October 20, 2017

Notes From the Shadows of Cooperstown: Chicagoed

June 15, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

NOTE: This is the fourth in a series of reports on my research at the Chicago History Museum, May 27-29. The first appeared in NOTES #489, and the last, I think, will be in #493.

Did you know “Chicago” can be a verb? You can look it up, in the Dickson Baseball Dictionary, and I am happy to announce that W.W. Norton and Company have just released a new, Third Edition, which has been edited and augmented by Skip McAfee. I happen to know Paul and Skip and I thank them for letting me contribute to the entry for “Black Sox.”

Anyway, as a verb, Chicago means to shut out the opposing team. It goes back to 1870, when the White Stockings played for a while like Hitless Wonders, and when shutouts were rare. In 1886, The Sporting News reported that the less derogatory term replaced the word skunk.

Notes has been Chicagoed a fourth time with this issue — not shut out, I hope, but filled to the brim with Chicago stuff, nuggets mined at the city’s History Museum last month, and put on display here. I hope my findings will encourage others to go to Chicago and try their luck at the CHM, and then we can compare my notes with theirs. I know I did not see every gem, there was just too much.

In a sense, the new documents have Chicagoed everything we know about the B-Sox story. Not by wiping the slate clean, to rebuild our knowledge from scratch, not at all, but they add a layer of depth to our facts and our theories. They add nuances, and they stir up new theories with some new facts. So without further ado, let’s look at more from my notebook.

MOST HAPPY FELLA

In baseball, as in life, timing really is everything. When Alvin Floyd Crowder broke into the bigs in 1926 with the Washington Senators, he was bound to be nicknamed “General,” because Americans still remembered General Enoch Crowder, who came up with the draft lottery in World War I. Robert Sidney Hazle had a cup of coffee with the Reds in 1955, but when he joined the Milwaukee Braves in 1957 and went on a rampage against NL pitchers, batting .403 in 41 games, he instantly acquired the moniker “Hurricane,” because a category four storm of that name, Hurricane Hazle, had devastated the Carolinas in 1954 (and Bob was from SC). The amiable Oscar Emil Felsch of Milwaukee had a great sense of humor, smiled and joked a lot, and was known in his baseball career as “Happy” — and had he stayed in the game (as a coach, perhaps) until 1956, he no doubt would have generated a few headlines like the one above, as the Frank Loesser musical The Most Happy Fella made its debut that year.

We know the work (some call it an opera) best from the song, Standing on the Corner, which might be a good description of Happy’s defense when he was accused of tossing games in October 1919. Yes, he was in on the scheme, he told reporter Harry Reutlinger, but he was an innocent bystander, never really got an opportunity to participate. His errors in the Series? Not on purpose, he said, whistling a happy tune.

Among the many scattered handwritten notes in the CHM documents, are two that are related, I believe, to Happy Felsch. They are not transcripts, they are handwritten notes, either from a deposition taken as the Felsch-Risberg-Jackson lawsuits marched forward in 1922 and 1923; or from Happy’s very unhappy showing on the stand at Jackson’s trial in 1924.

At that trial, Charles Comiskey said that he spoke, the day after the 1919 Series ended, with Chick Gandil, and then with Happy Felsch. He recalled Felsch saying, “I wasn’t in on it.”

Q: “You told Gandil he was the ringleader?”
A: “I told Gandil he was the ringleader and he denied it, and I says, ‘Well, you may have the opportunity to prove it.’ He said, ‘I will come and prove it any time you call me.’”

We really don’t know what Commy and Happy said on October 10. We do know that Felsch roomed with Eddie Cicotte during the Series. We do know that Comiskey sent an investigator to Milwaukee in early November 1919, to investigate Felsch; J.R. Hunter recalled the Sox telling him of the post-Series meeting Commy had with Felsch, but not what was said. We know that Hugh Fullerton testified in 1924 that he had heard a rumor about a certain incriminating letter that Felsch had written that Fall, and Hughie offered a $1,000 reward for it, but found no takers.

On the same trip that took him to Savannah, GA, to sign Joe Jackson for the 1920 season, Sox secretary (GM) Harry Grabiner visited Milwaukee, to sign Felsch. Those handwritten notes that I mentioned above have this about that meeting.

[Page] 3

Grabiner:
Now listen, “Happy,” he says “before you go any further I want you to understand that you won’t play with any other club except [the] Chicago Ball Club”

I told him, “What’s the matter with you’ I never asked to get off the Chicago Club.”

