Thursday May 19, 2011

Did the Chicago Cubs throw the 1918 World Series?

I say no. I've written team histories of both franchises, and, included were discussions of that 1918 matchup. I have never been led to believe that there was any tomfoolery.

But in the wake of sportswriter Sean Devany's 2009 book, "The Original Curse," which posits that the Cubs tanked the Fall Classic, some doubt has been cast. In addition, documents released by the Chicago Museum of History in April reveal that White Sox pitcher Eddie Cicotte, one of those accused in the 1919 Black Sox scandal, seems to have knowledge of Cub players trying to fix the 1918 Series.

That means, in the eyes of some Massachusetts media, the Sox were wrongfully handed the 1918 crown, thus expanding the drought between "real" titles for Boston from 1916 to 2004. With the Cubbies at Fenway this weekend for the first time since that 1918 series, the discussion seems to have been ratcheted up.

Excuse the aged baseball metaphor, but it's all off base.

The Red Sox, who had the best pitching staff in baseball that year, were favored in most corners. Certainly, the underdog can still conspire to lose a series, but the betting advantage is considerably reduced.

There is considerable emphasis placed on the actions of Cubs outfielder Max Flack, who was picked off first base twice, and made two errors in two different games.


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He also misplayed a ball hit by Sox pitcher/slugger Babe Ruth that Ruth turned into a triple.

Flack played poorly defensively, but he didn't throw the World Series. The series was tight, with four of the six games decided by one run. The thinking is that Flack's errors represented the tipping point.

But the plays in which Flack erred did not represent, in my opinion, turning points in any of the games.

The story goes that Flack was ordered to play Ruth deeper during one of the Bambino's at-bats in Game 3. Flack ignored the advice, and Ruth tripled over his head. What doesn't seem to be reported is that the Cubs got out of the inning without allowing a run.

Another "turning point" reportedly occurred in Game 6, when Flack's throwing error led to both Red Sox runs in a 2-1 clinching victory. That play happened in the third inning. Hard to believe that Flack knew those runs would be all the Sox would get.

Flack was second on the Cubs in Series hits with five, led the team in walks with four and hit .263, four points higher than his average during the season. We are asked to believe that Flack fumbled the Series away, but at the same time, he was one of the team's better offensive performers. That would have been a heck of a balancing act.

It was a pitchers' series: Ruth, Carl Mays and Bullet Joe Bush for Boston, and James "Hippo" Vaughn and Lefty Tyler for the Cubs. I would have had an easier time accepting the premise that Vaughn or Tyler were involved, but there is no evidence to indicate either man was involved in anything but trying to win the games they pitched.

I've read Cicotte's grand jury testimony. It is vague and essentially heresay. According to Cicotte, some unnamed guy with whom an unknown teammate spoke in 1919 mentioned that a player or players on the Cubs might have asked for $10,000 to throw the 1918 series. That is it. No specifics and no names.

Gimme a break.

To reach Derek Gentile:
dgentile@berkshireeagle.com.