June 22, 2018

Notes From the Shadows of Cooperstown: Another Openin’ (Day), Another Show

April 7, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

It’s a raw day here in the shadows of Cooperstown, and any team opening in central New York would likely be postponed. It will be a while before the local fields are truly playable, the grass has not reeled out its greenness yet; it is suspicious that there may be one more snowfall out there. And so it is harder to get in the mood for O-Day, when time ceases, and the new season begins. Maybe ESPN can help.


Thanx to Joanne Hulbert for passing this along.

The amazing discovery has been made that open betting is indulged in at our Boston ball parks. The same discovery could have been made at any time during the past 20 years, writes Bob Dunbar in the Boston Journal. Who can remember at what game no knot of betting fans huddled together, with remarkable symptoms of friendliness, behind first base or third? While betting is of course to be deplored, the amount of it done at the ball parks has never injured the reputation of the game of baseball as an honest sport. The magnates do well to discourage the gambling element from ever getting anything resembling a strangle hold on game or players, but the danger of this particular injury would be much more likely to arise from the so?called “baseball pools” than from the less highly organized and much more casual wagering of the Dos and Don’ts.
– The Sporting News, September 9, 1915, pg 4.


Here is the info from the player contracts that the White Sox registered with the AL office, taken from the “Transaction Cards” in the National Baseball Library in Cooperstown.

Cicotte. After making $5,000 for 1915, 1916, and 1917 — in that last year, he won 28 games — Eddie signed in 1918 for — $5,000, receiving $2,000 when he signed, 5/28/18. In 1919, he held out till May again, signing for $952.50 a month — for 5 months and a week, that comes to — $5,000. (At the B-Sox trial, it was revealed that Eddie got a $3,000 bonus for 1919, when he won 29.) In 1920, he signed (on May 3) for $10,000, “starting on April 14 and ending on October 14, 1920.” That clause was inserted into the contracts of all who signed for 1920, presumably on the advice of lawyers, to make it clear that if the team got into another World Series, they were still under contract and could not just treat the post-season as some exhibition.

Felsch. Happy signed a three-year contract for 1917-1918-1919 for $3,750 per season. His card notes that he “Arbitrarily left club July 1st, 1918? — many players left their teams, due to the war; Jackson’s and Williams’ cards say “Joined shipyards. Voluntary retired list.” For 1919, Happy signed for $714.50 a month, or about $3,750. For 1920, he was boosted up to $7,000.

Gandil. Chick was making $4,000 a season in 1914, 1915, and 1916 with Washington and Cleveland, and when he joined the Sox to give them a solid, pennant-winning infield, he signed for — $4,000. In 1918, he made $4,000, and in 1919, $666.66 a month — that is about $3,500. If we are to believe Chick, he was offered, for 1920, $4,000 — he was looking for $6,000. But I think he and Comiskey had agreed to part ways when they spoke, right after the 1919 World Series. Chick’s card ends this way: “Suspended by Chicago club (Comiskey letter 4/14/20) for failure to sign contract and report to club for season 1920:”

Jackson. Joe came to the Sox from Cleveland, where he was making $6,000 a year. With Commy, he signed a sweet deal — $12,000 for 1917 and 1918; $6,000 per season. For 1919, he signed for $1,000 a month, or about $5,250. For 1920-1921-1922, he sign for $8,000 per season (his wife wanted him to hold out for $10,000). The dispute, the subject of that 1924 Milwaukee trial, was over whether his last contract contained the “ten days clause” or not (as his 1917-1918 contact did). The club argued that it did, and so they could release him from the contract on ten days notice, and therefore they had no obligation to pay him the $16,000 for 1921-1922. Jackson said he didn’t realize the clause was in his contract until he was on trial in 1921.

McMullin. Fred made $2,750 in 1918, $500/month ($2,625) for 1919, and was bumped up to $3,600 for 1920.

Risberg. The Swede made $2,500 in 1918 (up, after the team won the World Series in 1917, from $2187.50). He then signed a two-year contract for 1919-1920, at $3,250 per season., “with railroad fare for round trip” both years, to & from his home on the west coast. You’ll see that in a number of player contracts, sometimes to/from spring training, sometimes for the wives, too.

Weaver. Buck had a multi-year contract at $4,000 a year for 1915-1916-1917, and signed in 1918 for $6,000 (same as Joe Jackson). Before the 1919 season, Buck signed another three-year contract, for 1919-1920-1921, receiving $7,250 per season. So for 1919, Buck was making more than Joe Jackson, but not in 1919-1920. Buck tried to hold out for a new contract in 1920, perhaps because it looked like everyone else were getting nice raises. Buck’s T-Card does not indicate any clauses eliminated, but we know that he sued for back pay, too, and I believe he won. There is no question that Comiskey liked the popular Weaver (Buck made that round-the-world tour with Commy after the 1913 season), and held out the hope that he would be reinstated, even if he was the only player to be let back into baseball.

