From the archives of From A to Zowie: Shoeless Joe Jackson and the 1919 Chicago White Sox
1919 Chicago White Sox
I love alternate history, and a few years ago I decided to visit baseball history and ask what if. Here’s the result:
‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson and the Black Sox revisited
By Richard Zowie
Special to the Bee-Picayune
We’re now in the most hallowed time of the year for baseball—America’s national pastime—when the World Series is played. Some teams have had serious postseason droughts. The Boston Red Sox haven’t won the Fall Classic since 1918 when Babe Ruth was with them as a pitcher. The Chicago Cubs, who haven’t been to the World Series since 1945, last won it in 1908. (As of this writing, the Cubs are one win away from advancing to the Fall Classic).
I can’t help but think of another Chicago baseball team during this memorable post season, that being the Chicago White Sox. The Pale Hose haven’t won the World Series since 1917 and are best known for the 1919 Black Sox Scandal in which eight White Sox players were later banished from baseball. Their crime? Conspiring with gamblers to throw what should’ve been an easy World Series victory against the Cincinnati Reds.
I pity the Black Sox. They played for Charles Comiskey, a miserly owner who, according to Eliot Asinof’s book Eight Men Out, lavished the Chicago sports writers with banquets of food and drink while making his own team work under severe financial restrictions. With the exception of second baseman Eddie Collins, virtually every White Sox player earned a salary well below major league levels. Sometimes their salaries compared to what semi-pro players made. (Keep in mind, this was long before the days of free agency). The Sox received a smaller food allowance than other teams and sometimes played in dirty uniforms (in protest of Comiskey charging them for laundry expenses).
Comiskey gave his own team a case of champagne for winning the American League pennants in 1917 and 1919. If the players received champagne for winning the 1917 pennant, you’d think they’d receive a financial bonus for winning the World Series. Nope. Their World Series bonus was again a case of the bubbly.
Members of the White Sox who were banished from baseball included Buck Weaver, Chick Gandil, Swede Risberg, Happy Felsch, Eddie Cicotte, Lefty Williams, Fred McMullin and, of course, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson. What they did was wrong, but I assert that the 1919 Black Scandal would never have occurred if Comiskey hadn’t committed countless financial atrocities against his team. A dog that’s kept well fed isn’t likely to be rummaging through a neighbor’s garbage can.
This scandal, made famous in mainstream America through the 1988 film Eight Men Out, makes me wonder what would’ve happened if a few crucial decisions had been made differently. With this, start your harp music as we delve into alternate history in the year 1962…
Hall of Fame White Sox slugger dies
By C.F. Twob
Disassociated Press staff writer
August 22, 1962
GREENVILLE, S.C. – “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, considered by many to be the greatest hitter in Major League history and who helped begin the Chicago White Sox dynasty that still rules baseball, died yesterday of a heart attack at his home. He was 73.
The South Carolina-born hitter retired from professional baseball in 1929 with a .375 lifetime average and 4,330 lifetime hits—both records baseball experts believe will never be broken. In 1930, the year after Jackson retired, the White Sox renamed Comiskey Park “Jackson Field” in his honor.
The White Sox made headlines in 1919, just a few weeks prior to the World Series. Angered by their meager salaries, the team members organized and met with owner Charles Comiskey. Their demands: real, fair-market value salaries, real pennant and World Series bonuses and decent food and laundry allowances. If we don’t get these, they reportedly demanded, then we won’t play in the World Series.
Comiskey had firm control over the Chicago media, but the players refused to back down and said they would talk to the metro newspapers in their home states and give “tell-all” exclusives of how Comiskey lived in luxury while most of the players earned less than semi-pro baseball players. Comiskey changed his mind and met the players’ demands in writing. The White Sox went on to easily win the 1919 World Series over the Cincinnati Reds, five games to one.
In 1920, Comiskey decided to sell the team to Sears president Julius Rosenwald. The new owner expressed his willingness to pay the players what they were worth and give them lucrative incentives. Many feel that this “paying ball players what they’re worth” was instrumental in the White Sox winning 22 World Series championships in the past 32 years, including an astonishing 7 in a row from 1925-1932.
Legend has it that Jackson convinced Rosenwald, shortly after he had purchased the team, to spend $100,000 to acquire famed slugger Babe Ruth from the Boston Red Sox. Relying on Jackson’s hunch that Ruth would become the greatest slugger the game had ever seen, Rosenwald bought Ruth. The White Sox’ dynasty would continue to flourish through Chicago star players Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle and Bob Feller.
Jackson, notoriously illiterate up through the early years of his career, eventually learned to read and write. He went on to be successful hitting coach for the White Sox. Players praised his brilliant but simple style of hitting, which emphasized developing a player based on their own style and letting them use their instincts.
Shortly before his death, Jackson revealed that gamblers offered him and several other players lucrative money to throw the Fall Classic that year. The players declined, saying they felt it was best to join together and confront Comiskey rather than risk being banned from the game they loved.
We can only imagine…