 RBIs, third in the league with 177 hits and led the team in runs scored, tied with Collins at 91. That total was good for fourth in the AL.

The pitching consisted of Eddie Cicotte with 28 wins, Lefty Williams with 17, Hall of Famer Red Faber getting 16, and Reb Russell with 15. Dan Danforth started 9 of 51 games and led the AL with 11 saves (a stat that hadn’t been invented yet). Cicotte also led the league in innings pitched (347) and ERA (1.53) and his 150 strikeouts trailed only Walter Johnson’s 188.

They faced the New York Giants in the World Series. The Series went 6 games with the Giants taking 3 and 4 in New York. Eddie Collins was the hitting star batting .409 with 9 hits, and four runs scored. The most famous run occured in game 5’s eighth inning. With one out and Collins on first, Joe Jackson singled sending Collins to third. When the Giants left home uncovered, Collins raced home with an insurance run.

The pitching hero was Faber who won three games (2, 5, and 6) while losing one (4). He pitched 27 innings giving up 21 hits, 3 walks, and posting a 2.53 ERA. Cicotte had both the other win and the other loss.

The next season with Eddie Collis and Risberg in the military and Jackson, Felsch, and William all off doing war work, they slipped back to 6th.   Manager Pants Rowland was tossed and Kid Gleason took over as the new skipper. That set up the 1919 season when the regulars returned and the fix was in.