Posts Tagged ‘Joe Jackson’

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.

 

 

 

Advertisements

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.

 

 

The Arrival of a Legend

July 11, 2014
The Babe while still a Red Sox

The Babe while still a Red Sox

Today marks one of the most significant anniversaries in Major League baseball history. One hundred years ago on 11 July 1914 the Boston Red Sox gave the ball for the first time to a rookie pitcher nicknamed “Babe” Ruth. It was the start of the most legendary of all baseball careers.

For the day, Ruth pitched seven innings against the Cleveland Naps giving up three runs (two earned). Joe Jackson (“Shoeless Joe”) knocked in a run early and catcher Steve O’Neill knocked in two in the seventh for the Cleveland runs. Ruth struck out one and walked none to pick up the win. At bat he went 0-2 with a strikeout. Better hitting days were to come for the Babe.

Most everyone knows the name Babe Ruth, many without knowing what it was he did. If you do know what he did, odds are you know about the home runs and the hitting feats. But Ruth was also a heck of a pitcher. If you look at the left-handed hurlers of the decade between 1910 and 1920 you could make a pretty fair argument that Ruth was the best left-hander of the decade. You might look at Eddie Plank or Rube Marquard early in the decade, or at Hippo Vaughn later in the decade (and he and Ruth faced each other in the 1918 World Series with the Babe picking up a 1-0 win), but Ruth is equally in the argument.

Ruth’s conversion from pitcher to outfielder is key to his career. But if you look around, you’ll find that while it wasn’t common, it wasn’t unheard of in baseball. George Sisler did the same thing and went to the Hall of Fame. So did Lefty O’Doul (without the Hall of Fame being attached). A lot of years later Stan Musial hurt his arm in the minors and switched from the mound to the outfield and ended up in Cooperstown. Bob Lemon went the other way, from third base to pitcher and made the Hall. Bucky Walters also went from third to pitching and won an MVP. Darren Dreifort, while at Wichita State, served as the DH when he wasn’t pitching, but didn’t play in the field (although he did pinch hit) in the Majors. I’m sure that’s nowhere near a complete list.

For his Boston career, Ruth was 89-46, a .659 winning percentage, with a 1.142 WHIP, a 2.19 ERA, and a 122 ERA+. He had 17 shutouts, 483 strikeouts, and 425 walks for his Red Sox years (there were also a handful of games with the Yanks). Ruth’s pitching WAR (Baseball Reference.com version) is 20.6.  His World Series record is equally good. He was 3-0 with a shutout and eight strikeouts. He did, however, walk 10. His consecutive scoreless streak in the Series was a record until Whitey Ford finally passed him in the 1960s.

I know over the years that a lot of people have tried to tell us that someone else (Barry Bonds, Ted Williams, Henry Aaron, etc.) was better than Ruth. And maybe as a hitter they were (although I wouldn’t bet on that in Vegas), but ultimately you have to decide that Ruth was the overall superior player because he could also pitch very well. Aaron was Aaron, Williams was Williams, and Bonds was Bonds, but Ruth was a combination of any of them and Walter Johnson. Top that crew.

 

Opening Day, 1913: American League

April 3, 2013
Walter Johnson (later than 1913)

Walter Johnson (later than 1913)

In 1913, the American League opened its season one day later than the National League. Opening Day was 10 April. Among other games it saw Philadelphia win its first game of the season.

Although the Red Sox were defending World’s Champions, Connie Mack’s Athletics were the loaded team. The 1913 A’s boasted the “$100,000 Infield” of Stuffy McInnis at first, Jack Barry at short, and Hall of Famers Eddie Collins and Frank Baker at second and third. Of outfielders Rube Oldring, Amos Strunk, Eddie Murphy (obviously not the modern comedian), and Jimmy Walsh, only Oldring was older than 25 (he was 29) and only Walsh hit below .280. Jack Lapp and rookie Wally Schang shared catching duties with Schang being much the better hitter. Aging Danny Murphy was solid of the bench. It was a strong team that looked good for many years. They had won the 1910 and 1911 World Series and finished third in 1912. The fall back was primarily because of the pitching. Ace Eddie Plank was 37 and former ace Jack Coombs was ill from typhoid. There was nothing wrong with Chief Bender, however, and he managed 21 wins with a 2.21 ERA and 13 saves. The A’s would win the pennant by 6.5 over Washington and beat up on the Giants in the World Series, winning four games to one.

