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1919: The Veterans Come Home

The 1919 season is not remembered for the winners. The Chicago White Sox were considered the best team in the league and they nearly won the World Series despite eight of players actively trying to lose the series. They were known “the Black Sox” well before there was any suspicion of gambling, the owner of the team, Charles Comiskey, was a cruel and cheap man who refused to pay to have the players’ uniforms laundered. The players protested by refusing to wash their own uniforms that grew dirty and smelly, the press reported that their white socks had turned black and the nickname stuck. The nickname stuck through the ages after eight players were banned for life (and beyond) from baseball for helping to throw the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. All of the players were later acquitted in legal matters concerning gambling and the gambler that orchestrated it never faced any official league or legal consequences. Through all of this controversy and the banning of eight player "for life" (none have been reinstated even well after their deaths), it is nearly forgotten to history that it was the team from Cincinnati that won the World Series that year.


Highest Paid Player: Ty Cobb, $20,000

US President: Woodrow Wilson

In The News:

  • Prohibition begins

  • Ghandi begins non-violent resistance campaign against British rule in India

  • The observation of an eclipse proves Einstein's theory of relatively

First Class Postage Stamp: $0.02

Number of Games: 138-142

Number of Teams: 16

Teams of 1919: No changes from 1918.

Men of US 64th Regiment, 7th Infantry Division, celebrate the news of the Armistice, 11 November 1918, Public Domain.

The season started late while players were coming back from Europe after the end of World War I in November of the previous year. Spanish Flu was still raging through the US. Some of the players that came back were never quite the same. Christie Matthewson injured his lungs in mustard gas training, never managed again and died a few years later from aftereffects. Grover Cleveland “Pete” Alexander had been shell shocked while fighting and when he came back his drinking accelerated and his mood worsened.

Shell Shocked

Grover Cleveland Alexander was named after a president and after he died he was portrayed by future president Ronald Reagan in the 1952 movie The Winning Team. At one point in filming the professional pitcher hired to make a pitch hitting a target was too nervous to hit the target and Reagan performed his own stunt, hitting the mark used in the film. At the end of the 1917 season the Phillies traded Alexander to the Cubs for cash because they feared he would be drafted. After only three starts in 1918 Alexander was drafted and served with an artillery unit. When he came back he had hearing loss, his epilepsy was worse and he was drinking more. In 1919 he came back to the Cubs and led the league in ERA (1.72) and shutouts (9) and in 1920 he won the pitching triple crown. He was traded mid-season in 1926 to the Cardinals at the age of 39. St. Louis made the World Series against the Yankees and Alexander had complete game victories in games two and six. The night after the game six win Alexander celebrated HARD. He was shaken awake the next day in the dugout as the Cardinals were up 3-2 in the seventh when the starter developed a blister and he was called to come into the game. He came in with the bases loaded and two outs to strike out Tony Lazzeri in an at bat that featured a foul ball that curled around the home run pole. The Yankees were kept scoreless by Alexander for the last two innings and the Cardinals won their first World Series in franchise history.

The eight men out. Public Domain.

The Black Sox

In 1919, however, the eight White Sox players Eddie Cicotte, Chick Gandil, Swede Risburg, Buck Weaver, Claude “Lefty” Williams, Happy Felsch, Fred McMullen and Shoeless Joe Jackson conspired to throw the World Series to get revenge on their team owner and earn more money. The story that has survived over a hundred years later is that this Chicago team was so dominant that if they decided they wanted to win, even if that decision came mid-way through the series, they would easily have been World Champions. They did have great players, Shoeless Joe Jackson is considered a player that would have been a certain Hall of Famer, twice leading the league in hits, another time in OBP, with 1772 hits, .356 AVG and a .423 OBP in a career that ended when he was just 32 and his final season, 1920, saw him hit 42 doubles, lead the league in triples with 20, career high 12 home runs and sport a .382 AVG and .444 OBP. Eddie Cicotte was actually the team leader in WAR in 1919 with a league best 29 wins and 30 CGs, and a 1.82 ERA. Three of his final four seasons saw him winning more than 20 games. Lefty Williams won 23 games in 1919 and 22 in 1920. Center fielder Happy Felsch had the best season of his career in 1920 just before being banned for life when he hit .338 with 14 homer and 115 RBI at the age of 28. Second baseman Eddie Collins was not involved in the plot, led the league with 33 stolen bases and went on to play until 1930 and entered the Hall of Fame. Catcher Ray Schalk also didn’t partake in the scheme and played until 1929 and became a Hall of Famer as well.

