June 25, 2017

Notes From the Shadows of Cooperstown: The Fourth Estate

March 25, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

If the press is the Fourth Estate for society, keeping an eye on the clergy, nobility (the wealthy), and the commoners (the rest of us) — then sports writers are surely the Fourth Estate of Baseball. They keep an eye — or should — on the players, the team owners (”the Lords of the Realm”) and — the rest of us. In any case, this issue is all about sports writers.

Up top is a piece by Hugh “Thou Shalt Not Quit” Fullerton, from the spring of 1921. Hughie had tried to blow the whistle on the fix in October 1919 and the months that followed. For his trouble, he was ridiculed, especially by The Sporting News and Baseball Magazine and, well, the mainstreamers. The press in 1919 was not much of a watchdog, with the exception of Collyer’s Eye (a paper devoted to making it safe to gamble), and scattered reporters, like Fullerton. Clobbered for a year, Fullerton was vindicated when the B-Sox scandal broke, so when he writes in 1921, with the B-Sox trial on hold, but holding the promise of the purging he thought baseball needed, he is holding his head high. Not gloating, but he’s earned the right to the pulpit.

Then there’s Billy Evans, the longtime AL umpire who was also a writer, and I’ve found some of his recollections in print from the 1919 Series, where Billy was behind the plate and in a pretty good position to notice fishy plays.

There is lots more, too, from Fullerton, Jimmy Isaminger, and James T. Farrell. The fact is that as we stay on the B-Sox trail, we meet lots of “pressmen” — they were “the media” in 1919, and what they wrote, then and after, is an important part of what we have today to help us understand what happened. They left a record in print, and accessible to the public. I think they understood how important their record was, even though they never could have guessed that one day, their readers would be sitting at microfilm machines or at home computers.

So in this issue I salute some of the Fourth Estaters of the game, while at the same time, I recognize the limitations of their documentation. They may not be primary sources, but they are important ones. In another time, maybe they all would have written much more, and more freely, with less restriction from their editors, and less fear of libel suits. Maybe.

THE HITS KEEP ON COMIN’

I mentioned several times here recently how Hugh Fullerton was not satisfied, it seems, with Baseball’s lopping off eight White Sox players (and a few more, less publicized, like Joe Gedeon), and then calling the sport clean. Browsing thru the papers of the day, I found a good column to illustrate this. It appeared in the Washington Post on March 10, 1921, when the B-Sox trial was On Hold. Hughie called his readers’ attention to a problem of Judge Landis’ — how to deal with the other players who had “guilty knowledge” of the Fix, and (unlike Buck Weaver) cashed in on it.

Heinie Zimmerman of the NY Giants was in the news, charging Rube Benton, Benny Kauff, and Fred Toney with taking bribes to throw games. Benton was preparing for the 1921 season in spring training, while Joe Gedeon, Fullerton noticed, was not. Why? And if Benton himself was to be believed — his grand jury testimony was sensational news and led to the end of the 1919 WS fix cover-up — others Giants had the same tip he had. Fullerton says it would be unfair to expel Benton, but not some of his teammates, and maybe there would be little left of McGraw’s team if the Judge really got busy. To Fullerton, Zim’s attack held the promise that Landis would go after the Giants, and thus “open up the entire matter of crooked practices in baseball and give us a real housecleaning.” Today, Hughie might be asking, “Why pick on Bonds and Clemens and A-Rod? Why not a real housecleaning?”

AS I SEES ‘EM

I was curious about the reactions of the umpires of the 1919 World Series, when the scandal broke, and found a couple that I inserted into Burying the Black Sox:

National League umpire Richard Nallin said he had “no suspicions whatever of any wrong-doing.” American League ump Billy Evans said, “Well, I guess I’m just a big dope. That Series looked all right to me.”

I got the Evans quote from Harvey Frommer’s book. Recently I found a lot more from Evans, who wrote a syndicated column — I’m pretty sure he did that before, during, and after the 1919 WS. Anyway, I found one in the Chicago Tribune, December 19, 1920, pg A4, “Crooked Work Fools Evans in Series of 1919.” The sub-head: “Umpire Shows How Well ‘Black’ Sox Worked.” Less than three months after the cover-up ended, the tainted Sox were “Black.”

Evans writes that after Cicotte implicated himself and a number of his teammates in the Fix, everyone was saying, “I told you so.” Evans himself was genuinely stunned — along with the majority of fans, I think, who did not think that such a fix was possible — and so it was also unthinkable. He was confident in the integrity of the players, and if there were a few bad apples, that was not enough to throw a game, it took a larger group.

Evans was behind the plate in Game Two, and says that “now that we know things were not right, it is easy to pick the work of Williams to pieces. Much stress has been laid on the number of bases on balls he gave” [in that game]. Evans was in the “perfect position to pass criticism” on Lefty’s work; Evans was an AL ump, and familiar with the southpaw’s way of working the corners.

