The Times, Then as Now

The general reaction to and reporting on Roger Clemens’ appearance before Congress yesterday got me curious. What was the tenor of news reports in the 1920s, during the Black Sox scandal? What were some of the stories filed in the aftermath of this sordid affair?   I don’t want to create an inarticulate equivalency between the throwing of the World Series (for which there was a criminal trial) and the current PED "scandal" (for which there has only been a loosely sanctioned "report" and some circus-y Congressional hearings) –this is for far more erudite scholars of the game than myself to hash out — but there is a commonality, to me, in that there seems to be a great deal of protectiveness surfacing regarding our national pastime.  Many fans simply want to move on, to solve problems proactively rather than rehash them, a noble cause.  Others are less troubled by the airing of dirty laundry, sensing that the exposure of illicit behavior can serve as a lesson for those who are still playing and who will engage the game in the future.

I spent a good deal of time researching the New York Times’ archives (certainly not the only source for commentary, but for me the most readily available), and dug up some wonderful snippets. Some were specifically related to the White Sox, others completely unrelated but simply glorious in their timelessness.  I readily admit this is a cursory exploration, and not intended as any kind of historical reference or guide, but rather just the results of a fan’s quick search into the archives of the New York Times.  This was truly fun, and I recommend to everyone who enjoys reading about baseball a block of time at the Times’ archives, if only to see how baseball has changed (and not changed!) over the course of many decades.

Selections after the jump.

  • A lesser-known bombshell was the accusation by Happy Felsch, one of the shamed White Sox, that Charles Comiskey himself abetted the fixing of games, back during the 1917 season.  Even in 1920 the Commissioner was a sturdy advocate of Ownership and dismissive of labor, with Kenesaw Mountain Landis remarking in response to Felsch’s charges, "I guess no one will pay much attention to what Felsch said".  In the end, Felsch’s charges weren’t proven.
  • Following the acquittal of the accused players, AL President Ban Johnson offers a comment that could have been uttered by Bud Selig, asking the public to "keep in mind that regardless of the verdict of juries, baseball is entirely competent to protect itself against crooks, both inside and outside the game."  So baseball can police itself, eh?  This is a common belief of the sport’s privileged ownership caste through the years, and one which recent events call into question, yet again. 
  • Despite the shame of 1919 and the subsequent trial and banning of the Chicago Eight, baseball was still unable to avoid scandal. In 1924 another game-fixing plot was outed, and Commissioner Landis and Ban Johnson found themselves at odds, with Landis asserting that the World Series should be played during an open investigation as long as "anybody connected with it remained alive", while Johnson referred to the case to the Federal Judiciary and recommended the cancellation of the World Series.  Heinie Sand, the Philadelphia player who was the target of a bribe and who outed the plot, was lauded by his team president William Baker, who said that "the affair is not a black eye to baseball but rather a good thing for the game, as it testifies that the honest players will expose dishonesty every time".  Typically, despite further charges that the bribery plot ran deeper than just Sand, the fans didn’t care, and the story remarks on how the scandal had no effect on ticket sales.
  • Unrelated to this investigation of public sentiment, I found a pleasantly interesting story about Joe Jackson, banned from baseball for life, making barnstorming appearances under fictitious names in New Jersey. This filing details Jackson’s appearance in Hackensack under the name "Josephs", a game in which he singled, doubled, homered, and threw out an opposing player at home with a "startling" toss. 
  • Also unrelated to my search for opinion, I found this timeless quip (one I hope is oft-repeated in 2008) in a bulleted summary of the day in New York baseball of September 20th, 1920, beautifully titled "Curves and Bingles": "The Yankees can blame a lot of things on the manager, but it isn’t the manager’s fault when the pitchers are lambasted as they have been during the last four games".   
22 comments… add one
  • BRAVO.

    YF February 14, 2008, 1:21 pm
  • “keep in mind that regardless of the verdict of juries, baseball is entirely competent to protect itself against crooks, both inside and outside the game.”
    This is the crux of the situation, and the ultimate fallacy.

