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Eight Ball in the Hot Corner Pocket…and Other Research Nuggets

August 18, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Buck Weaver (right) seen here with former teammate Swede Risberg in 1921.

Buck Weaver (right) seen here with former teammate Swede Risberg at the Black Sox trial in 1921.

August 30, 1915: George “Buck” Weaver is most known for being banned from baseball for life for having guilty knowledge of the 1919 World Series fix, which resulted in the banishment of eight White Sox players, including “Shoeless Joe” Jackson.  But that wasn’t the first time Weaver had experienced problems due to gambling.

According to the August 31, 1915 edition of the Chicago Tribune, Weaver had lost his poolroom license when a police raid discovered several “baseball enthusiasts” shooting dice in a back room of Weaver’s pool and billiard parlor in the south side of Chicago.  “BUCK MUFFS; OUT A POOL LICENSE” screamed the Trib.  “Shortstop Weaver’s Billiard Room Closed Because Of Alleged Gambling.”  Weaver was in Lafayette, Indiana playing pool with teammate and future Black Sox conspirator Happy Felsch when he heard the news.

“I don’t understand it,” he said.  “I told them some time ago not to gamble.”  The manager of the billiard parlor insisted the gamblers were patrons of a barber shop that was subletting space in the parlor, but Mayor “Big Bill” Thompson held Weaver responsible because the property was in his name.  Weaver had his license reinstated on September 8, allegedly after promising the chief of police and Mayor Thompson that he’d play better on the diamond and lead the White Sox to a pennant.

He kept his promise to a certain extent—the White Sox played at a .625 clip after the promise as opposed to .600 prior to it, and he added 10 points to his batting and on-base averages and three to his slugging—but he also committed errors more frequently, and the White Sox finished in third place, nine and a half games behind the eventual world champion Boston Red Sox.

Alas, a year later Weaver closed down his billiard parlor and filed for bankruptcy to seek relief from creditors who were owed a hair more than $1,000.

Dark Horse of the Black Sox  

October 1, 1919:  Chicago White Sox manager Kid Gleason received a letter from two students at Todd Seminary for Boys in Woodstock, Illinois that suggested he start “Big Bill” James in the first game of the World Series, and that Dickie Kerr would be the “dark horse” against the Reds.  According to the Chicago Tribune, Gleason didn’t receive the letter until after Game 1, which is too bad considering the 9-1 drubbing staff ace Eddie Cicotte suffered.

Of course, Cicotte was purposely at his worst, giving up six runs in only 3 2/3 innings, and there was little reason for Gleason to start a pitcher who’d gone 7-7 with a subpar 3.74 ERA that season, despite being very good for the Sox after being picked up off waivers (3-2, 2.52 in five starts).  In regards to Kerr, however, the students proved prescient—the rookie southpaw won both of his starts, including a brilliant three-hit shutout in Game 3, and posted a 1.42 ERA in 19 innings.

Czar Comiskey

CommyNovember 25, 1905: There was a short period of time after the Black Sox scandal that the National League comprised 11 teams with a twelfth to be placed in Detroit to compete against the Tigers.  Even more interesting is that the ninth, tenth and eleventh teams were the White Sox, Red Sox and Yankees, who had seceded from the American League over a feud with AL president Ban Johnson.  By the late teens, former best friends Johnson and White Sox owner Charles Comiskey, both of whom were instrumental in the formation of the AL, were bitter enemies.

Red Sox owner Harry Frazee, and Yankees owners Tillinghast L’Hommedieu Huston and Jacob Ruppert were firmly in Comiskey’s court and the quartet actually signed an agreement to join the senior circuit, leaving the junior circuit with only five teams.  Johnson and his loyalists from Cleveland, Detroit, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Washington called a truce and the insurrectionists backed out of their deal with the NL.  The AL remained intact and unchanged until 1954 when the Browns moved to Baltimore and became the Orioles.

It’s a bit ironic then that Comiskey was so willing to join the National League just to stick it to his old buddy Johnson because in 1905, the former accused the latter of conspiring with Cincinnati Reds president and Chairman of the National Commission, August Herrmann, to consolidate the leagues into one.  Comiskey was furious when he heard the news.  “I have always fought the National League and always will,” he told Irving Sanborn of the Chicago Tribune.  “It has no real desire to be at peace with the American League and never has had.  It has only been waiting the opportunity to crush us.”

Rather than “fall into the National’s trap,” Comiskey threatened to form his own league.  Johnson refuted the rumors of an amalgamation and business in the AL went on as usual.  As if to prove a point the “Old Roman’s” White Sox won the pennant in 1906, then went on to defeat the heavily favored Cubs in the World Series, giving Comiskey his first Fall Classic title.  By 1920 his hatred for Johnson clearly outweighed his hatred for the NL, and the White Sox almost became a National League team.

