May 25, 2017

Notes From the Shadows of Cooperstown: Fifth

June 22, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

I didn’t go far to find the title for this, the fifth and final in my series of Notes on my research last month in Chicago. What started with #489 — not counting #425426 — ends here, but not really. As I said last time, the documents at the Chicago History Museum have chicagoed my understanding of more than a few facets of the B-Sox story. So I suspect that I’ll dip into my Chicago notes from time to time in future issues, just as I’ve done with my Milwaukee notes from 2003 and 2006.            

In fact, if you’ve been reading closely, I’ve found myself in those Milwaukee notes a lot, in order to either put the Chicago information in better context, or to make better sense of it. 

Up top in this issue, I’m inserting an item that came to me by surprise, but it’s definitely related, because the CHM now holds the papers of Eliot Asinof, too. So any time we can take a peek at them, it’s a sneak preview of what you’ll see if you visit the CHM, whenever the papers are made accessible. 

Then we will take an excursion into two large clearings on the newest branch of the B-Sox trail. In the first, we will look at the highlights of the 1921 trial testimony by Cicotte, Jackson, Williams and Judge McDonald. Who cares? you may say, the real highlights must have been in the newspapers. But they were not, these transcripts record testimony and cross-questioning (and squabbling by lawyers, which I’ve omitted) which took place away from the jury and courtroom, in a private session with Judge Hugo Friend. So there are many genuinely new bits of info, which is not the same as having the truth, even though this testimony was made under oath. Experts disagree, unfortunately, and so do many witnesses at trials. And maybe both versions fail to tell us what really happened, because neither the prosecution nor the defense is that interested in history; they are both trying to win. 

OK, “clearing” is definitely the wrong word for the last item in this issue. Thicket, maybe. A machete will come in handy on this part of the trail. Handwriting on the Wall is really breaking new ground, because we get to look behind the scenes at the notes from Commy’s lawyers, mostly as they plan for that 1924 trial, or watch it unfold. But it’s not a clear or unobstructed view, and where you see question marks attached to words (like? this?), I am unsure of the word itself. Fortunately, some of that cloud will someday lift, when the transcripts and other documents from the Milwaukee trial become as accessible as the CHM docs. 

Thanks to those grand jury statements from 1920, which pop up in 1921 and again in 1923 and 1924, there is a lot of confessing in these special issues of Notes. And I confess that I’ve been anxious to get all five issues posted, to clear the way to a few other projects before I leave the shadows of Cooperstown for the shadows of Denali, on June 24. There just might be one more issue of Notes before I go, but if there is, it will not be from my Chicago research. Without further intro –

MORE SNEAK PREVIEWS   

I’ve written here recently about Eliot Asinof and some of the writers who influenced Eight Men Out, James T. Farrell and Nelson Algren. Another author, Jeff Kisseloff, has a connection with Asinof, and he recently joined SABR and the B-Sox Committee. And he mentioned to me, his web site eliotasinof.com — where he has posted some of the material that shaped 8MO, a small portion of what we will all be able to see someday at the Chicago History Museum. 

Interview with Happy Felsch. No audio tape, no transcript, just three 5 x 8 pages written in a stenographer’s notebook. Here are some snippets: 

Felsch. mistrust of reporters. Hates them. Company men. Always on the take. Salaries [supported?] by owners, they play the owners game,
            …
Made $4,000 tops — 1919 — until he wrote CAC [Comiskey] a letter in ‘20 demanding more. He says he got $7,000. 

Wants to think of himself as a victim. 

For the context of this interview, see Bleeding Between the Lines, and we wonder if it was the Chivas Regal talking in that last line. We also have to wonder if Felsch’s dislike of reporters was cemented into place by the Reutlinger interview he gave on September 29, 1920. I’ve written a lot about that; here is a snippet from Notes #420, and you can go to 420 and read the rest if you want: 

Reutlinger said Felsch kicked him down the stairs, twice, when he approached him for a story. Then he decided to deceive Happy, telling him that Jackson had told the grand jury that Felsch had received $25,000. Felsch called Jackson a dirty rat, and took Reutlinger into his parlor. 

Felsch then opened up, and admitted being one of the Sox who profited from the Fix in October 1919, even if he never had a chance to earn the money. It was as good as a confession before the grand jury. More on this in Notes #490. 

To me, there is something else striking in these notes — Happy Felsch says nothing about getting a raise for 1920 that included “hush money” (see last issue). To me, that makes it more likely that the statements he made for and at the 1924 trial were coached, and less likely an account of what Harry Grabiner actually said when he signed up Felsch. And the letter he wrote, demanding more, explains the references to such a letter in Austrian’s notes (if the team had the letter, it worked against Felsch). 

Interview with Red Faber.  Again, just four pages, in what looks like the same notebook. Felsch at least was on the inside of the Fix, though not at the center; Faber said he didn’t know the series was fixed until he heard the rumors while on a hunting trip after the season. That suggests to me that Faber was either not present when Gleason confronted the team in the Sox clubhouse, no later than before Game Two; or else he was still covering for Gleason, when Asinof spoke with him 40+ years later. 

