With the end of World War I in 1919, both baseball and the nation as a whole returned to business as usual. For some ballplayers during the 1919 baseball season, "business as usual" unfortunately meant plotting with gamblers to fix games.
Gambling-related scandals had been a part of baseball going back to the mid-19th century, but in 1919 the national pastime suffered the ultimate corruption: the intentional throwing of the 1919 World Series by eight members of the Chicago White Sox.
In a season limited to 140 games by a baseball establishment still worried about its patriotic image, Cincinnati compiled a 96-44 record to run away with the National League pennant by 9 games over second-place New York.
The Giants had the league's best offense, scoring 605 runs on the strength of good years from George Burns (who led the league in stolen bases with 40, runs with 86, and walks with 82), Benny Kauff, and budding superstar Ross Youngs. A hustling right fielder who would finish with a .322 lifetime batting average in a ten-year career tragically cut short by death from Bright's disease at age 30, the popular Youngs led all National League hitters in doubles with 31. At .311, he was third in batting behind Rogers Hornsby's .318 and Edd Roush's .321.
The Reds had a two-prong attack. They had Roush, Heinie Groh, Jake Daubert, and little leadoff hitter Morrie Rath; and they had a staff that allowed the fewest runs in the league and included 20-game winners Slim Sallee and Hod Eller, as well as Dutch Ruether, who recorded the third-lowest ERA in the league at 1.81. Although the Cubs' Pete Alexander and Hippo Vaughn were one and two in ERA at 1.72 and 1.79, their team scored the fewest runs in the National League and came in third, 21 games out.
In the American League race, an illusory powerhouse in Chicago had an unexpectedly difficult time shaking Cleveland and New York -- or perhaps the cabal later responsible for the 1919 World Series fix was dumping games for money down the stretch -- before finally finishing at 88-52, 31/2 up on Cleveland. The White Sox offense was powered by the .351-hitting Joe Jackson (who drove in 96 runs), Eddie Collins (who stole an American League-high 33 bases), and Happy Felsch. Their pitching staff allowed the second-fewest runs in the league thanks to 29-game winner Eddie Cicotte and 23-game winner Lefty Williams, who, with a combined 604 innings pitched, carried most of the load.
Walter Johnson of the seventh-place Senators led in ERA at 1.49; Cicotte was second at 1.82. Detroit's Ty Cobb won the batting title at .384, but from the direction of Boston came the first distant rumblings of the coming home run explosion from Babe Ruth. In 432 at-bats, Ruth hit 29 home runs -- 19 more than runners-up Tilly Walker, George Sisler, and Frank Baker -- and led the American League in runs with 103 and RBI with 114. His .657 slugging average set a 20th-century record that would stand until Ruth himself broke it the following year -- by almost 200 points.
The Reds won the crooked best-of-nine 1919 World Series five games to three. The most dramatic moments -- seen in retrospect, as the scandal didn't break until the following year -- came in games three and six, when pitcher Dickie Kerr overcame the best efforts of his eight dishonest teammates to win 3-0 and 5-4.
The best-known player in on the fix, Jackson, always maintained afterward that he was innocent. He pointed to his 1919 World Series-high .375 batting average and six RBI, although he never explained why he accepted money from the conspirators beforehand with free knowledge of their plans.
Check out some of the headlines from the 1919 baseball season on the next page.
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