Even if it weren’t for the two beloved baseball movies about the Black Sox scandal, Field of Dreams and Eight Men Out, the scheme would always live on in literature through references in the Great Gatsby. We now know the gambler behind the scheme was Arnold Rothstein, but F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book that came out just six years after the World Series refers to him as a Jewish friend and mentor to Jay Gatsby named Meyer Wolfsheim. Rothstein was a millionare by age 30 off of organized crime in New York, fixed the World Series when he was 37 and was murdered at 46, never having gone to prison. His estate was bankrupt within ten years after his death.

Reds Junkball Pitcher Slim Sallee, 1911. Public Domain.

The Forgotten Reds

While the Chicago team was so great, the Reds actually won eight more games in the regular season. Heinie Groh was one of only two Reds regulars to hit over .300 and he had a career high five home runs, just good enough to make the league leader board. Centerfielder Edd Roush led the NL in hitting with a .321 AVG and was actually the only Hall of Famer for Cincinnati to play in 1919, but the team had the most dominant pitching in the Majors that year. Out of the ten players to pitch at least once all season, only two had an ERA over 3.00. The heart of the rotation was Hod Eller (19-9, 2.39 ERA), Dutch Ruether (19-6, the best win percentage in the league, 1.82 ERA) and Slim Sallee (21-7, only 20 walks all season, 2.06 ERA). Sallee had the best career of the three, a 34.0 WAR, 174 wins, 2.56 ERA, he was a “junkballer” with great accuracy and a great love for drinking… so, a typical baseball player for his time.

Dolf Luque. Public Domain.

Pitcher Adolfo "Dolf" Luque was the first “first true Latin American star of the Major Leagues.” A Cuban, Luque was one of the best pitchers of 1918 winning 27 games with an ERA of 1.93. Over his career he went to nine World Series and, as were most players of this time, was vulgar, pugnacious and generally not a people person. He was mostly dealing with racial epithets and once ran from his dugout across the field and into the New York Giants dugout and punched Casey Stengel in the mouth, believing it was he who hurled a racial insult. Stengel later claimed that it was not he, but someone else tossing n-words. The police escorted Luque back to his dugout, but his Cincinnati teammates didn’t take too kindly to this and a brawl erupted that nearly resulted in a riot. Luque decided to re-enter the fray, running back out to the Giants dugout with a bat in hand before he was formally ejected. This wasn’t his first bout of violence, he had previously thrown a fastball into his own dugout and chased a teammate with an ice pick.

They weren’t just a World Champion of the baseball diamond, one of the great teams of crazy names including Slim Sallee, Dutch Ruether, Hod Eller and Heinie Groh along with Ivey Wingo, Rube Bressler, Dolf Luque and the best name on the team, Greasy Neale. The only team that might compete with those names would be the Tigers pitching staff of the same year that sported Hooks Dauss, Dutch Leonard, Doc Ayers and Slim Love.

Ty Cobb

1918 and 1919 were the last two season that Ty Cobb led the league in hitting, batting .382 and .384, respectively. He would, however hit .401 in 1922, although that would only be good enough to finish second in the AL behind George Sisler's .420 season and also behind Rogers Hornsby on the MLB leaderboard as the NL champ's .401 average was percentage points ahead of Cobb, too. Cobb also led the league in triples (14) and on base percentage (.440) in 1918 and hits (191) in 1919. But the game was changing on the the early 30's Ty Cobb, his total of four home runs over those two seasons didn't generate enough run production for the Tigers to get them past their seventh and fourth place finishes in the AL. Perhaps it was his frustration or the frustration of a disgruntled teammate that resulted in an accusation that on September 25, 1919 Cobb was involved in throwing a game against the Indians. Detroit pitcher Dutch Leonard accused future Hall of Famers Cobb and Tris Speaker as well as Joe Wood of making bets on the game or games in question and manipulating the results. Leonard was known to bother along with Cobb so that brings the claim into question. Cobb was supposed to benefit from the vet, but he only went one for five while Cleveland's Speaker who was supposed to be on the losing side had three hits, including two triples. Leonard, however did provide letters from Wood who claimed to make bets on the game and Cobb stating he had tried to make bets although they did not go through. In 1927 Commissioner Judge Mountain Landis ruled that the players did not bet on the game or try to throw it and that the reputation of the players and of the game was unblemished by the claims. Boys will be boys.

