Author Topic: The 1919 Reds, rehabilitated: They wuz robbed  (Read 1406 times)

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Offline EasyAce

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The 1919 Reds, rehabilitated: They wuz robbed
« on: December 14, 2018, 08:08:30 PM »
By Yours Truly

It’s difficult to feel sorry for a franchise whose history includes fifteen trips to the postseason, ten pennants and five World Series championships, even if they’ve spent the past five seasons in the pits of the National League Central. Difficult, but not impossible. The centenary approaches of the Cincinnati Reds’ first National League pennant and World Series triumph, and it’s not unfair to say few outside Cincinnati are likely to care. But you should.

If you’ll pardon the expression, bet on it: Ninety percent or more of its commemorative commentary will focus on the guys they beat in the 1919 World Series. That may be understandable, but it’s also patently unfair. To the Reds. The thrill of victory never smelled so much or so without warrant like the agony of defeat.

You know about the Black Sox, whether too much, not enough, or both. You may know the mythology that says that the White Sox untainted by the Eight Men Out would have just annihilated the poor little Redsies who just weren’t enough to withstand a feeding attack from the sharks of the South Side. That’s a historical lie equal to one president not having had sex with that woman and a twice-removed successor having had the largest inaugural crowd of all time.

The Reds’ most triumphant period was the 1970s age of the Big Red Machine. Five division titles, four pennants, back-to-back World Series conquests, over that decade’s first seven years. Franchises would kill for a piece of that kind of triumph. But none of the Machinists had a single season winning percentage better than the 1919 Reds. The 1919 edition’s .686 winning percentage was better than the 1919 White Sox (.629) and any team in their decade except the 1912 Boston Red Sox. (.691)

Before anyone suspected foul play, the 1919 White Sox were 8-5 favourites to win the Series overall . . . but 2-1 underdogs for the first two games that would be played in Redland Field. (The park would be re-named as Crosley Field in 1934.) White Sox manager Kid Gleason trumpeted what he considered the greatest hitting team that yet played a World Series. Reds manager Pat Moran made a prediction that proved only too chilling in due course: “If we beat [White Sox pitcher Eddie] Cicotte in the first game, we ought to win the Series.”

Cicotte, of course, hit the Reds’ second baseman Morrie Rath with the second pitch of the bottom of the first, the signal to the gamblers that the fix was on. But Cicotte would have entered that game suspect even if he hadn’t joined the fix. He suffered shoulder and arm miseries at the end a 306.6 inning, 29-win season. (If you’ve seen the dubious film version of Eight Men Out, you remember the scene in which Cicotte’s suspect shoulder and arm received a linament rubdown from his wife.)

The White Sox entering the World Series had two great starting pitchers (Cicotte, fellow Black Sox Lefty Williams), a third (Hall of Famer Red Faber) missing in action thanks to injuries, and a rookie (Dickey Kerr, one of the Clean Sox) who looked like a comer both starting and out of the bullpen but whom observers in the moment considered a bit of a wild card. The Reds had five solid, healthy starters: Hod Eller, Ray Fisher, Jimmy Ring, Dutch Ruether, and Slim Sallee. Gleason went into the Series on the shorter end of the pitching stick even without Cicotte and Williams corrupted; Moran had the luxury of being able to rotate his arms—none of which was particularly overworked compared to Cicotte and Williams (297 innings)—reasonably.

Isn’t one way to measure a team their second-half season’s performance? If so, and if you’ll pardon the expression, you should have put your money on the Reds based on that. They went 47-19 in their second half. The White Sox went 41-26. The Reds finished nine games ahead of the second-place New York Giants; the White Sox finished three and a half ahead of the second-place Cleveland Indians.

Another measure is how they did against fellow contenders in their league. The Reds went 38-22 on the season against three other contenders (the Giants, the Cubs, the Pirates); the White Sox went 35-25 against three others (the Indians, the Yankees, the Tigers). In September alone, the Reds faced other contenders ten times and went 8-2; the White Sox, twelve times, going 6-6.

On the regular season the White Sox out-hit the Reds but weren’t all that much better at scoring. The White Sox averaged 4.8 runs per game but the Reds averaged 4.1. And the opposition averaged 2.9 runs against the Reds but 3.8 runs against the White Sox. It’s easy to figure out, really: The Reds out-pitched the White Sox. Entering the Series, the White Sox pitching staff had a 3.04 earned run average and a 2.88 fielding-independent pitching rate. (FIP: your ERA when your defense is removed from the equation.) The Reds staff had a 2.23 ERA and a 2.81 FIP. The Reds were just a little bit better at crafting their own pitching luck.

