Sunday, March 31, 2024

Kid’s Strategy Goes Amuck as Jake Doesn’t Die

Ring Lardner (1885–1933)
From The Great American Sports Page: A Century of Classic Columns

“Fix These Faces in Your Memory”: Photo collage syndicated to various newspapers in September 1920, showing the eight Chicago White Sox ballplayers who conspired with gamblers to fix the 1919 World Series. Eddie Cicotte in the center, framed by (clockwise from top left) Happy Felsch, Chick Gandil, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Buck Weaver, Swede Risberg, Fred McMullin, and Claude Williams. (WikiCommons)
“My career as a regular baseball correspondent ended in May of 1913, when the Chicago Tribune set me to work writing a daily column on the sporting page, with occasional assignments on the side—world’s series, championship fights, football games, and so on,” recounted Ring Lardner just three months before his death. “My interest in the national pastime died a sudden death in the fall of 1919, when Kid Gleason saw his power-house White Sox lose a world's series to a club that was surprised to win even one game.”

It is the stuff of myth: how Lardner, one of the country’s most famous baseball journalists, gave up writing about the sport for good because of the Black Sox scandal, in which eight Chicago White Sox players ensured their own loss to the Cincinnati Reds in the 1919 World Series to collect $100,000 from professional gamblers. As with many myths, Lardner’s story of disillusionment is an oversimplification built on a grain of truth.

The scandal did surprise Lardner—not the crime itself (it was by no means the first time that ballplayers had fixed games to reap gambling wins) but its breadth and prominence. Lardner felt bad for Kid Gleason, the White Sox manager, who had become a friend and who proved to be oblivious to his team’s shenanigans. Lardner was especially disappointed with Eddie Cicotte, one of the ringleaders of the conspiracy; only four years earlier, he had described Cicotte in his customary Ringlish, “They ain’t a smarter pitcher in baseball and they’s nobody that's a better all-round ball player, no pitcher, I mean.”

The scandal would not become public until the following September, when the eight players were indicted, but various journalists and baseball officials realized what had happened during or soon after the series. Lardner apparently learned of the charade by the end of the second game. For the opening pitch of Game 1, Cicotte, a faultless knuckleball thrower, threw a clean strike. His second pitch, however, beaned second baseman Morrie Rath in the back; it was the prearranged indicator to outsiders that the fix was on and the first clue to Lardner and his colleagues that something was off. In the fourth inning, when the Reds scored five runs, additional oddities were noticed by reporters, including a botched double play that seemed intentionally bungled. The final score was 9–1. Lardner—who had himself bet a large sum on the White Sox—later told his fellow journalists that he confronted Cicotte in the hotel that night, and the pitcher’s excuses did little to assuage his concerns. Lardner’s dispatch after the second game, which the White Sox lost 4–2, was the closest he came in his whimsical coverage of the World Series to voicing his suspicions publicly:
It’s a Big Scandal: Ring discovers cause of defeat.
October 2, 1919: Gents, the biggest scandal of a big year of baseball scandals was perpetrated down here this afternoon when the American League turned against itself and beat the White Sox out of the second game of the present horror. . . .
The remainder of the article hinted that the game recorded by “Mr. Announcer” and “Mr. Scoreboard” bore little resemblance to the actual game being played on the field. After the second game, several of the reporters met up at a roadhouse outside Cincinnati and, led by Lardner, composed a new song set to the music of “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles”:
I’m forever blowing ball games,
Pretty ball games in the air.
I come from Chi.
I hardly try,
Just go to bat and fade and die.
Fortune’s coming my way,
That’s why I don’t care,
I’m forever throwing ball games
And the gamblers treat us fair.
Yet was the gambling scandal the event that caused Lardner to leave baseball behind? “I was only four at the time and can't testify directly to my father's reaction,” his son Ring, Jr., recalled in a memoir,
but I don't think a deeply disillusioned man could dash off that lyric, and the way he spoke about the event later gave me the feeling he was at least as concerned about losing a substantial bet . . . as he was about the moral turpitude of the players. Ring took his gambling seriously and did not, as Maxwell Geismar writes in Ring Lardner and the Portrait of Folly, always lose money on his bets; in 1927, for instance, he won thirty-two hundred dollars against odds by his selection of the Pittsburgh Pirates to win the National League pennant.