    YF February 14, 2008, 1:37 pm
  • Right, YF. But then if the game can’t police itself, and people don’t like the attempts by outsiders to police the game, where are we left? What’s the mechanism for control, oversight? It’s a terrible predicament.

    SF February 14, 2008, 1:40 pm
  • The difference is the type and sheer magnitude of the corruption. The gambling problems that plagued the game back then involved team results (cause wagers were only made on who won or lost) and only for the most high profile games.
    Now we’re talking about every player and every game result as under suspicion. Worse, there’s no way to separate the innocent from the guilty and every player could still be using and we don’t know it. This isn’t as simple as publicly punishing some players and putting the matter behind us.
    Since the PED era encompassed at least twenty years, I have no doubt we’ll still be discussing the ramifications over the next twenty. Every approach at 61 HRs will bring it up. Every HOF ballot. Every player hitting age 35 and suddenly breaking down. Every notable career mark from Ks to HRs. See, the PED Era may be winding down but it is just beginning to be understood. In its historical context, there’s never been anything like it.

    A YF February 14, 2008, 1:55 pm
  • and only for the most high profile games
    I don’t think this is in any way true. Gambling was pervasive in baseball for the American league’s first two decades, and bookies would take bets in the stands on even what the next play would be. To assume that “only” World Series games were affected by the desire of underpaid ballplayers to make a living wage however they could is naive.
    Gambling was so pervasive, in fact, it was rationalized on the basis that, over time, the game fixing would even itself out.

    Paul SF February 14, 2008, 2:57 pm
  • i just hope he get the same as bonds, HOF or not, but they will likely give him his namesake clemen-cy

    rawdawgbuffalo February 14, 2008, 3:00 pm
  • *******
    The gambling problems that plagued the game back then involved … only … the most high profile games.
    *******
    This is not true.
    As I learned during five years of research for my book on the 1918 Red Sox, there were an average of three players on every team who were more or less “under contract” with local gamblers.
    In 1918, The Sporting News reported there were about 50 major league players among the 16 teams who were clearly crooked on a regular basis. I have no doubt that many regular season games were fixed or various players tried to lose.
    The big games naturally attracted more attention because there was more money to be made. During the 1910s, there was not a single pennant race or World Series that was not suspected of being crooked. But make no mistake: the gamblers and the players they employed did not work solely in October.
    Very cool post, also!!! I love stuff like this. You can find a lot of quotes from owners from the teens saying how salaries need to be cut because most teams are losing money.

    redsock February 14, 2008, 3:00 pm
  • In fact, I would argue worrying about 61 home runs and the Hall of Fame balloting is of a lesser significance than the fact that the vast majority of the first 15 World Series are essentially tainted. We know about 1919, but we also know 1912 featured several dirty games, and likely most of the rest of the World Series from that era did as well.
    There’s more of a media storm today, thanks to the technology in place, but I would argue that gambling in the 1900s and 1910s was a far bigger scourge to the integirty of baseball than PEDs were/are in the 1990s and 2000s.

    Paul SF February 14, 2008, 3:01 pm
  • ******
    … and bookies would take bets in the stands on even what the next play would be.
    ******
    Yep. And one of the worst parks for this type of activity was Fenway! They sat together behind first base and conducted their business out in the open.

    redsock February 14, 2008, 3:02 pm
  • Alan beat me to it, re: the World Series from the 1910s.
    Answer this question, if you think PEDs are a bigger problem today: What if the World Series winners from 1990-2007 all were under suspicion? And I mean, as a team, directly throwing games, not just because a couple players here and there are suspected of juicing. What would that do to the game?

    Paul SF February 14, 2008, 3:04 pm
  • As a man that enjoys a little action from time to time…
    “and bookies would take bets in the stands”
    Man, that would be sweet.

    LocklandSF February 14, 2008, 3:13 pm
  • Locland – Live in the UK and almost all stadiums have betting shops in them, when the NFL came to London they had to shut them for the game in the stadium, or the NFL would not play there.

