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 I readily admit this is a cursory exploration, and not intended as any kind of historical reference or guide, but rather just the results of a fan’s quick search into the archives of the New York Times.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".