The Senators would finish second primarily because they had Walter Johnson and no one else did. Johnson had a season for the ages. He went 36-6, had an ERA of 1.14, struck out 243 men, and ended with an ERA+ of 259. It got him the pitching triple crown and the AL’s Chalmers Award (an early form of the MVP). The Chalmers lasted four years (eight total awards) and Johnson is the only pitcher to win one. Washington’s top hitter was probably Chick Gandil, who became infamous in the 1919 Black Sox Scandal.

Defending champ Boston would finish in fourth (Cleveland was third) 15.5 games back. Tris Speaker hit in the .360s but the pitching collapsed. Notably, Smoky Joe Wood went from 34 wins to 11.

Ty Cobb won another batting title, hitting .390, while Baker won both the home run and RBI titles. Collins led the AL in runs, while Cleveland’s Joe Jackson had the most hits.

1913 saw a number of rookies who would make their mark. On 28 June Wally Pipp played his first game for the Tigers. He would anchor first base for the initial Yankees pennant winners before losing his position to Lou Gehrig. Hall of Fame outfielder Edd Roush made his debut on 20 August with Chicago. On 4 August Cleveland brought up Billy Southworth. He was an okay players, but made the Hall of Fame as a manager. Finally on 17 September Detroit brought Lefty Williams to the Major Leagues. He would eventually lose three games while helping the 1919 White Sox throw the World Series.

The 50 Greatest White Sox

December 11, 2012
Luke Appling, the 2nd Greatest White Sox

Luke Appling, the 2nd Greatest White Sox

Concluding comments on the ESPN poll of the 50 greatest players on given teams, today I want to remark on the White Sox list. As far as I could find there are only five of these on ESPN (Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Cubs, and White Sox). If I find others, you’ll be second to know (behind me).

1. The top 10 White Sox in order are: Frank Thomas, Luke Appling, Nellie Fox, Luis Aparicio, Paul Konerko, Eddie Collins, Ted Lyons, Joe Jackson, Harold Baines, and Minnie Minoso. And again the guy just off the top 10 in eleventh is Ed Walsh.

2. To put together a complete team you first have to decide what to do with Thomas. He’s a first baseman, but ultimately spent the bulk of his playing time as the DH. His positioning determines who makes the team. I decided to place him as the DH, where he spent the most time, so that makes the infield Konerko at first, Fox at second, Appling at short, Robin Ventura (number 15) at third. The outfield is Jackson, Baines, and Minoso, with Carlton Fisk (number 13) catching. A four man rotation with at least one lefty yields Lyons, Walsh, Mark Buehrle (number 12), and Billy Pierce (number 14), with Hoyt Willhelm (number 18)  as the closer. With Thomas at first, Konerko drops out and Aparicio becomes the first duplicate position player and thus the DH.

3. Most of the 1919 “Black Sox” make the list. Jackson is listed above, Eddie Cicotte is 16th Buck Weaver is 39th, Happy Felsch is 41st, and Lefty Williams in 50th. Only Chick Gandil, Swede Risberg, and Fred McMullen were left out.

4. The 1906 World Champs is also well represented with Walsh listed above, Doc White at 30th, Fielder Jones at 33rd, and Nick Altrock at 42.

5. Which brings me to the most glaring omission, George Davis of the 1906 team. My guess is they decided he wasn’t there long enough (and that’s strictly a guess).

6. Dick Allen comes in at 20th. I’m not sure what I think of that. He was probably better than most of the guys ahead of him, but he was only there a couple of years. I’m not sure how you decide that. But to be honest I’m not sure what to do with Dick Allen period.