    Polf February 14, 2008, 3:47 pm
  • That sounds awesome, except for the watching soccer part…

    LocklandSF February 14, 2008, 4:02 pm
  • “What if the World Series winners from 1990-2007 all were under suspicion? And I mean, as a team, directly throwing games, not just because a couple players here and there are suspected of juicing.”
    Actually, this would explain a lot about the Atlanta Braves from this era.
    Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

    FenSheaParkway February 14, 2008, 4:42 pm
  • As far as I’m concerned, every team from 1988 (which we know) to 2005 (when testing began) IS under suspicion. Worse, it’s not just the World Series winners either – it’s every player on every team. And for the gambling, again, this isn’t only the results of games, but the results of individual seasons and whole careers. No one throwing a game was going to win MVP awards or go to the HOF because of it. As if the loss of those iconic numbers in baseball wasn’t bad enough, the chance that people won and were treated as heroes and celebrated as such is much worse. Someone throwing a game is still a loser in the end. Many, many players in the last twenty were upheld as true champions in the sport when in reality they were lying cheats.

    A YF February 14, 2008, 5:16 pm
  • can’t test for hgh AYF, and not everyone is tested, so extend your timeline through, well, today….

    dc February 14, 2008, 10:59 pm
  • Good posts, A YF!
    I’m also in the circle of being ok with da Guv overstepping their authority. Some power group had to slap the crap out of the Players and Owners Unions, bring everything to the fore so the innocent are not slighted for their clean acheivements. If those two unions chose transparency instead of the shameless approach they did, everyone would have a much better idea on who the culprits were. Right now we have little choice but to assume most everyone was involved, and that sucks.
    Another thought: If I were a member of that committee what I would do is subpoena Sheffield. Man, that guy would spill everything. Just get him warmed up a bit with some friendly chatter, throw some racial innuendo in there, and, BOOM, watchout baseball!

    Dirty Water February 15, 2008, 7:22 am
  • Great idea for a post!
    ***********************************************
    Right, YF. But then if the game can’t police itself, and people don’t like the attempts by outsiders to police the game, where are we left? What’s the mechanism for control, oversight? It’s a terrible predicament.
    ***********************************************
    Isn’t that the reason history assures us we have a commissioner system in the first place? Simplification, but the Black Sox Scandal happens, owners get freaked out and Kenesaw Mountain Landis saves the day by taking over and ruling with an iron fist. As with any monarchy – and that’s really what the commissioner system is – effectiveness rests on the abilities of the person in power, and that’s clearly an issue with our current commish, but this situation might make owners think twice about who they pick in the future.
    Really what I’d like to see come out of this current scandal is a system where owners, the union and possibly even the fans have some say in who gets chosen to run baseball, with perhaps a more independent (because everyone involved has a say) judiciary for preventing these sorts of problems in the future.

    Eric Hanson February 15, 2008, 11:40 am
  • but this situation might make owners think twice about who they pick in the future
    Except that there is no evidence that they disapprove of anything Selig has done. They just re-upped his contract for major bucks, that’s the surest indication that how he has acted comes with their approval. Where is there any indication that Selig (or, by extension, another person in the Commissioner’s chair) should be anything but someone just like him?

    SF February 15, 2008, 11:45 am
  • SF is exactly right. Revenue in baseball was higher than ever two years ago, and higher still last year. This year, MLB revenue is projected to pass the NFL. Increasing revenue isn’t the main thing owners care about: it is the only thing.
    As long as butts continue to fill the seats in the stands, people and bars continue to purchase their MLB packages from DirecTV and the Intraweb, and enough eyeballs turn on the TV sets to make it a worthwhile investment for advertisers, Selig is untouchable. So far, there is no indication that the “steroid era” — a nebulous term that will lose any remaining relevance sooner than many pundits would posit — will have any affect on the course of the game besides hurt feelings.

    attackgerbil February 15, 2008, 12:10 pm
  • Baseball is the best!

    Joe February 15, 2008, 1:13 pm
  • The last time baseball had an independent commissioner was Fay Vincent — and the owners ousted him. That tells you all you need to know…

    Paul SF February 15, 2008, 3:07 pm

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