So Faber’s knowledge seems as useful as that of a player on a different team. Unable to pitch in the 1919 Series, Red Faber was still on the eligible, active roster (but not used); did he suit up daily that October?  Maybe The Sporting News or some other paper of the day can tell us. 

Faber judged Gandil to be capable of organizing the fix and “walking off with the dough”; Risberg “threatened to kill anyone who talked, and he was the wild type who might!”  Was Faber recalling that he (and the “clean Sox”) all felt threatened, too? Was Risberg just punctuating something the manager said, when he suggested that they all let what he said in the locker room, stay there? 

Faber recalled Eddie Cicotte as a “pleasant, funny man,” who “must have been temporarily nuts to go in on a thing like this,” and perhaps he was; it is fun to imagine Judge Landis listening to a plea of “temporary insanity”!  Red was suspicious of some games lost in the 1920 season, too, but gives no examples. “[The] ballplayers never spoke of the fix. Saddened, embarrassed, depressed by it. Shameful. Hard to think of it — “  Faber holds out the chance that the banished Sox may have played to win: “What seems likely is that the players agreed to toss, then did as well as they could w/in [within] the limits of defeat.” 

Faber had a curious recollection about the end of the cover-up. That is, the days Cicotte and Jackson and Williams went to the grand jury. “Jackson, Williams were told by detectives to talk & then they’d get off! Detectives pressured them — “  No accounts I’ve read suggest that anyone pressured them (or Cicotte) to talk, although all three expected something in return for their grand jury testimony, as we’ll see later. 

What I was most hoping to see in Asinof’s notes from either Felsch or Faber, was the source of Jackson’s “begging to be benched” before the series. Since neither appear to be the source, my best guess is that Asinof read The Sporting News article that appeared after the 1961 TV show Witness was aired on CBS; Asinof must have read Scoop Carter’s piece in TSN, he had been listed as “Writer” for the program. I’m told that a script by Asinof is among the items in the CHM collection. 

Letter to/fm Edd Roush. On December 31, 1962, Eliot Asinof wrote to the Reds CF in 1919, “Mr. Ed [it’s Edd] Roush,” saying that he’s “completing a book about the 1919 World Series.”  8MO was released in ‘63, so Asinof was likely putting on the finishing touches. He asks Roush if he recalls his salary.

Roush replies, using the same letter that Asinof sent — Eliot did that to me a few times, too, a paper-saving habit — giving his salary (he said $10,000 – and that’s now in 8MO). But Roush adds this: “Anything you want to know about [the] 1919 Series and I can help you I will be glad to do so.” How do we know Asinof never followed up on Edd’s offer?  Well, if he had, Jimmy Widmeyer, Roush’s “deep throat” source for early (if not guilty) knowledge about the Fix, would be a household name today. That is, if Roush used his name — he mentioned Widmeyer, who had connections with both newspapers and gamblers, in several interviews he gave over the years, sometimes mentioning Jimmy, sometimes not. 

I met Susan Dellinger, Edd Roush’s granddaughter, after the SABR convention panel on the 1919 Series in Cincinnati, in 2004. Susan broke the news about Jimmy W. in her article, “A Shadow in the Night … The Graying of the White,” in Baseball in the Buckeye State, a publication for that convention. I was able to cite that in Burying the Black Sox, but (alas), her 2006 book Red Legs and Black Sox was released just a bit too late to make my bibliography. I’ve recommended it countless times since, and do so again, for more on Edd Roush and the Cincy side of the Fix.

Letter from Hank Greenberg. Eliot Asinof had been a ballplayer himself, so when he ran into Hank Greenberg in the army in WW II, they connected — Jewish players were a minority and that was natural. Among EA’s papers is a letter from Hank, dated January 31, 1979 — well after 8MO was released, but still well before the film. But Greenberg has just finished reading the book that I sometimes call “the making of 8MO,” Bleeding Between the Lines. Greenberg liked them both, calling 8MO “the finest book on baseball ever published.”  He applauded Asinof for not “surrendering to the Establishment, who for the sake of crass Commercialism would portray a distorted, dishonest version of your book in a cheap one-shot television show.” Actually, CBS had done that, in 1961’s Witness. 

The Hall of Fame slugger called the players involved “partially victims of their times,” who have “suffered enough without having the memory of their accomplishments further tarnished.”  Greenberg looks at Asinof’s experience (chronicled in Bleeding) and says that’s one reason he left baseball. The final line suggests that Asinof was looking for letters of support, which might help him in the lawsuit in progress. Again, I’m told there is lots more related to that lawsuit (CBS wanted the rights to 8MO) in the CHM collection; see Notes #484 for more “sneak previews” of the Asinof papers.

The above is an excerpt from Issue #493 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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