Again, there weren’t any awards in 1919 either so again I’ll make some very retroactive selections myself.

AL MVP: Babe Ruth, OF/P Boston Red Sox

Ruth came into the 1919 season already butting heads with the Red Sox owner as he held out demanding his salary be doubled and often being suspended by the team for skipping curfew. Although his record shattering 29 home runs and 9 wins as a pitcher impressed, the rest of the pitching staff suffered injuries and the Red Sox finished near the bottom of the standings. Ruth would be traded to the Yankees in the off-season as ownership's profits dwindled from lower war-time attendance, a 35% drop in gate receipts. Ruth was traded to the Yankees in December 1919 and released to the press the next month. He was sent to the pinstripes in exchange for $25,000 upfront, and three more promissory note of the same amount that included interest, roughly $110,000 when it was all said and done. It was speculated that the extra cash was used by Red Sox owner Harry Frazee to finance the Broadway show "No, No, Nanette" although that may not be entirely true.

Detroit had three of the top five in AVG, Cobb and Veach were first and second, Flagstead was fifth, Sisler and Shoeless Joe Jackson rounded out the top four. Ruth was far and away the leader in OBP, however with .456 and fellow Red Sock Wally Schang was second at .436.

NL MVP: Rogers Hornsby, IF St Louis Cardinals

Rogers Hornsby, 1920. Public Domain.

At 23 years old it was early in the Hall of Famer Hornsby's career and between the '18 and '19 seasons he was a dock worker for the war effort. The previous season was a disappointment and Hornsby threatened to not come back to the Cardinals unless the manager from the prior season was fired. After the late start, new manager Branch Rickey welcomed Hornsby back to a team that improved quite a bit even if they weren't a winning team quite yet. He spent most of his time thinking of hitting, which resulted in poor play, eventually being moved all around the infield as a utility player and finishing second in the league in hitting. The following season would start a string of six straight batting titles which included two triple crowns primarily as a second baseman because “he couldn’t be any worse than he is at playing third base.”

It was a pretty tight race for hits, OBP and AVG between Ivy Olson (H), Hornsby, Edd Roush (AVG), giants George Burns (OBP), Zach Wheat and Heinie Groh. Gavvy Cravath had his final season leading the league in home runs hitting 12 in only 83 games with an AVG of .341 and OBP of .438, both would have been far and away the best in the league had he had enough qualifying at bats.

AL Cy Young: Walter Johnson, RHP Washington Senators

Johnson was the MLB WAR leader, Strikeouts and ERA in a season where seven MLB pitchers had ERAs under 2.00. Eddie Cicotte had the most wins with 29. but the Big Train dominated American League pitching yet again. There's a bit more on him in the 1918 piece, Johnson dominated the league for his whole 21-year career.

NL Cy Young: Pete Alexander, RHP Chicago Cubs

Alexander led the NL in Shutouts, ERA and WAR although his 16 wins were not especially impressive compared to the NL leaderboard. He was tied in WAR with Pittsburgh’s Babe Adams, a veteran in his age 37 season who still went on to play until he was 44, in his 18th year with the Pirates where he amassed 194 Wins, a 2.76 ERA, a WAR of 52.5 and two World Series Championships.

AL Rookie of the Year, Ira Flagstead, OF Detroit Tigers

He finished fifth in the batting race behind teammates Ty Cobb and Veach and George Sisler and Shoeless Joe Jackson. Again, there weren’t very many rookies in all of baseball in 1919, just over 50 guys were rookie eligible in all 16 teams. Flagstead had his best year as a pro when he was a 25 year old rookie at the start of a 13 year career. He was a boxer before he was a ballplayer, a newspaper memorialized the moment when he decided to move on from the sweet science:

“The battle started. Ira shed his fist off the face of the opposing “lightweight” so often that it looked as if it were raining boxing gloves. He bounced ’em off the body of this giant so fast that it sounded like the rataplan of gunplay. But the lummox was big. He was tough. He cast off punches like a duck shakes water. He stayed through the entire 15 rounds. Then the referee, who resembled justice only in that he was blind, said ‘draw.’”

