This article was written by George W. Hilton
This article was published in the 1975 Baseball Research Journal
In this article, George W. Hilton discusses the 1919 Chicago White Sox and how they are depicted by sportswriters.Writers who have dealt with the Black Sox scandal of 1919, such as Eliot Asinof in Eight Men Out or Harold Seymour in Baseball: The Golden Years, have typically illustrated the team with a photograph from one of the press services of the 1917 White Sox, with the eight conspirators of the scandal ringed for identification. This practice is unfortunate, partly because the 1917 and 1919 championship teams did not have identical personnel, partly because third-string catcher Joe Jenkins is erroneously identified in the photograph as Chick Gandil, organizer of the plot to throw the 1919 World Series.
The Baseball Museum and Hall of Fame at Cooperstown has a photograph in its archival material, lettered only “Champion White Sox,” which proves to be the 1919 team. Here the photograph is reproduced, to my knowledge for the first time. The identification of players is my own on the basis of other photographs available at Cooperstown. I believe the identifications to be accurate, but I will appreciate corrections.
The personnel of the team is that of the end of the season; presumably the plot had been initiated by the time of the photograph. It is not difficult to read malevolence in Gandil’s features, relative to the enthusiasm which most of his teammates exhibit.
As is well known, the plot had its origin, in part, in the division of the team into two factions, one of higher educational attainments, centering about Eddie Collins, Ray Schalk, Red Faber and Dick Kerr; the other of lesser education, consisting of Gandil, and, with the exception of Cicotte, the rest of the conspirators: Felsch, Weaver, Williams, Jackson, Risberg, and McMullin. Cicotte was a neutral figure, who mixed with both factions. The picture delineates the factionalism of the team in the unconscious grouping of the players for the photographer. Collins, his close friends, and other non-conspirators occupy the left of the picture. The conspirators, plus some second-line pitchers and reserve players, occupy the right of the photograph, surrounding Gandil. Cicotte sits in a neutral position at the center of the front row. Kid Gleason, rather than occupying the manager’s usual central position in a team photograph, is at the extreme left, next to Collins’ faction, and as far from the conspirators as he could have placed himself.
So much has been written about the scandal that little could remain to be said about the team. My own researches into it have led to only one conclusion rival to orthodox interpretations: the tragedy of the whole affair has caused essentially all writers to overstate the quality of the team. It was a fading version of the 1917 World’s Champions, who, alone among White Sox teams, had won 100 games. The 1919 club was assigned third place in The Chicago Tribune’s preseason prediction for the Anerican League. The team was chronically weak in pitching, so dependent on Cicotte and Williams that Gleason was unable to establish a permanent rotation. Rather, he pursued a “Spahn and Sam and a day of rain” policy, pitching Cicotte and Williams as often as possible, and filling in on other days with whatever choice desperation dictated. Under the circumstances, the team’s pulling away from the American League to win was treated by Chicago sports writers as remarkable. The team won 88 games, and took the pennant by a margin of 3-1/2 games, hardly a performance to make its triumph in the World Series the assured outcome that most later writers have supposed.
In light of the team’s dependence on Cicotte and Williams, one realizes that Gandil chose well in enlisting them, but ignoring the rest of the White Sox pitchers. On the other hand, he probably engaged in an overkill by arranging for Felsch, Williams, Risberg and McMullin to participate. Had he simply arranged for Cicotte and Williams to lose their games, he would have had an almost assured plot, with fewer participants among whom to split the loot, and fewer mouths to risk exposure.
The Black Sox scandal deserves the importance it has been given in baseball history. One realizes how far it has receded into the past when one considers that only four men shown in the photograph are thought to be living: Wilkinson, Risberg, Jenkins, and Faber.