“Well” he told me “you know there’s a lot of talk scandal going around” & he says “your name is connected with it.”
mentioned Jackson & whole other 8

“Now” he says “I’ll give you a $3000 raise in salary, & will fix that up.”

“Pretty hard to get money out of Mr Comiskey — & $3000 seems like a pretty big raise”
4.
Well he says “we want to get you to play w the Chicago Club
(Interrupting) What else was said? Was Ban Johnson’s name mentioned?

Well he told me “you know Ban Johnson is making a private investigation, & he has probably hired some detectives & they are liable to be xxxxx down there, & if anybody ever asks you anything something, just tell them you don’t know nothing anything about it.

Fountain pen.
no copy

I tried to reproduce the notes exactly as they were written. My own summary of Felsch’s testimony at the 1924 trial, taken while reading the transcript, contains this:

The big raises the players rec’d in 1920 included hush money — paid for their silence for Ban Johnson’s investigators.

And I commented, This sounded to me like Happy was coached to say it. Felsch seemed to be straining hard to help Jackson win the case. He testified that when Grabiner came to sign him, he took a fountain pen from his pocket — that was almost too perfect; Grabiner had testified that he didn’t own a fountain pen, so Happy’s remark was aimed directly at Harry G. The Sox lawyers went on to question Happy about the signature on his contract, which he denied was his, embarrassing even Jackson’s lawyer, Ray Cannon, who almost pleaded with Happy to tell the truth. When Happy said he didn’t receive a penny, the defense produced the “confession” he gave in 1920 to Reutlinger. Oops. Felsch was at once charged with blatant perjury and jailed, but he was soon out on bail.

That is all worth mentioning because the Felsch words jotted down, probably by Alfred Austrian (but I’m no handwriting expert, so I won’t say for sure) are not necessarily what was said in Felsch’s meeting with Grabiner. It seems just as likely that Felsch was coached by Cannon to stress that he really had no option but to sign again with Chicago — Cannon was keenly aware of the reserve clause, and had hoped to one day overturn it. What we do know for certain is that Felsch did receive a $3,000 raise for 1920, up to $7,000 after $714.50 a month in 1919. (There was something new inserted in the Sox contracts, and perhaps the standard contract, penciled in after the 1919 Series: the contracts stretched from April 14 to October 14; so no player could claim that because he was “off the clock” in October, he didn’t need to play — or play his best — in any World Series “exhibitions.”)

The other CHM document featuring Felsch is mysteriously on a page which is opposite a page featuring notes from Mrs Kate Jackson’s deposition. In the “Black Sox” folder at the CHM — not the new collection, but the “old” folder with clippings, etc. — this document is labeled “Mrs Jackson” as if both pages related to her, but I have to believe the one on the left is Happy’s. Again, I’ll reproduce it here as closely as I can. This appears to me to be Happy testifying about that same meeting with Harry Grabiner, and it possibly comes right before the two pages above.

Q And did he mention Js [Jackson’s] name
A And he mentioned Js name
Q What did he say about J if anything.
A Well, he told me that he knew that Gandil got money, & he knew that Cicotte got money, & he knew that Williams got money, & he knew that Jack Williams gave Jackson money. And I told him that was something new to me, I never knew anything nothing about it — And I told him right then and there that I wasn’t absolutely in anything to throw a game.
——
no letter to or from Club

Obviously, Kate Jackson would not be denying that she did anything to throw a game. So the Q/A fits Felsch best. Also, whoever was doing the questioning, would not likely have referred to Kate’s husband as “Jackson” in this interrogation. Just above the notes, in the upper right, where the other pages have numbers (pages 3 and 4), this page has a partial mark that could be a “2? — that’s why I think these notes immediately preceded the ones above.

Why would Cannon coach Happy Felsch to introduced the idea of “hush money” as an explanation for the raised salaries for 1920? (For all the B-Sox salaries, 1918-20, see Notes 483.) Because (a) the raises were indisputable facts; and (b) he could go on to suggest that the Sox told Jackson to keep the $5,000 he got from Lefty, as “hush money” — a way of making sure Jackson kept quiet. I’m not sure that I buy the “hush money” theory, despite this “new evidence” from Felsch. It is just as possible that Comiskey (and all the owners) were simply “rightsizing” the salaries, after a financially disastrous 1918, and the mostly-frozen salaries of 1919. The fans were back, turnstiles were clicking, and 1920 would be a full 154-game season, the first since 1917. And players with more money in their wallets are less likely to take bribes?