There was something else that had happened that changed his attitude toward baseball, and that was the introduction of the “crazy” or livelier ball, which made it a hitter’s instead of a pitcher’s game and which he maintained had been done deliberately to make Ruth’s home runs possible.
Indeed, while he sometimes blamed the Black Sox scandal for his disenchantment, Ring Lardner, Sr., claimed even more often that the so-called “lively ball” was what drove him away. During the 1920 season, league owners changed the rules to eliminate spit balls and mud balls and to refresh worn balls more frequently, making them easier to see. At the same time, younger batters began emulating Babe Ruth’s new style of hitting. The result was a rapid increase in hits and home runs. As Lardner explained in “Why Ring Stopped Covering Baseball,” published in the July 1921 issue of American Magazine:
A couple yrs. ago a ball player named Baby Ruth that was a pitcher by birth was made into an outfielder on acct. of how he could bust them and he begin breaking records for long distants hits and etc. and he become a big drawing card and the master minds that controls baseball says to themselfs that if it is home runs that the public wants to see, why leave us give them home runs so they fixed up a ball that if you don’t miss it entirely it will clear the fence and the result is that ball players which use to specialize in hump back liners to the pitcher is now amongst our leading sluggers when by rights they couldn’t take a ball in their hands and knock it past the base umpire.
In 1930, he was singing the same tune, with the additional conviction that the ball itself was made of different stuff:
Manufacturers of what they are using for a ball, and high officials of the big leagues, claim that the sphere contains the same ingredients, mixed in the same way, as in days of old. Those who believe them should visit their neighborhood psychiatrist at the earliest possible moment. . . .

If a pitcher pitched a swell game, I wanted to see him win it. So it kind of sickens me to watch a typical pastime of today in which a good pitcher, after an hour and fifty minutes of deserved mastery of his opponents, can suddenly be made to look like a bum by four or five great sluggers who couldn’t have held a job as bat boy on the Niles High School scrubs.
Even before the scandal or the introduction of the lively ball, there were other events that played significant roles in the direction of Lardner’s career. In June 1919 he had cut ties with the Chicago Tribune and contracted with the Bell Syndicate to write a weekly column; it would be published in 150 newspapers for the next eight years—during which he would nevertheless cover all but two World Series. In the fall of 1919 he, his wife, Ellis, and their four sons moved to the East Coast, first to Connecticut and then to Long Island. While living in his new home in Great Neck, he befriended F. Scott Fitzgerald, who encouraged his short story writing, introduced him to famed editor Maxwell Perkins, and later derided Lardner’s earlier career as talent wasted on a “boys’ game, with no more possibilities than a boy could master.” Greeted with admiration and increasing respect from the likes of H. L. Mencken, Dorothy Parker, and Ernest Hemingway, he soon set his sights on the stage, where he struggled—and ultimately succeeded—at the task of writing a Broadway hit. The game of baseball may have changed, but so had Ring Lardner’s ambitions.

We present Lardner’s column about the first game of the 1919 World Serious (as he called it). Rather than comment on Cicotte’s signal pitch, Lardner highlights a different beanball, one thrown in the eighth inning at Cincinnati second baseman Jake Daubert by White Sox fastball reliever Grover Lowdermilk, who was in fact quite notorious for his wild pitches. The piece also mocks the seemingly endless fourth inning when the Reds took a commanding lead. And, in what might be the first hint to his readers that he suspected the Chicago players were up to something, Lardner jokes that they may as well have been wearing the home team’s uniforms since everyone seems to have been playing on the same side.

Notes: Pat Moran, the Reds manager, and Kid Gleason both broke with tradition and announced the starting pitchers the day before the first game began. Erskine Mayer and Bill James were two White Sox pitchers; although neither was implicated in the scandal, both played their final MLB games in the 1919 World Series. Heinie Groh played third base for the Reds; Happy Felsch was center fielder for the White Sox and one of the conspirators. Lardner’s final quip that the next day’s starters would be Rube Bressler for the Reds and Lefty Sullivan for the Sox was meant as a joke. Neither pitcher appeared in the series; the injury-prone Bressler had been failing as a pitcher and would become a successful hitter, first baseman, and outfielder for the Reds during the 1920s, while White Sox pitcher John Jeremiah “Lefty” Sullivan played only four games in his MLB career; his intimidating fastball and curveball were undercut by a heart condition that caused him to get dizzy whenever he tried to field the ball.