Flagstead was stuck in a spot as a bit of an extra outfielder for most of his career after his rookie season. He did manage to set a record while playing for the Red Sox on Patriots Day in 1926 when he started three double plays from the outfield in one game.

NL Rookie of the Year: Oscar Tuero, RHP, St Louis Cardinals

It was really hard to find any National League rookies in 1919 that accomplished much of anything that year. Tuero, however, did happen to lead the league in two categories that year as a rookie, games pitched (45) and saves (4). Saves were not an official stat at the time and teams were not setting out to get their pitchers in positions to earn them. If a pitcher was not in the rotation they were a bit of a floater, coming in for extreme situations to relieve or for an emergency start. Most teams in 1918 and 1919 had only 10 or 11 players throw pitches for their team for the entirety of the season. Tuero started 16 of those games and even had four complete games. He had five wins and a 3.20 ERA. There is almost no biographical information available about Tuero, he played a handful of games for the Cardinals in 1918 and only got two outs over two games in 1920 for a 54.00 ERA. What I know is that he was born in Cuba and died in Houston, but that after his playing days in St Louis, he went back to play in Cuba for an unknown time. This was not a very tolerant time for players coming from Cuba who were often treated if they were dark skinned on the field even if they appeared caucasian, and dark skinned players were not even allowed in the park. Cuba had its own race problems during this decade, there was a race war in 1912 where the people of color were only further discriminated against for decades.

A Couple More Things...

There wouldn’t be any other stoppages in the baseball schedule for active wars over the next 100+ years, not even for World War II. The Reds wouldn't win another World Series until 1940, a year where the team faced the tragedy of a player committing suicide mid-season. The eight Black Sox players would barnstorm in disguise with independent teams and moved on to less impressive careers for the rest of their lives. Ty Cobb once famously saw Shoeless Joe Jackson working in a liquor store in Greenville, South Carolina in 1946. The banned player acted as though he didn't recognize Cobb and when Ty said, "Don't you know me, Joe?" Shoeless Joe responded, "I know you, but I didn't think you would want to talk to me. A lot of them don't." Cobb thought Jackson had the greated swing he ever saw and responded, "can I get an autographed ball from you? You know I always wanted one." Shoeless Joe didn't have one on hand and told him to come back the next day. It was just a pit stop on the road and Cobb was on his way. They never saw each other again, Jackson died five years later. The last of the banned Black Sox Players would pass away in 1975 and the "ban for life" has not been lifted on any of the players, keeping them all out of the Hall of Fame.

Hall of Good Enough Players

Eddie Cicotte, CHW RHP, 14 YRS, 58.6 WAR, 209 W, 249 CG, 2.38 ERA, 1.154 WHIP

Happy Felsch, CHW OF, 6 YRS, 19.4 WAR, 825 H, 135 2B, .293 AVG, .347 OBP, .427 SLG

Ira Flagstead, DET OF, 13 YRS, 18.0 WAR, 1202 H, 262 2B, .290 AVG, .370 OBP, .407 SLG

Chick Gandil, CHW 1B, 9 YRS, 19.4 WAR, 1176 H, 173 2B, 151 SB, .277 AVG, .327 OBP

Shoeless Joe Jackson, CHW OF, 13 YRS, 62.1 WAR, 1772 H, 307 2B, 168 3B, 202 SB,

.356 AVG, .423 OBP, .517 SLG

Dolf Luque, CIN RHP, 20 YRS, 48.1 WAR, 194 W, 206 CG, 3.24 ERA, 1.288 WHIP

Dutch Ruether, CIN LHP, 11 YRS, 29.1 WAR, 137 W, 154 CG, 3.50 ERA, 1.404 WHIP

Slim Sallee, CIN LHP, 14 YRS, 34.0 WAR, 174 W, 189 CG, 2.56 ERA, 1.170 WHIP

Oscar Tuero, StL RHP, 3 YRS, 0.5 WAR, 58 G, 4 SV, 2.88 ERA, 1.137 WHIP

Buck Weaver, CHA SS, 9 YRS, 21.2 WAR, 1308 H, 198 2B, 173 SB, .272 AVG, .307 OBP

Lefty Williams, CHA LHP, 7 YRS, 12.4 WAR, 82 W, 80 CG, 3.13 ERA, 1.238 WHIP

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