The 1919 White Sox shut the other guys out fourteen times and got shut out seven times. The bad news for the 1919 Reds: they were shut out fourteen times—but the good news is, they shut the other guys out 23 times. The closer you look, the less the White Sox look like predators and the Reds like prey.

It wasn’t just the tainted among the White Sox who came up short at the Series plate, Shoeless Joe Jackson to one side. Leadoff hitter Nemo Liebold hit .056 with two walks and one hit in the set. Hall of Famer Eddie Collins, another of the Clean Sox, undermined his own reputation as a money player when he hit .226 with a single run batted in. Collins’ Series average was two points above the team’s.

What of Jackson? His cumulative Series hitting line argues against him going into the tank, but his game-by-game performance looks more suspect. And in his best single game at the plate all set long, Game Eight, he had two hits, three runs batted in, two runs scored including on a third inning home run, but the White Sox were blown out, 10-5, to lose the Series. The homer was Jackson's first hit in the game, and he came to the plate with the White Sox already down, 5-0. Uh!-oh.

Even before White Sox first baseman Chick Gandil and shortstop Swede Risberg instigated the World Series fix, and found both the teammates and the gamblers to execute it, the White Sox and the Reds had a critical difference. The White Sox were riddled with dissension not all of which was provoked by frustrations real or imagined with their owner. They were wracked by clashes between more- and lesser-educated players and by spells of discomfort with new manager Gleason.

Collins—who’d played on the Philadelphia Athletics teams that ruled the earlier parts of the decade that the Red Sox didn’t, which went a long way toward fostering the presumed American League superiority—once said those A’s “believed in teamwork and cooperation. I always thought you couldn’t win without those virtues until I joined the White Sox.”

The 1919 Reds believed as he did. Susan Dellinger, Ph.D., granddaughter of the Reds’ Hall of Fame center fielder Edd Roush, revealed in Red Legs & Black Sox: Edd Roush and the Untold Story of the 1919 World Series that those Reds liked their own new manager Moran, liked each other, played hard, and thought of team first.

Only once was their morale threatened, Dellinger exhumed, when Roush finally told Moran of whisperings he’d heard that gamblers tried to get to one or two Reds pitchers. Moran called a team meeting prior to Game Eight. The scheduled starting pitcher, Hod Eller, spoke up. He’d run off a gambler who tried to buy him off for the game, and then pitched the distance in the Series-ending blowout.

“Doesn’t everybody say the dream is nonsense? Didn’t everybody say the Reds couldn’t possibly win?” wrote Damon Runyon after the Reds’ Game One win. (The article is collected in the splendid Guys, Dolls, and Curveballs: Damon Runyon on Baseball.) “Experts, ballplayers, and fans—didn’t they all laugh at Cincinnati’s fall pretensions as they have laughed every year for many years?

“Cincinnati will tell you that they did,” Runyon continued. “Didn’t they tell you Pat Moran’s ball club was made up of castoffs of baseball, and that it was just a sort of baseball joke compared to the million dollar club that represents Chicago?” The castoffs of baseball proved better than the sum of their parts and the million dollar club proved worse in more ways than one.

Seventy years later, Pete Rose would be banished from baseball for violating Rule 21(d)—the rule against betting on baseball, the rule instigated by the gambling corruptions that climaxed in the Series fix and its eventual exposure and affirmation. The Reds were the victims of baseball’s two worst gambling scandals, one of which compromised their first World Series winner’s integrity through no fault of their own, the second of which cost them a franchise icon and manager through all fault of his own.

It would be emphatically simple if somewhat unlikely for baseball to spend 2019 giving the 1919 Reds their long, long overdue. The evidence says they could have beaten those White Sox if that World Series was played straight. Baseball ought to acknowledge as much in the only do-over anyone can give the team. Metaphysically and temporally, the 1919 Reds wuz robbed.
@Polly Ticks
@Cyber Liberty
@Mom MD
« Last Edit: December 15, 2018, 10:56:52 AM by mystery-ak »

Offline EasyAce

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Re: The 1919 Reds, rehabilitated: They wuz robbed
« Reply #1 on: December 15, 2018, 06:05:31 PM »
My personal tribute to the 1919 Reds---I intend to wear this cap throughout 2019, especially whenever I attend functions of my local Society for American Baseball Research chapter and Las Vegas Aviators baseball games. (The name changed from the 51s; they move into a new ballpark and are now the Triple-A affiliate of the Oakland Athletics.)

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