May 25, 2017

Notes From the Shadows of Cooperstown: Spring Hopes Eternal

March 11, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

I know that title looks twisted, but we are not talking about what comes out of the human breast here. We are talking spring as in spring training. The time of year when my Pirates trail nobody in the standings, and we can all dream away.

There are still icy drifts of snow here in the shadows of Cooperstown, but baseball has returned to our TVs. And we even have choices, games out of Florida and Arizona, or the World tournament. Odd as it may sound, I think I prefer the grapefruit and cactus ball. Something about nations competing in baseball just doesn’t seem right. And it’s not like we don’t see players from all over the globe in the majors these days, we do. I caught the end of USA vs Canada, ex-Buc Jason Bay flying to right with the tying run stranded on second. Well hey, why was this game even close? Let’s see these same two teams go at in on hockey ice and see what happens. Just an idea.

Speaking of the Pirates, they march toward Opening Day one more time with that streak weighing heavy on their shoulders. To break it, they only have to win 81 games. One of the Pirates was interviewed during his ST workout, and said how he’d like to be part of the team that will end the streak — sixteen sour sub-.500 seasons — figuring the club that does it will be heroes, like the Red Sox who ended their WS drought a few years back, and the White Sox that did the same in 2005. Or the Cubs who carry on their backs a streak that has reached triple digits. But back to the Bucs — will they really be heroes? If, on the last day of the season, they win #81 — will the fans swarm the field? Give them a downtown parade? The Boys of Five Hundred just doesn’t sound like a winning book title to me. But — you never know.

DAYS OF OUR LIVES — OR, WHO CAN YOU TRUST?

Whoever put together the facts and Q/A for the 2009 desk calendar should have hired a good fact-checker. Like Bill Deane, of the Cooperstown suburb of Fly Creek, NY. Bill helped me with Burying the Black Sox (not the whole book, but the sections heavy with info on ballplayers — you won’t find any errors there), and when I have mentioned his amazing fact-checking skills to others, or recommended him, I’ve invariably been told, “He’s the best.” And, he reads Notes, and thank goodness he usually reads it sooner rather than later, so when he catches one of my goofs, he calls it to my attention, and I can edit it out.

Last issue he caught two, and I corrected just one, so that I can thank Bill here and give him the credit he deserves for doing this favor, without charging me. If you recall, in #478, I said my desk calendar asked who had the most hits in a World Series, and then told me, Bobby Richardson (but in 1964, not 1960 — I caught that error), and Lou Brock in 1968. Bill Deane noted that Marty Barrett of the Red Sox also had 13 hits, in 1986.

Then on March 2, my calendar asked which three shortstops hit 300+ home runs. Its answer, Cal Ripken 431, A-Rod 345 as a SS and now 173 more as a 3B … and then they have Ernie Banks, 512. Well, Mr Cub had 512 all right, but even I know that he played more games at 1B (1259) than at SS (1125; he also played some 3B and OF). He may have over 300 as a SS, because those years at short were among his most productive, and I recall them well.

But I just can’t trust this calendar any more, and we only started the third month of 2009. I don’t have the time to look up every “fact” it serves up. So look for fewer items in this feature in future issues of Notes.

O, HAPPY DAY

Last issue, I reported a nugget found in the Christian Science Monitor of September 29, 1920 — a date that, for those of us sauntering on down the B-Sox trail, is the Happy Day I refer to in this headline. The issue before that, in #477, I commented on something I found on that date in the Hartford Courant, repeating my theory “that you can go to almost any newspaper in the country, look up the coverage of the B-Sox scandal breaking (September 28, 1920, and the days right after), and find something new.” This time, same date, and another nugget, from the 9/29/1920 Boston Globe.

“TWO WHITE SOX STARS ADMIT THROWING BIG 1919 SERIES” is the bold Page 1 headline, with a sub-head announcing Cicotte’s 10 G payoff and Jackson’s 5 Gs; the headline below that lists the other six players being indicted, and below that, the news that Commy has suspended them all, and “Abe Attell Named as Head of Gambling Clique.” To the left, photos of the 8MO below the caption, “Eight Alleged Baseball Crooks,” and then the story, just a few column inches on Page One, but lots more inside; it looks like it takes up most of page nine.

Two more photos follow, too: Poor old Commy, forced to wreck his dynasty; and then, curiously, Johnny Rawlings, under the caption “Ex-Brave To Be Called in Baseball Inquiry.” I’ve seen references to Rawlings before, so this was nothing new, but I can’t say that I’ve ever seen Johnny put quite so on the spot. The Globe has him reportedly winning big by backing the Reds. But don’t you think that any ballplayer who won big (and naturally they would brag about it for at leadt the next year), would be a suspect? Except I think Rawlings had some connections to the 8MO; in Burying, I note that he had played high school ball with Fred McMullin “and was said to only bet on sure things.” Rawlings, as I recall, was usually paired with Ivy Olson, a SS with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1920, and don’t you bet he was grilled before they let him take the field for the 1920 Series! (He hit .320 as his team lost, pretty much Buck Weaver’s story.)

But none of the above qualifies, to me, as a nugget. This does. “Says Knabe Warned Gleason of ‘Fixing’” is the headline over the short item, one of three that trail the main story. (The other two are from Philadelphia, where Billy Maharg, an overnight celebrity, insists that Attell “double-crossed the White Sox out of $90,000?; and the other is from New York, where Abe Attell is threatening to “shoot the lid sky high.” He never did.)