Williams. Lefty’s contract history is by far the saddest, especially when you look at his record. He signed in 1916 for $3,000. Lefty had a couple cups of coffee with Detroit, in 1913 and 1914, just 6 games total, getting $200 and $300 per month respectively. After a 13-7 rookie season in 1916 (same as Dickie Kerr in 1919), Lefty signed for $3,300 for 1917. After winning 17 on that World Championship team, Lefty signed for $3,000 — that’s right, a pay cut, but in 1918, WW I made club owners very worried. Some players made more money when they left their teams in 1918, for military duty or doing war-related work. In 1919, Lefty signed for $500/month, or about $2,625; his contract also gave him a bonus, if he won fifteen games; he won 23. But then he had that 0-3 World Series. So in 1920, he signed for $6,000, and then won 22 more games.

A few caveats about these numbers. First, Charles Comiskey was not the “tightest wad” or “cheapest skate” among the team owners, and it is not clear that he was solely responsible for the payroll — his secretary, Harry Grabiner, was very involved in player signings and presumably in the “negotiations,” if that term can even be used, since the players had zero leverage. But that went for all ballplayers, including Cobb and Ruth. I think Commy was not that extraordinarily Scroogelike — I think he was pretty typical. The Sox may have had the second-highest payroll in MLB in 1919 (behind the Red Sox), but it was a bit lop-sided, with Eddie Collins making $15,000 all by himself. Ray Schalk was also well paid. (We can only wonder if either player would have been more vulnerable to bribery, if they were making much less.)

Another caveat — as low as these wages may seem to us, in this day of multi-millionaire ballplayers, all of these players were making more than the average American. For playing a game, and for just half the year, so they could earn money at other jobs, if they wanted, in the off-season. They had escaped the drudgery of the factories, mines, or farming. Most had little education beyond elementary school. Some had endorsement deals, and probably the New York City players had more than average. And while the figures above are probably accurate, they do not tell the whole story — for example, Cicotte’s $3,000 bonus in 1919 is invisible. Team owners could be generous in other ways that might never be made public, perhaps to avoid the IRS. Some owners gave players more money after a World Series by tossing their own share into the pot (I don’t think Comiskey did this, at least not in 1917 or 1919). And winning teams started sharing in the World Series pot around this time, so a second- or third-place finish could provide a bonus, too.

No matter how poorly paid (to us) these players may seem, none of them mentioned their low pay as a reason for getting involved with gamblers in 1919. It appears that they simply wanted to get some “easy money” — not just by accepting bribes, from an unknown number of syndicates, but by betting on the Reds. The risk seemed small, the payoff huge. Some of the players felt regret because they liked their team, its manager, and even Comiskey; the biggest gripe about Commy that they seemed to share, was that he never made good on his promise in October 1917, to make up the difference between their winning shares (about $3,500 each) and $5,000; but we are not certain that that promise was made by Comiskey, or in a pep talk by manager Pants Rowland, and never agreed to by Commy. The “missing” $1,500 was remembered by every player who sued for back pay after they were suspended and then banished.

This is not to say that the White Sox of 1919 were happy campers. They all understood the tight times for MLB that the war had inflicted, and must have worried along with the owners about whether the fans would return to baseball. When they did, and it was clear that attendance in the shortened 1919 season was booming, the Sox had Gleason ask Commy about raises, but they were turned down — in July, the story goes, although I’ve never found documentation. The raises did come, in the 1920 contracts. But other little things disturbed some of the players — the meal allowances, the laundry bills for their uniforms. The same little stuff that bothers employees today.

Were the salaries of the “eight men out” (except Gandil) all raised partly by “hush money”? You’re getting a nice bonus, but let’s keep last October to ourselves, OK? There is no way to say for sure, unless only these players got nice raises, and that was not the case. If you’re in Cooperstown, you can look it up. No, I think salaries went up in 1920 pretty much across the board in MLB. Maybe because the fans showed they would support baseball, maybe because owners wanted their players to be less vulnerable to the bribe offers from fixers. The game had survived the war, and the nasty rumors of October 1919 and the months that followed. A guy named Ruth was filling ballpark seats like never before. Baseball was on its way — so when the B-Sox scandal broke at the end of 1920, baseball had momentum.


Knowing what happened in the 1919 World Series — not everything that happened, but enough — and in its aftermath, I enjoy reading the press coverage just before the series, and as it was taking place. Some thought the Reds’ pitching would be a big edge in a best-of-nine, others felt the elongated series would help Gleason, who could rest his two aces more, and wring five wins out of them.