7. I have real problems with Konerko at fifth, above Collins, Lyons, and Baines (among others). I don’t mind Konerko being well touted, after all he started out with my Dodgers, but fifth?

8. I think that putting both Lu Aps (Luke Appling and Luis Aparicio) in the top four is probably correct. What I’m surprised about is that they got the order right. 

9. Let me ask this. What does it say about a franchise when their third best player (Fox) has a career OPS+ of 93, 35 home runs, and more caught stealings than stolen bases? Always liked scrappy Nellie Fox, but putting him third does point out why the ChiSox have only  been in the World Series twice since 1919 and only picked up one victory.

10. You know the Jackson, Baines, Minoso outfield might be the least powerladen of all the teams, but it is a heck of a fielding team.

The Core of the Hall: Notes

July 6, 2012

The post just below this one touches on the 50 people who I think most belong in the Hall of Fame (of those already enshrined). The public comments have been positive, but I’ve also received a handful of private comments (and emails) with questions about the list. This is an attempt to answer those.

1. SportsPhD in his comment below notes a paucity of 19th Century players and speculates that I’m purposefully leaving off players who were active primarily before the advent of the mound. He is correct. I think the change in pitching distance and motion have so effected the game that players before and after those changes must be viewed in entirely different categories. And, yes, there is a certain amount of justice in placing Campanella above Anson.

2. A number of comments have asked why so many Negro Leaguers, especially Turkey Stearnes and Martin DiHigo. I am entirely comfortable in believing that five Negro League players are among the 50 finest players ever. Look at the National League in the 1950s and you’ll note that guys like Aaron, Mays, Clemente, and Frank Robinson are on my list. I don’t think it unreasonable to believe that five players from the period 1920-1950 who were Negro League stars should be included. If you can find four in ten years, surely you can find five in thirty. As to DiHigo I placed him here because of his playing ability, his versatility, and his impact on the game among Latin players. He is instrumental on growing the game in Latin America (as is Clemente) and when coupled with his skills that puts him on my list. Stearnes is a little harder to justify and frankly was one of the last people I included. Most sources claim he is the leader in home runs among Negro Leaguers. That probably is worth adding him, even at the expense of guys like Buck Leonard and John Henry Lloyd.

3. Most people, including those who made public comment on the first Core post, indicate they might have changed a half dozen or so. Actually I think that’s really good. It means that, at least among those people who read this blog, there is a fairly solid consensus as to the top 40 or so players.

4. Someone asked if I was sorry to have to leave off current players or Hall eligible (or in the case of Joe Jackson and Pete Rose ineligible) players. Yes, I was. I’d love to put Albert Pujols on the list as well as Greg Maddux and possibly Rose although I’d have to think long and hard about Charlie Hustle. I’m not sure I see him as a top 50 without reference to the gambling issue. Maybe, maybe not.

5. I was asked “If Campanella was the last man on, who was the last man off?” The answer is Eddie Murray. I really miss putting Murray on the list and I have to admit that a personal prejudice may have gotten in the way here. I always liked Murray, but I loved Campy. I guess in the end that made a difference.

6. Someone asked “If you could cut it down to 10 who would you pick?” Pass.

All this typed for the information of those who asked. This way I don’t have to write up a dozen different responses to a dozen different emails.

“Pretend It’s Commie’s Wake”

February 2, 2012

Comiskey during his playing days

If you’ve been following along, I presume you’re expecting to see a short bio of Joe Jackson here. I’ve not gone that direction for two reasons. First, Jackson has been done to death. Second, I’ve done Jackson to death. Instead, I want to focus on the team owner, Charles Comiskey, a man many people blame as much as the players for the Black Sox Scandal. In the flick “Eight Men Out” as a measure of the player’s disdain for Comiskey, when it’s time for the team picture, how do you get the players to smile? You tell them to “Pretend it’s Commie’s Wake.” Whatever you think of the Black Sox or the scandal, it  happened on Comiskey’s watch.
 