Did Evans think Lefty was missing on purpose?

Of the four men walked, Williams didn’t throw one ball that would have been classified as a real bad pitch. Every ball delivered was at the waistline, and not one of them was over six inches inside or outside, and most of them [were] much less than that. There wasn’t a ball around the shoe tops or above the shoulders, so that even a spectator in center field would have known it was a ball. [Emphasis mine]

“I regarded the loss of that game at the time as one of the hardest bits of luck I ever saw a pitcher go up against.”

Evans adds that only once in the whole series did he “rave at the way the Chicago club was playing, and then with no thought of suspicion, but with pure disgust.“ That was when Cicotte made back-to-back errors in Game Four. “I didn’t think the crafty Cicotte could pull such a ‘bone’ with the play right in front on him.”

So there is the testimony of a very knowledgeable man who was in the thick of the action, recalling it fourteen months later.

But let’s end on a note of comedy. In his column on the morning of Game One, Ring Lardner said that he reckoned he’ll bet on a “hot tip” from Umpire Rigler. While most reporters were peppering managers Moran and Gleason with questions, Lardner went to the umpires. He asked Cy Rigler who was going to win. “‘I don’t know,’ was his ample reply. You can take that tip or leave it. Personally, I am betting on his word.” Which makes you wonder how a Ring Lardner interview with Yogi might go. Next, Lardner found umpire Quigley, who responded, “My system is to call everybody out.” Evans and Nallin, the AL umps, were not to be seen — they were, Lardner says, “up writing their stuff.”

The Lardner column was syndicated; I read it in the Chicago Tribune. The Trib had a little box embedded in Ring’s words, “Red Money Appears.” Jim O’Leary, whose establishment near the stockyards was “the best known clearninghouse for wagers in this city” [Cincinnati], reported that a lot of money was going down on the home team. Making the odds nearly even. The night before, O’Leary had the Sox at 5-4 to win the Series, and 5-6 on the Reds. He was not handling bets on the first game — which makes us wonder if he was playing it safe, checking out those swirling rumors. “Much of the money which arrived to depress the odds given the Reds was from out of town. There was considerable wagering.” Yes, Virginia, indeed there was.

OK, one more tidbit. Should this custom be revived? Same page in the Trib: “5,000 Cincinnati Homes Thrown Open for Fans.” The downtown hotels had all raised their rates when the Reds clinched the pennant. So many homeowners, in a display of hospitality, were taking in boarders — “agreeing not to charge more than $1.50 per day to anyone who registered with the commerce room committee.” Those were the days. I’d like to see SABR conventions coordinate something like this. I’d even be willing to pay twice that 1919 rate.

And a postscript: Evans rated Joe Jackson the greatest hitter he’d seen, and he saw a lot of Cobb.

WORTH A PONDER

In Notes #479, I mentioned Otto Knabe, who claimed that he had informed Kid Gleason about the Fix, before the Series. The Kid and Otto were not just business partners (bookmaking!); Gleason had taught Knabe how to play second base. Otto replaced Gleason as the keystone guardian for the NL Phils in 1907. Small world. I thought that Knabe was new to this story, but it seems that I ran into him on the B-Sox trail about five years ago, in Notes #324. You can read the whole thing there, but here is a snippet:

When the Fix of 1919 was revealed in 1920, a lot of dirty laundry hit the clothesline. “The former nominal owner of the Phillies, Horace Fogel” (Seymour in The Golden Age, page 284) corroborated rumors about the Giants “stooping to conquer” (win the pennant) in 1908. Fogel, according to Seymour, had been banished from baseball in 1912 for charging that Roger Bresnahan, as manager of St Louis, had fielded a weak team against the Giants to help McGraw pick up some wins. An exile retaliating? Perhaps, but his 1B Kitty Bransfield and his catcher — Red Dooin — supported his charge. At that time, Dooin said he, Bransfield, Mike Doolin, Otto Knabe, Sherwood Magee, and other Phils were all offered “even more cash to throw their series to the Giants that the White Sox were offered in 1919? (that public figure was $100,000).

Last issue, I mentioned how Eight Men Out (among many sources) perpetuated the theory that Billy Maharg was really “Peaches” Graham (Maharg spelled backward) — crediting Billy, I think, with a lot more smarts than he seemed to display. Maharg himself squelched the theory, under oath. Anyway, I think it’s time to start a new misconception. I recently learned that Purdue grad Ray Schalk married Lavinia Graham in 1916. So let’s expand the theory — Maharg changed his name precisely to avoid having the name Graham linked to the Fix. Because if you think the Swede was a hard guy, remember it was The Cracker who threw punches. We are very close to April Fool’s Day; this is NOT FACTUAL!

The above is an excerpt from Issue #481 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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