THE WATERGATE FACTOR   

Eliot Asinof once remarked to me that Eight Men Out had done OK when it was released in 1963, but sales really took a jump after the Watergate Scandal in the Seventies. The cover-up of a two-bit crime had undone a Presidency. (I like to ask, would Five Burglar Caught be considered a great way to sum up Watergate?  Of course not, but 8MO has now summed up the B-Sox story for more years than those that elapsed between the 1919 Series and the book.)  Every so often, I think about parallels between the B-Sox and Watergate.

The Big Fix of October 1919 could, it seemed, never be proved, it was all hearsay and rumor, until there was a confession (by Cicotte). The Watergate burglary seemed to be a petty crime, until confessions by those involved eventually showed a trail that led to the White House. The Fix and the hotel burglary both could easily have slipped quietly into the past, as so many other successfully covered-up events and crimes. Exactly what happened would soon be uncertain, memories would dull. Whatever made it into print could be interpreted various ways. 

One huge difference in the comparison is the media. Which in 1919 was the press. The newspaper folks generally liked Comiskey, he wined and dined them, and the quality booze was even more appreciated during prohibition. And if they were not so keen on the Old Roman, they liked baseball, its popularity helped them sell papers. And they liked the players, some reporters took train rides with them, ate and played cards (gambling?) with them, wrote their stories, exchanging by-lines for publicity, which paid off at the box office and sometimes in higher salaries. But in the Seventies, the media — which now included radio, television, magazines, and more — practically feuded with President Nixon. Comiskey took a few hits, but no one was throwing knockout punches; Nixon became a target. Both men unquestionably accomplished much, but oh, their images. 

Thanks mostly to Eight Men Out, history has been kinder to Commy — he was portrayed as a stingy owner, a Scrooge, and I think that is unfair, I think he was just a typically tight club owner. But had Commy had to deal with the modern media, it is likely that he would have been attacked — like Nixon was. What did he know, and when did he know it?  Last issue, at the end of “What Did Harry [Redmon] Say?,”  I pulled together what I think Commy knew, very early on — well before he went ahead and signed up the suspected players. I won’t repeat that here, I’ll only add that the CHM documents seem to me to strengthen the case for the cover-up of the Fix. No one wanted to believe it, then or now, and there will always be some who will prefer the easier summary of the Fix story: eight men out, all we need to know. But the cover-up happened, Ray, and we need a new movie — to prove it. Just kidding there, Field of Dream fans. Movies may cement images into history, but they prove nothing.

MORE TO COME   

I have now gone through most or all of my notes from Chicago, and am nearing the end of this series of reports on my research at the CHM last month. Again, three long articles will very probably appear elsewhere later, before they appear here in Notes, where (it seems) everything B-Sox related sooner or later appears. 

What remain to share here next, are two things. First, the highlights from the 1921 testimony, at the Chicago “B-Sox” trial, by the three players who went to the grand jury in 1920, and by Judge McDonald, one of the three men who met with and made some kind of arrangement with each of those players, separately, before their GJ statements were made. 

And then there is this large collection of handwritten notes, many hard to decipher, mostly from the 1924 Milwaukee trial. I’m not sure of their value for history. They certainly cannot take the place of the trial transcripts, depositions, and other “for the record” material that has survived. Yet, the jotting are new to us, and notes scribbled in the margins sometimes are more interesting that the dry Q & A recorded in the middle of the pages. 

Some of these notes are from “the war” between Comiskey and the NY and Boston owners, and Ban Johnson, usually supported by the “Loyal Five” AL owners. It appears that most or all of them were written by Alfred S. Austrian, Commy’s lawyer, and he gets emotional at times, underlining words or paragraphs with heavy black pencil lines, and adding arrows, to call extra attention to certain sections. It is hard to say if the notes were jotted down while sitting in a courtroom, or while reviewing the day’s work back at the office, while sipping Scotch and smoking cigars. We cannot say if the notes were ever shared, unless they show up in the transcripts, which are not yet handy. 

I’ll try to get these last two things into Notes before I leave June 24 for two weeks in Alaska. While ‘way up north, I may be able to check and reply to e-mail every so often, but there will be no more Notes until mid-July. And that is a good thing, because I think there is much in these five special reports, #489-493, to read and re-read, and a few weeks off will give you a chance to catch up. And, I hope, to let me know what you make of all this “new stuff” — on a scale of “Ho-Hum” to “Just bought a ticket to Chicago,” how do you rate it?

The above is an excerpt from Issue #492 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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