Comiskey was from Chicago, born in 1859 to parents that had connections. His dad was at various times Cook County Clerk and a member of the City Council. So Comiskey, unlike his players, knew a little about politics. He took to baseball very early, apparently got into fights with his parents over it, left home at 17 to play ball, and became a successful pitcher and first baseman in the Northwest League.
 
In 1882, he joined the newly formed American Association’s St. Louis Browns as their first baseman. He was good in the field, not as good with the bat, and something of a team leader. By 1883 he was the team’s player-manager. Under Comiskey, the Browns ran off four consecutive Association championships, including a victory over the National League’s Chicago team in an 1886 version of the World Series.
 
I was surprised to learn that Comiskey was a follower of Monty Ward’s Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players Union (it doesn’t fit with his later record). He joined Ward and other Major Leaguers in the 1890 Player’s League. With the folding of the Player’s League (and the Brotherhood), Comiskey went back to St. Louis, was traded to Cincinnati, and retired as a player after the 1894 season. His record is unspectacular. He hit .264, with an OBP of .293, slugged .337 for an OPS of .630 (OPS+ of 82). He had 1956 total bases, 883 RBIs, and 992 runs scored. His postseason numbers are almost dead on with his regular season stats. He managed parts of 13 seasons, coming in first four of them, second twice, and fourth three times. His managerial winning percentage is .608.
 
In 1894, while still active, he joined with Ban Johnson, a Cincinnati sportswriter, to form the Western League. Comiskey bought the team in Sioux City, Iowa but immediately moved it to St. Paul, Minnesota. He eventually moved the team to Chicago, joined with Johnson in renaming the league the American League, and in 1901 won the first pennant for the fledgling Major League (His manager was Hall of Famer Clark Griffith.). His team repeated as champion in 1906, winning its first World Series over the crosstown rival Cubs. By 1910, his team was successful, the league was a success, and he was making a ton of money.

Comiskey about 1910

 
 To all the world the team seemed a success. Comiskey owned a big, modern ballpark, gave tickets away to children, lavished food and drink on reporters, and otherwise looked like a wealthy man. But how do you do that in 1915 Chicago while running a baseball team? Well, one of the ways you do it is by shorting your players. Comiskey was beginning to pick up a reputation as a miser when it came to his players. He paid them poorly, gave them less meal money than other teams, put them in cheap hotels, gave them flat champagne as a bonus (1917), and didn’t do the laundry very often. He was known to belittle them in public and complain that they loafed on the job when they lost. All of which led to a World Series victory in 1917 and a loss in 1919.
 
And it’s the loss in 1919 that was the problem. Eight of the players conspired to fix the Series (the level of complicity varies from player to player). Comiskey and others had suspicions from the beginning, Comiskey going so far as to hold World Series shares until a private detective investigation was finished (the players eventually got their money). In 1920 it blew up in public court, ridicule, and shame (but there were no late night comics to give it a funny undertone). The players were put on trial, Comiskey testified, the players were acquitted and Comiskey, who had been one of the first to urge the creation of an independent Commissioner, found his players barred from baseball by his handpicked Commissioner, Judge Landis.
 

The Hollywood version of Comiskey (Clifton James)

 Comiskey continued to run the White Sox through 1931. His team never again finished near first (and didn’t do so again until 1959). It never won another World Series in his lifetime (and only won again in 2005). He made the Hall of Fame in 1939.

When I was in the army people got screwed with in basic training. Then they were screwed with in advanced training. And when they got to their new post, they were screwed with again by the guys who’d been there a while. Well, eventually most guys reached a point where they were the old guys. People tended to learn one of two lessons. First, you got even by screwing with the poor guys who were new or under your command. Second, you refused to be a jerk because you recalled what it felt like to be screwed with and didn’t want other people to feel the way you felt when you were the bottom rung. Most people learned the first lesson. I’ve always been a little surprised that , as an ex-player, Comiskey treated his team with utter contempt. In light of my army experience maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. I know that my sympathy for Comiskey as wronged owner would be greater if he wasn’t a former player who knew what it was like to be the guy on the bottom. I understand why he’s in the Hall of Fame, but sometimes I wish he wasn’t.

 

“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.