In the Washington Post, as the series begins, it is called “the first of the postwar great contests for baseball’s richest prize and highest honors.” Baseball had survived WW I, but a big Series would help it to get back on its feet financially. I think this was a factor in the decision by Ban Johnson & Co. to not cancel or postpone the series, just because of bribery charges.

The first two games in Cincy were sold out and the city’s hotels “groaned under the weight of baseball enthusiasm.” Senator Warren G. Harding — he’d be president in another year or so — had a bridal suite to himself; and Mrs Harding, I suppose, but the Post doesn’t say she’s along. Comiskey and Herrmann have big suites, too — party on. The Post also makes this observation, under the heading Little Betting is Apparent: “Betting on the series was noticeable today for its absence. [Emphasis mine] Several wagers of large amounts were offered. No takers were reported. Local fans are demanding odds while Chicago supporters are asking even money.” Apparently the Post reporter did not have a room at the Sinton.

At batting practice, the day before Game One, Buck Weaver found the LF bleachers a few times with practice balls, and Felsch and Jackson drove out some long hits, too. “Cicotte declared that he was able to take the mound tomorrow. Manager Gleason and most of his men attended the races today” [the horse races across the river in Kentucky, I think].

On October 2, the Chicago Tribune reported that the New York betting odds favored the Reds by 7 to 10 for the series, after the Sox dropped Game One. The Chicagos had been a 5 to 6 favorite.

The Trib also had this squib: Manager Gleason got a letter from two students at Todd seminary in Woodstock, Ill. — they advised the Kid, as ardent Sox fans, to “use Bill James instead of Eddie Cicotte in the opening game of the series. We think Kerr will be the dark horse of this series.” Gleason responded to the Trib, “Maybe they are right.” Which raises the question, did these two seminarians have guilty knowledge, too? Did they bet on it? Did they get a telegram from Hal Chase?

Read all the accounts of all the papers of America, and we might be able to trace the steps of every player in the B-Sox story. For example, the Trib has Chick Gandil eating breakfast by himself at the Sinton. That was not newsworthy, but when Tris Speaker spotted Chick, and then shook his hand and chatted a while, that was news — because the two had a fist fight at a May 31 game in Chicago, and had not made up until then. Gee, what a heartwarming vignette … what a nice guy that Gandil must have been! Pals once more with Spoke!

Pat Duncan of the Reds made a $200 bet that he’d hit a home run in the Series. That made the NY Times coverage, October 5. The Times also reported on the “song boosters” who entertained the fans during the hours before Game Four in Chicago, using state-of-the-art technology, megaphones. Sherry Magee and Dutch Reuther did some impromptu dancing during batting practice, closing with “a moving exhibition of the shimmy, developed to the nth power.”

The Times reporter gave the nod to Cincinnati in the battle between the two teams’ marching bands. The Reds group, shut out of the action the day before because no one had bought them tickets, played mostly old songs; the hometown guys, jazz tunes. Souvenirs were sold everywhere, “a dozen different kind of red flags and badges” for Cincy fans, and white stockings for the home rooters. Arm bands were also popular. There were more women at this series than ever before, and they were vocal. Some things never change: when Greasy Neale lobbed a ball he caught during fungo practice into the RF stands, fifty kids stampeded to get it. I am reminded of a scramble at my local ballpark, where a fellow in suit and tie emerged from a scramble for a foul ball with the prize, fighting off a dozen kids. He was booed mercilessly until he turned the ball over to the kids.

Was the fixing of the 1919 Series just “business as usual”? I ask this because something in the news at the tail end of 1919 caught my eye. Several papers reported that some St Louis gamblers were in Chicago at the request of Charles Comiskey, in that nothing-much-doing week between Christmas and New Years. When their meetings were over, team secretary Harry Grabiner had an announcement. “Two members of the syndicate” stated that their knowledge was hearsay. So Commy’s reward of $10,000 for hard evidence was still safe. But the St Louis fellows were not just talking about the recent World Series. There were rumors circulating that December that had three members of the Chicago White Sox getting $200 per week, from St Louis gamblers, each week of the regular season past. The rumors had this trio wiring the gamblers in advance so the latter would know on which games to place their bets.

Nothing much resulted from this, except that Comiskey was showing the public that he really was trying to investigate. Hugh Fullerton’s series just weeks earlier had perhaps increased the pressure a bit. Fullerton had named Carl Zork and Harry Redmon,
both of St Louis (Zork had once managed Abe Attell). Redmon had met with Kid Gleason and another Sox rep right after the Series, in East St Louis. His testimony to the grand jury in 1920 had him informing the White Sox at that time about the Fix, something the Sox did not deny — they said Redmon had no solid evidence. Here is where I wish we could scan old bank accounts, as easily as we can scan old newspapers. Was Redmon given money to keep quiet in October 1919, and was he back for more in December, after seeing his name in Fullerton’s article?

The above is an excerpt from Issue #483 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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