Why did the Cubs lose the 1918 WS?
April 7th, 2011Filed under: Collections
White Sox pitcher Eddie Cicotte, 1917
As the White Sox took an eastbound train on a 1919 road trip, phenom pitcher Eddie Cicotte jawed with his teammates wondering how much money the Cubs took to throw the 1918 World Series. Was it $10,000, they wondered aloud? How many players did it take to lose the Series on purpose? A “bunch”? Then Cicotte heard a teammate “crack” about getting into the Series that year. Could they throw it and make some extra money? Was it really that easy to come up with a plan to take a dive in the 1919 Series?
Cubs, Weeghman Park (later Wrigley Field), 1918
Many baseball historians believe some White Sox players intentionally lost the 1919 Series to the Cincinnati Reds. As their reward, some of the guys received cash from gamblers who did well betting on the underdog Reds. Rumors of a conspiracy circulated immediately following Cincy’s Series victory, but the scandal broke publicly in September 1920. These events and later developments became known as the Black Sox Scandal. Sports writers and others have spilled lots of ink over this mess, but the previous year’s Series got essentially no attention until now.
In 2007, the Museum won an auction for a small treasure trove of legal documents and letters related to the South Siders losing in 1919. After picking the stuff up at the auction house, I sat in a Museum storage room for several days literally reading every word of the few hundred documents. These papers included some interesting revelations. White Sox infielder Swede Risberg, for example, had a girlfriend, Marie Purcell, who said she got a beauty parlor out of the Swede’s World Series bounty. Risberg’s wife, Agnes, divorced him about two years later. Undercover detectives, hired by White Sox owner Charles Comiskey, followed some of the suspected Black Sox around the country. One agent even bought a Christmas tree from outfielder Happy Felsch in 1919 and later went on a fishing trip with Hap.
Then I came across this deposition Cicotte gave in a Chicago court house in 1920. Immediately, I wondered: Were the Cubs so good in 1918 that they had to try to lose? That year the North Siders lost to Babe Ruth and the Boston Red Sox, four games to two. Because of the United States having recently entered World War One, the 1918 season was cut short. The federal government wanted the focus on the war effort. The Cubs didn’t even play their home Series games on the North Side preferring the Baseball Palace of the World, Comiskey Park, on the city’s South Side. The Red Sox wouldn’t win another world title until 2004. The White Sox, having won in 1917 and lost on purpose in 1919, didn’t win again until 2005. The lovable losers are over the century mark in their championship futility.
Read Cicotte’s deposition, and see what you think. He tried to come clean after the cheating scandal broke in 1920. Do you believe him? Did the Cubs cheat in 1918? Did the White Sox really do the same thing the next year? Does this taint the Red Sox victory in 1918? Until 2004, Boston fans looked back to that victory the same way Cubs fans still look back to 1908.
Eddie Cicotte deposition, 1920
Eddie Cicotte’s White Sox paycheck, 1919