The Cost of Winning “and Losing”
by Michael Aubrecht
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In Luke (16:10), the Bible clearly defines the ills of dishonesty and selfishness: “The one who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and the one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. (16:11) If then you haven't been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will entrust you with the true riches?” (NRSV). That’s a very powerful passage in my opinion and I interpret it as a more eloquent way of saying, “cheaters never win - and winners never cheat”.
Thankfully for sports fans, God created us with a competitive spirit. Unfortunately it is this same “Will to Win” that often corrupts the “Will of God”. What is it about fame or fortune that has caused so many gifted athletes and/or teams to compromise the integrity of both themselves and their sport? Is winning really everything? Not always, sometimes losing is just as bad. Take for instance members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox and their unwanted legacy as perhaps the most dishonest team in all of professional sports.
Even a casual baseball fan can tell you a little something about the Black Sox scandal of 1919. The very fiber that held the game together was challenged when the news broke a year after the series that a fix was on from the first inning of game. Eight members of the participating White Sox including pitchers Eddie Cicotte and Claude (Lefty) Williams, outfielders Joe Jackson and Happy Felsch, first baseman Chick Gandil, shortstop Swede Risberg, third baseman Buck Weaver and reserve infielder Fred McMullin were all charged with conspiring to fix the outcome of the Fall Classic against the Cincinnati Reds. Cynics were tipped off before the Series even started when the pre-game betting odds swapped shortly before the first game. Chicago's White Sox were originally slated as heavy favorites, but were later changed to underdogs in favor of the Cincinnati Reds. Despite the rumors, most fans and members of the press accepted the games to be true, but all that would change in 1920 as suspicions turned into confessions.
The first Game of the 1919 scandal featured an outstanding and "authentic" performance by the Reds' pitcher Dutch Ruether. In addition to going the distance in a six hitter, he went three for three with two triples and three runs batted in. Greasy Neale, who would go on to lead his team in hitting with a .351, also performed well at the plate in tandem with teammate Jake Daubert. The White Sox put on quite a show themselves, losing 9-1 in questionable fashion. Nothing changed the following day as Cincinnati's Slim Sallee faired the same, tossing a 4-2 Game 2 victory that was sealed by a Larry Kopf two run triple in the fourth. Dickey Kerr, an up and coming rookie for the White Sox, drew the start for Game 3. Apparently untouched by the scandal, the tough lefthander refused to roll over and threw a three hit 3-0 winner to put Chicago back in the race (whether they wanted to be or not).
The inspired Reds, unaware that a fix was on, pitched back-to-back shutouts in Games 4 and 5 on the arms of Jimmy Ring (2-0) and Hod Eller (5-0) who sat down six consecutive batters. But wait! It wasn't over yet... In any other year, the Series would have ended there, but 1919 was different. Due to the intense postwar interest, the commissioner of baseball had decided to extend this Fall Classic to a best-of-nine affair.
To curb further suspicion, the Black Sox decided to make a reasonable effort and rebounded in the following two games with 5-4 and 4-1 victories. Cincinnati "dominated" the final outing "with a little help" from their crooked rivals in a 10-5 stomp that started with four runs in the first inning. The Reds had won their first World Championship in their first Fall Classic appearance. Unfortunately, the victory would be bittersweet after the scandal had been confirmed a year later. The Black Sox had been able to camouflage their deception by being selective in their misdeeds. Joe Jackson had batted a Series-leading .375 but acknowledged that he had let up in key situations. Buck Weaver had also performed well at the plate by hitting .324. Chick Gandil had game-deciding hits in two outings and Eddie Cicotte had tossed a one-run game to avoid elimination.
After a lengthy investigation in 1920, the members of Chicago's tainted team were amazingly acquitted the following year despite their own confessions (which were recanted later). All of the players involved were banned from baseball because of their undeniable link to gamblers. The league offices were constantly denying accusations from the press that professional baseball itself was in on the take and made every effort to assure the fans that the 1919 scandal was an isolated incident. "Regardless of the verdict of juries," the commissioner said in a statement, "no player that throws a ball game, no player that entertains proposals or promises to throw a game, no player that sits in a 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 again play professional baseball."
To this day all suspected participants in the Black Sox conspiracy have been denied entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
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