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Kid’s Strategy Goes Amuck as Jake Doesn’t Die

CCincinnati, Ohio—Gents: Up to the eighth inning this pm, we was all setting there wondering what to write about and I happened to be looking at Jake Daubert’s picture on the souvenir program and all of a sudden Jake fell over and I thought he was dead so I said to the boys: “Here is your story:

“Jacob E. Daubert was born in Shamokin, Pa., on the 17 of April, 1886, and lives in Schuykill, Pa., and began playing with the Kane, Pa., club in 1907. With Cleveland in 1908 and Toledo for two years. Joined the Brooklyn club in 1910 and remained there until this season. Then joined the Cincinnati Reds and fell dead in the 8th inning of the 1st game of the world serious.”

So everybody got up and cheered me and said that was a very funny story but all of a sudden again Jake stood up and looked at the different pts. of the compass and walked to 1st. base and wasn’t dead at all and everybody turned around and hissed me for not giving them a good story.

Well gents, I am not to blame because when a man has got a fast ball like Grover Lowdermilk and hits a man like Jake in the temple, I generally always figure they are dead and the fact that Jake got up and walked to 1st base is certainly not my fault and I hope nobody will hold it vs. me.

That was only one case where Mr. Gleason’s strategy went amuck. His idear there was to kill the regular 1st. baseman and then all Mr. Moran would have left to do would be to either stick Dutch Reuther on 1st. base where he couldn’t pitch or else stick Sherwood Magee over there where he couldn’t coach at third base. But Jake gummed all up by not dying.

Well another part of Mr. Gleason’s strategy was dressing the White Sox in their home uniforms so as they would think they was playing on the home grounds in front of a friendly crowd but the trouble with that was that the Reds was all dressed in their home uniforms so as you couldn’t tell which club was at home and which wasn’t and it made both of them nervous.

Then to cap off the climax Mr. Gleason goes and starts a pitcher that everybody thought he was going to start which took away the element of surprise and made a joker out of the ball game. If he had of only started Erskine Mayer or Bill James or any of the other boys that I recommended why the Reds breath would have been took away and even if they had of hit they couldn’t of ran out their hits.

The trouble with the White Sox today was that they was in there trying to back up a nervous young pitcher that never faced a big crowd in a crux before and when he got scared and blowed why it was natural for the rest of them to also blow up. But just give these young Chicago boys a chance to get use to playing before a big crowd with money depending on it and you will be surprised at how they get on their ft. and come back at them.

Nobody should ought to find fault with Mr. Gleason, however, for what happened today. As soon as it was decided that they would have 9 games in this serious why the Kid set down and figured that the rules called for 9 men on a side and if 1 Red was killed per day and the serious run the full 9 games why they would only be 1 man left to play the final game and 1 man cant very well win a ball game even vs. the White Sox the way they looked. But Daubert didn’t die as expected and they will know better next time then to hit a left handed 1st baseman in the egg.

As for the game itself they has probably never been a thriller game in a big serious. The big thrill come in the 4th innings when everybody was wondering if the Sox would ever get the 3rd man out. They finely did and several occupants of the press box was overcome. The White Sox only chance at that pt. was to keep the Reds in there hitting till darkness fell and make it a illegal game but Heinie Groh finely hit a ball that Felsch could not help from catching and gummed up another piece of stratagem.

Before the game a band led by John Philip Sousa played a catchy air called the Stars and Stripes Forever and it looks to me like everybody would be whistling it before the serious runs a dozen more games.

It now looks like the present serious would be 1 big surprise after another and tomorrow’s shock will occur when the batterys is announced which will be Rube Bressler for the Reds and Lefty Sullivan for the Sox. This will be the biggest upset of the entire fiasco.

I seen both managers right after today’s holy cost and Moran said hello old pal, and Gleason said hello you big bum so I am picking the Reds from now on.

Originally published October 2, 1919, in various newspapers via the Bell Syndicate.