In 1919, the Chicago White Sox were the best overall team in baseball, which didn't come as a surprise to most. In the National League, the Cincinnati Reds were surprising everyone. Cincinnati was quickly becoming a baseball town.
They were led by Edd Roush, who had four homers, 71 RBI, and a .321 batting average. Infielder Heinie Groh had an incredible season, with five homers, 63 RBI and a .310 batting average. Their pitching staff was great as well. Slim Sallee went 21-7 with a 2.06 ERA. Everyone on the staff had a winning record. They finished the year at 96-44, but the White Sox had them beat.
They had a great second basemen in Eddie Collins, who had four homers, 80 RBI and a .319 batting average over the course of the regular season. They had Shoeless Joe Jackson, possibly the best pure hitter of all time. He had 96 RBI and hit .351 that year. They had Happy Felsch in center, who could run down anything hit to him and also hit .275 with 86 RBI.
They also had a good supporting cast with Ray Schalk, Chick Gandil, Swede Risberg, Bucky Weaver and Nemo Leibold. The rotation could, any day of the week, beat Cincinnati's.
Eddie Cicotte had the season of his life, winning 29 and losing seven with a 1.82 earned run average. Lefty Williams won 23 and lost 11 that year. No one on the rotation had an ERA above 3.83. As a team, the White Sox didn't even have as good a record, with 88 wins and 52 losses.
But they were clearly a better team. But in this World Series, talent didn't mean the slightest. Money did.
Why did money matter? Eight White Sox "threw" the series, losing on purpose. Eddie Cicotte, Lefty Williams, Joe Jackson, Swede Risberg, Chick Gandil, Buck Weaver, Fred McMullin, and Happy Felsch were banned from baseball during the next season, 1920.
It became evident something was wrong in Game One. The normal control freak Cicotte walked two batters and hit one in a 9-1 loss. Combined, the hitters who threw the series were 4-for-18. Cicotte allowed six runs in just three-and-two-thirds innings and the Reds were off to a good start—but not because they were the better team.
In Game Two, the White Sox lost again, 4-2. Lefty Williams continued to deny Ray Schalk, who wanted Williams to throw his curveball. It caused Williams to allow four runs in eight innings. The Sox showed a consistent inability to hit in the clutch. They got 10 hits, which resulted in just two runs. Shoeless Joe Jackson was 3-for-4, but all his hits were with none on base.
In Game Three, Dick Kerr beat Ray Fisher as the White Sox won, 3-0. They are now trailing two games to one. Shoeless Joe was 2-for-3 with a run. Chick Gandil was 1-for-3 with a single and two RBI. But everyone knew something was wrong, despite the win.
In Game Four, the Reds pulled off a shutout of their own, winning 2-0. Eddie Cicotte looked back to regular season form, but he purposely made two errors, costing him two unearned runs and a loss. Jimmy Ring tossed a complete-game shutout, allowing just three hits. The White Sox managed just three hits and three walks.
In Game Five, the Reds won again, 5-0. So the dominant White Sox offense has scored
six runs in five games. They managed just three hits, and Hod Eller struck them out nine times. Shoeless Joe was 0-for-4. Lefty Williams again allowed four runs in eight innings, while his ERA during the season was 2.64!
In game Six, the White Sox won, 6-5. Bucky Weaver continued to have the series of his life, going 3-for-5 with two runs scored. Joe Jackson was 2-for-4 with an RBI, and Happy Felsch had two base hits and an RBI of his own. Dicky Kerr pitched 10 innings for the win, allowing 11 hits and three runs.
The White Sox won again in Game Seven, 4-1, in front of 13,923. Did this mean a change of heart? It didn't look like it. However, the Sox did enough to win. Cicotte pitched a complete game, allowing seven hits and one run for the win. Happy Felsch and Joe Jackson were both 2-for-4 with two RBI.
In the eighth and final game, the Reds won 10-5. Lefty Williams recorded one out and allowed four hits and three earned runs. In his last playoff game, Joe Jackson was 2-for-5 with a home run and three RBI.
Weaver and Jackson had the series of their lives, but were both banned from baseball. In September of 1920, a grand jury came to investigate after hearing rumors. Shoeless Joe Jackson and Eddie Cicotte both confessed to their wrongdoing. Williams, Weaver, Felsch, Risberg, Gandil, and McMullin also came forth.
Strict baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis had this to say about it:
"Regardless of the verdict of juries, no player who throws a ballgame, no player who undertakes or promises to throw a ballgame, no player who sits in confidence with a bunch of crooked ballplayers and gamblers, where the ways and means of throwing a game are discussed and does not promptly tell his club about it, will ever play professional baseball."
The believed reason they did it was because of their owner, Charley Comiskey. Comiskey is known as the biggest cheapskate of an owner in sports history. If they threw the series, they'd get lots of money. One could argue they started the trend of the selfish athlete.
After the jury, all eight were banned from baseball, never to be seen in the public eye again. While Jackson and Cicotte deserve a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame, sadly, they are still on the ineligible list and until taken off, don't get a shot.
Say it ain't so Joe, Eddie, Bucky, Lefty, Happy, Swede, Chick and Fred. Say it ain't so.