Don’t Stop to Think…Or Misspeak  

September 14, 1919: “When I say that in trying to fix a ball team you would almost certainly find one or two honest players…My own personal opinion is that you would look a long way before you would find any ball player who would consent to throw a game.”—Christy Mathewson.

The legendary hurler wrote that in his syndicated column more than two weeks before the Chicago White Sox took the field against the Cincinnati Reds in Game 1 of the 1919 World Series.  Matty wasn’t referring to the White Sox, however, but rather accusations by some that certain National League teams were throwing games to the Reds during the regular season.  Mathewson asserted that every player and manager was out to win, not only out of pride but in order to command better salaries.  In summation he credited the Reds’ “scoring punch” and ability to get runs “when they need them.”  Indeed, the Reds finished second in the NL in runs per game with 4.13, but led the league in runs allowed per game, run differential and defensive efficiency.

They went on to beat a White Sox team that was considered the best in AL history before the 1927 Yankees claimed the mantle, and though Mathewson may have been correct about senior circuit teams being honest, he and everyone else would soon find that one only had to look as far as Chicago to find crooked players.

Eddie Collins, Yankee Great…Well, Almost

Eddie-CollinsWhen Cap Huston and Jacob Ruppert purchased the Yankees on December 31, 1914 they were assured by AL President Ban Johnson that he would help them acquire players that would strengthen the club.  Johnson had attempted unsuccessfully to put a championship team in New York since the franchise moved from Baltimore to Gotham in 1903, but the best they could do was three second-place finishes in 1904, 1906 and 1910.  From 1903-1914, the Yankees (nee Highlanders) won 48% of their games and finished in the second division more often than not.

The Yankees purchased first baseman Wally Pipp and outfielder Hugh High from Detroit in February 1915, and Bob Shawkey from the Philadelphia A’s in June, but they weren’t happy that they lost out on superstars Eddie Collins, Joe Jackson and Tris Speaker, all of whom were dealt between 1914 and 1916.  The Speaker deal was fishy to say the least and had Ban Johnson written all over it.  On April 12, 1916 Speaker was traded from the Red Sox to Cleveland for Sad Sam Jones, Fred Thomas and $55,000.

“The proverbial pin could have dropped a million times in the hotel corridor and it would have made a noise like the sudden bursting of an automobile,” Boston sportswriter Mel Webb Jr. wrote upon receiving word of the trade.  “Everyone was speechless.”  It was learned a few years later that Johnson owned stock in the Indians, which posed a serious conflict of interest and gave them a huge edge in the deal.  Seven months earlier the Indians traded superstar outfielder Joe Jackson to the White Sox for three players and $31,500.  About the Jackson deal, Baseball Magazine wrote “there was a general undercurrent of remonstrance which even the immense popularity of Comiskey could not wholly appease.”

Comiskey explained that he and Cleveland owner Charles Somers were old friends and when the latter wired the former with a proposal, Comiskey agreed and the trade was made.  Huston and Ruppert were beside themselves; they missed out on Jackson and would miss out on Speaker a year later, and most historians believe they missed out on Collins in 1914, a sure sign that Johnson had no intention of helping the Yankee owners build a winner.  But that isn’t true.  Had Huston and Ruppert been more receptive, they were all but guaranteed to acquire Collins from the Athletics.

“I have been interested in assisting Mr. Ruppert and Mr. Huston in giving New York a winning club ever since they took hold of the affairs in that city,” Johnson said.  “When Connie Mack decided to dispose of Collins I suggested to the new owners that they secure Collins for New York.  But at that time they did not attach the importance to the deal which I did.”

Huston admitted as much.  “Ban Johnson suggested that we take Eddie Collins, yes, but at the time we didn’t even own the New York club and there was a deal to do before we could map out any comprehensive campaign for the future.”

Not surprisingly the Federal League played a large role in all three deals.  Mack had begun to purge his team of stars who could command high prices rather than lose them to the FL and its exorbitant contract offers.  The A’s still lost players to the upstart league, including veteran hurlers Eddie Plank and Chief Bender, but Mack was able to pocket some serious cash by selling Collins, Shawkey, Frank “Home Run” Baker and Jack Barry among others.

Somers admitted that he traded Jackson to the White Sox to keep him from jumping to the Federal League, and that he knew Comiskey could pay Jackson enough to keep him in the AL.