So who is Knabe? Franz Otto “Dutch” Knabe was a rough 2B, a Pennsylvanian who played for the Phils before jumping to be a player-manager for Baltimore in the Federal League. He was a Cubs coach in Chicago during the 1919 season, and managing in the minors in Kansas City at the end of 1920. He remained there until he was released mid-season in 1922, and that’s where he was on the Happy Day when the B-Sox scandal broke. Knabe was thrust into the spotlight — briefly — by Effie Welsh, once a basketball star, but then a sportswriter for the Wilkesbarre Times Leader. Welsh was one more writer who was at last unleashed to tell what he knew about The Big Fix.

Welsh had been sitting on his story since December 1919, when he learned from “a close personal friend, one of the Sox players [Buck Weaver was from Pottstown, PA]” that the fix had been in.

News that the series games were fixed first startled baseball fandom a few days after the last game of the series had been played. The investigators secured their first tip from Otto Knabe, the Phillies’ old second baseman. Knabe was in partnership with “Kid” Gleason in the bookmaking business. They had been partners for years and a pool of money had been gotten together by the sporting element and placed in the hands of Knabe to bet. The latter was inclined to back the White Sox and was all primed to place these bets, when a friend, a ballplayer, handed him a tip. It was to this effect:

“Chicago will not win series, certain ballplayers have been fixed.”

The source of the tip was not made public, but it set Knabe investigating. He found the charges were true and accordingly informed “Kid” Gleason, manager of the Sox.

Kid, who is one of the squarest big men in baseball, became indignant at the charges made by Knabe; they quarrelled, split partnership and Knabe acting on the strength of his information switched bets and placed all his bookmaking account on the Reds. Sure enough, Cincinnati won the world series.

End of item, or at least the reprint in the Globe. Did Welsh say more in the Wilkesbarre paper? What did Otto Knabe say, out in Kansas City? More pieces of the puzzle!

That Kid Gleason had advance warning is not new, if he didn’t hear it from John McGraw (who was told of the plot by Arnold Rothstein, according to A.R. — McGraw denied it), he had received a number of telegrams, and now we can guess that one was from his partner in bookmaking, Otto Knabe. If Welsh is correct, Gleason probably had lots of contacts among the bookies. That is news to me. By the way, Otto Knabe made the papers in 1919, by giving his pick in the Kentucky Derby.

Timing is everything. In 1920, folks could talk or write freely about such stuff. After Judge Landis’ edict, it was risky to appear to have “guilty knowledge” — could cost you you career in baseball.

This is the first time I’ve seen Otto Knabe’s name come up in the B-Sox story. No surprise, it’s a Russian novel, remember? Always room for more characters. Otto apparently stayed under the radar; maybe he simply denied Welsh’s story, then clammed up. In any case, let’s say he did bet and win big on the Reds in 1919. That would remind us of Rube Benton.

A few days before our Happy Day, Rube was on the grand jury stand, telling of his own knowledge of the Fix, and how he bet on that knowledge and won some big bucks. (Lots more on Benton back in Notes #417.) For this admission, Benton received no punishment at all, he left Chicago and the grand jury behind and reported to McGraw’s Giants for spring training in 1921 like nothing happened.

Ban Johnson was not amused, but had no authority in the NL, and in 1921, Judge Landis was in office and flexing his muscles. It is not clear why he turned a blind eye toward Benton, while coming down hard on Joe Gedeon, for example. I think McGraw was a factor. In any case, Benton started 1921 with the Giants, then was let go. Why? Well, here’s a clip from Notes #417:

Well, according to his obituary, Benton was sent to St Paul (American Assn) in 1921 after he made charges that he had been offered money to throw a game. He rebelled at this transfer, but went quietly. McGraw really didn’t want Rube talking about fixes, while the country was buzzing about the B-Sox trial that summer. Maybe McGraw wanted to spare Rube the chance of being attacked by the press, if his name came up in the trial, and Rube just happened to be handy for a quote or two. The fact is, Rube was released as “an undesirable” — but when Kansas City immediately expressed their desire to sign him (it’s just like today, nobody has enough left-handed pitching), the Giants recalled the release, and instead sold him to St Paul.

In the Boston Globe of August 2, 1921, is an item that says Kansas City (American assn) did sign Benton — according to KC manager, Otto Knabe:

Benton was given his unconditional release by the New York Nationals last week. Knabe was the authority also for the statement that New York wanted the pitcher to go to St Paul, but instead came on here [Toledo, Ohio] for a conference. After signing his contract, Benton left for his home in Cincinnati. He is to join the Kansas City club at Columbus Wednesday, Knabe said.

So Knabe and Benton did not really connect in KC as manager and pitcher. They could have had some interesting conversations.

And Otto Knabe was never hauled before the grand jury, or into the 1921 trial, or to Judge Landis’ quarters. But Otto did have at least one audience with the Judge — he testified in the Federal League lawsuit, the case Landis heard as a federal judge.

And here’s a PQPS — a postscript from ProQuest. In October 1937, Otto Knabe and four others were indicted in Philadelphia, where a grand jury was investigating charges of gambling that existed in their fair city with the knowledge of the police. I am shocked, shocked to read that such a travesty could occur. Otto was apparently still “pool selling and bookmaking” in what the Christian Science Monitor called “a prosperous industry.” When Otto asked if this was true, he replied, “You bet.” No, he didn’t, I made that up.

The above is an excerpt from Issue #479 of Gene’s Notes From the Shadows of Cooperstown. To read the rest of the issue (or past issues), click here.

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