Collins had reportedly been offered $25,000 by the Brooklyn Tip-Tops, although he refuted that and claimed a meeting with FL president James Gilmore had to be cancelled and a formal offer had never been made.  According to Ban Johnson, Collins indicated that he wanted to stay in the East and that he wouldn’t be “adverse” [sic] to going to New York.  Johnson explained to Collins that the Yankees’ ownership situation was still up in the air and that the second baseman would receive a more favorable contract from the White Sox.  “These facts being in evidence, Collins reconsidered his objections and signed the contract to play in Chicago without further comment,” wrote Johnson.

Of course it’s been speculated that Ban Johnson pointed Collins toward Chicago to counteract the effect of Walter Johnson pitching for the Chicago Chi-Feds.  “It was opportune, was it not,” wrote Baseball Magazine, “that when Johnson, greatest of pitchers, was due to draw the crowd to the leading Federal League park, that the most popular owner in the American League, operating a club in the same city, should have had the public attention re-centered on his park by this counter attraction.  It was very opportune to say the least, but Comiskey and Ban Johnson are always opportune.  They are manufacturers of coincidence.”

In the end, the White Sox didn’t need Collins to draw attention away from the Chi-Feds because Walter Johnson backed out of his agreement and returned to the Senators.  The White Sox got 12 excellent years out of Collins before he went back to Philadelphia, and Washington got 13 excellent years and 238 more wins out of Johnson before he retired.

I Hear a Train a Comin’…

Walter Johnson of the Chicago Whales (Chi-Feds).  Sort of.

Walter Johnson of the Chicago Whales (Chi-Feds). Sort of.

In the April 1915 issue of Baseball Magazine Walter Johnson explained why he considered jumping to the Federal League and why he ultimately decided to return to Washington.  “From the first, I was always impressed with the Federal League,” he admitted.  “They looked to me like a game crowd, and I admired their courage.  I do not see how anyone who has seen how they have fought against the greatest odds, can fail to be impressed with their courage.”

The Big Train also explained that money was a factor, loyalty meant little to a ballplayer who had 10 years at most to ply his trade and that he owed it to his family to “make the most of his opportunities.”  He insisted that he preferred staying in Washington, but only if all things were equal, and wondered aloud why he was being criticized for entertaining offers from the Federal League.  “Salesmen, business managers, even ministers are not criticized for accepting larger salaries elsewhere.  I do not see why a ball player should be criticized more than they.”

Shortly after Johnson met with Robert Ward of the Brooklyn Tip-Tops, Washington manager Clark Griffith told his ace he could probably get him $16,000 a year for five years or a two-year deal worth $18,000 per annum.  The team’s president, Benjamin Minor, rejected the idea of a five-year deal, however, and said he’d offer no more than three.  In an interesting twist AL president Ban Johnson refunded Walter a $50 fine he’d levied in 1908 when the hurler and others played an exhibition series to earn money that would help pay for train fare home.  “Whether or not [Ban Johnson] would have refunded the money had it not been for the Federal League, I will have the public to judge,” wrote the pitcher.

The FL’s St. Louis Terriers offered Johnson $60,000—a three-year deal at $20,000 per year—but Johnson expected the Senators to match or come close to any offer the Feds made, so he turned them down.  He wrote to Griffith and told his skipper he’d be willing to accept the $18,000 that had been offered, but received no reply.  He wrote Griffith a second time and received no reply until Minor sent an offer of $12,500 and a threat that the Senators had every right to automatically renew his contract if he rejected their offer.  “He wrote in effect that I was the lawful property of Washington…”

Johnson was pissed, to say the least.  Federal League president James Gilmore had previously announced that no more large offers would be made to “high-priced stars,” and Johnson believed Minor was using that information to “dictate terms.”  When Chi-Feds president Charles Weeghman sent former Cubs shortstop Joe Tinker to discuss terms, Johnson readily accepted his offer of $52,500 over three years with a $6,000 signing bonus.  But Clark Griffith more or less used guilt to convince Johnson to return to Washington.

“He told me that my going out wrecked his pitching staff and put the club that he hoped might be a pennant winner into the second division,” wrote Johnson.  “He said that he didn’t deserve any such treatment from me, as he had always done well by me.”  Johnson resented being called a “mercenary” and accused of “lacking loyalty” toward the Senators, and he felt terrible about backing out of his deal with Weeghman.  But in the end he explained his decision: “I had to injure either the Federal League or Washington and decided in favor of Washington.  Perhaps I was wrong but I acted for what I considered to be the best.  If the court decides I belong to Chicago I will play for Weeghman willingly and with the best of spirit otherwise I will give Washington as I always have done my very best efforts.”

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